In a late-game battle, you have to strike the boss up close in order to deal enough damage. You must hit him when he is vulnerable, but these moments aren't always obvious due to unclear audio and visual clues. If you fail to deliver in that short time frame, he regains his health. All of it. And that's not even talking about the sluggish platforming in another boss fight. Vanquishing these foes carries with it relief rather than satisfaction, and though a couple of them are enjoyable, most just leave a sour taste in your mouth.
NeverDead introduces many novel elements that simply do not work properly for one reason or another. For instance, although shooting guns works well enough, you have a sword that's preferable. Cutting down foes with your blade is one of the most exciting parts of this game. By holding the shoulder button, you gain full control over the sword's movement with the right stick, so you can unleash horizontal slashes, vertical slices, and diagonal cuts with ease.
The sword is ultimately more powerful than the standard guns, but this is balanced by the danger you put yourself in when attacking up close. However, plentiful explosive barrels serve as a deterrent to using your fancy sword. It's easy to miss these red dangers in the heat of battle (they often reside behind other objects, hidden from view), and you find yourself blown sky-high when you accidentally hit one. The upgrade system has the same combination of strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand, you can imbue your gun, sword, or movement with added perks, but there are so few ability slots that you can use only a handful of the dozens available.
A lone head has no reason to fear the flame.
It's a shame that you don't get to make use of a good variety of abilities at once, because the unlockable perks enliven the action. Because you have such limited spots to work with, you have to focus on one attribute to boost while ignoring other aspects. If you're partial to the sword, you can boost its power and range while adding a special charge attack, but equipping these means you have to ignore upgrading your firearms. Or you could make Bryce more mobile, which comes in handy when you're running away from enemies because neither of your weapons has been supercharged.
Despite the limitations, it's still fun to mess around with the various tools you unlock. Two of them are particularly useful. One triggers slow motion when danger is closing in, which is a life saver in the tougher encounters. The other lets you use your arm as an explosive device. You can rip off your arm and toss it around the battlefield. Horrible hounds chase after your flopping appendages in a sick game of fetch, and once one of them has your arm in its mouth, kablamo! You can finish off a pack of these wretched beasts in mere seconds.
Dismembering yourself can serve as an impromptu attack, or you might need to use that talent to solve puzzles. In between battles, you're left alone in levels with oodles of collectibles hidden in every nook and cranny. Nabbing these items gives you much-needed experience points, but, more importantly, it's just fun to discover where they reside. You may have to pull off your head and toss it in an air duct or find a hidden trapdoor so you can access out-of-the-way spots belowground. There are a few puzzles sprinkled between the action segments that you have to solve to progress, but most of them are ancillary diversions for those who enjoy exploring every inch of the environment. Because the puzzles are optional, the focus is on the action segments, which is one of NeverDead's strengths. However, there isn't enough variety to keep you invested the whole way through. Aside from a brief free-falling segment, you take part in the same basic combat repeatedly, without any novel ideas to inject some diversity.
Being a demon hunter is tough work.
The strengths and weaknesses carry over to the online-only multiplayer mode. There are a series of competitive and cooperative challenges available that add a communal spike to the normally solo proceedings. Instead of focusing on just killing each other in the head-to-head modes, you have to complete objectives, which is a smart idea since one-on-one encounters are over quickly and don't require much strategy to prevail. So instead, you round up eggs or race to checkpoints, all while battling baddies and trying to slow your human opponents down. The cooperative matches have horde modes, where you fend off waves of attackers, but they don't add anything novel to separate them from similar modes in other games. There is also a mode where you must rescue civilians, which is extremely hard if you try to travel without friendly chums with you. Ultimately, the multiplayer adds replay value, though it lacks the imaginative spark to be captivating.
When the story finally wraps up, you're treated to a cliff-hanger that would segue nicely into a sequel. Normally, such a perfunctory ending would be frustrating because you want a strong resolution to the events you just played through. However, in the case of NeverDead, it only reminds you of the untapped potential that is the most striking element of this game. The ideas that separate this from other shooters are a lot of fun, but the edges are so rough that it can be difficult to enjoy these pieces. A second game could be used to iron out the kinks. But that's an idea that's not worth dwelling on. NeverDead doesn't have a sequel, and may never get one, so what you're left with is a game bursting with ideas that it struggles to showcase. There are certainly enjoyable elements for those yearning for an experience different from the norm, but be prepared for many rocky moments along the way.