E3 2011: NeverDead

QUICKTAKE: There's no shortage of creativity in NeverDead. From Metal Gear Acid director Shinta Nojiri, NeverDead is a crazy tale about an immortal demon hunter that can fight no matter how many limbs get ripped off his body. It's an interesting concept that's poorly executed: bad controls, uninspired enemies, and quickly repetitive gameplay made for a thoroughly lackluster showing.

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THE DEMO: You control Bryce, a wisecracking immortal demon hunter with surprisingly detachable limbs. Every time you take a direct hit, Bryce can lose a leg, an arm, or even get cut down to just his head. He can roll over his limbs, Katamari-style to get them back, or he can regenerate his body after some time by hitting the L3 button.

The limb-ripping gimmick is used quite often. For example, when overloading a circuit to open a door, his arms explode off his body. Later, he must rip his own head, throw it into a fountain, to shoot it to the top of a building. Rolling around as a decapitated head offers some fun, but the real fun comes from the sword fighting. Too bad the demo just goes on and on, throwing an endless array of boring enemies to fight. Terrible controls made it impossible to find reason to play through the end.

DETAILS: NeverDead has a lot of the quirky charm that makes other Japanese action games so lovable. Gamers have come to love the absurd banter, the silly premise, and over-the-top action that defines games like this. But, NeverDead fails where games like Bayonetta and Ninja Blade succeed because the game isn't nearly as fun as its premise. After playing the game, it was unsurprising that the game was being developed by the same people that worked on the critically-panned Rogue Warrior.

It's more difficult to list the things that work instead of the things that are just completely broken. The gunplay is simply not fun; aiming your dual-wielded weapons doesn't feel right. Thankfully, it doesn't really matter with how mindless the enemies are. The ability to roll around and re-collect your limbs isn't quite as fun or funny as it sounds, working only occasionally. The whole limb-ripping gimmick gets old fast, too. Rolling around on the floor as a head only further highlights how muddy the graphics are: this is an unattractive, poorly performing game.

If there is one thing to like about NeverDead, it must be the swordplay. While not entirely intuitive, the sword uses the right analog stick to simulate the motions of a sword. Hold back to charge, and thrust forward for a powerful swing that can rip apart armored enemies. I wish it were faster; having to stand still and hold down the stick to charge an attack gets annoying. It doesn't feel entirely smooth, but at least it gives us a peek into what Metal Gear Solid Rising might play like.

There are many other games lacking polish at E3, but NeverDead lacks both polish and potential. Given the developer's poor track record, and lack of direction in this latest build, NeverDead might never warrant another look.

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