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Neverdead juxtaposes an immortal hero and a fragile body. It sounds like high philosophy but in practise is bombastic, bizarre and questionably offensive -- much more fun.
With its Metal Gear pedigree Neverdead gives away more than a little about Shinta Nojiri's previous game. The Metal Gear Ac!d director is obviously as keen on swordplay now as he was then.
To get a little ahead of ourselves for a moment, the two things that stand out in Neverdead are a sword mechanic that uses a very odd combination of buttons and a very unusual approach to character damage.
The main protagonist in Neverdead slowly loses body parts until he is nothing more than a head rolling around the world. It creates an odd, almost itchy and scratchy, overblown approach to violence that lampoons just how ridiculous videogames have become in recent years.
But before all that lets get the basics out of the way. At the centre of Neverdead's third person shooter design is an invincible man who is at the same time vulnerable to dismemberment. This odd scenario not only makes light of the violence that is inevitable in these sorts of games, but also adds a puzzle element to the game.
Certain parts of the game are only accessible at a particular stage of decay. One such area is accessed via a balance beam that requires you to just be a head that can be rolled across before rejuvenating on the other side. Other puzzles have you throwing body parts through a basketball hoop to collect one of the game's collectable emblems. Sounds gory doesn't it, but in fact there is more than a little tongue in cheek humour here.
The shoe is on the other foot when it comes to more direct combat though. What was an asset in accessing hard to reach places becomes a real pain when facing the contorted array of zombie like enemies. Mastering the swordplay will be critical here.
During my time with the game the strange button combos soon had me tapping out rhythms on the controller rather than the usual button mashing and panic I usually resort to. Because of this, Neverdead feels intense, tight and intelligent to play -- not what you'd expect from its gory credentials.
To help you on your way is a computer controlled partner. She offers some help in battle and adds the inevitable sprinkling of innuendo that is stock in trade of these games (I'm thinking Bulletstorm and Duke Nukem here).
Whether the over the top violence is intentional we'll probably never know.
Whether the over the top violence and sexuality is intelligently intentional or just how the game turned out we'll probably never know. But there are enough knowing nods to the camera and winks at any players paying attention that it is hard not to revel in the irony of it all.
Some may find the game a little too slow for recent tastes, but I appreciated the more considered approach. I'm really not after another Bulletstorm, so that lack of swagger in favour of more diverse gameplay was no bad thing in my book.
The narrative, again true to form for the genre, is a simple enemy chase where you and your partner are rushing to find and dispatch an evil overlord. Along the way you are presented with an impressive array of environments, all fully interactive -- at times it seems that anything you touch explodes.
Not one for the kids, but also not one for the oldies either.
Neverdead looks like it will be one of the most unusual games this year. To my mind it more than gets away with it. The combination of flying body parts, inappropriate antihero quips and chauvinistic prattle will offend those who don't get the point. But for those with ears to hear, there's a promising sword/shooter beneath that veneer -- and one that has more than a few things to say about the state of gaming today.
Not one for the kids, but also not one for the oldies either. Between these two groups are a bunch of players who will have a lot of fun here. For once, I think I might be one of them.
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