On the surface, Wanted: Dead has a lot going for it, and it’s those qualities that are going to ensure that there’s a fanbase who unapologetically love everything about this game. That’s perfectly valid, but it comes with the obvious caveat: Wanted: Dead isn’t for everyone. Despite the fact that the game boasts developers who have worked on the likes of Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive, two franchises I have a lot of love for, Wanted: Dead simply wasn’t for me.
Wanted: Dead is a throwback to the schlocky, bargain bin PS3/Xbox 360 days, with solid core gameplay at its center, and it definitely has some merit in that regard. The gameplay is the main reason you’ll keep coming back for more, but even that has its limitations by the end of the game. Meanwhile, the cutscenes, presentation and performance of Wanted: Dead are consistently annoying, leading to quite the miserable experience.
The game sees players controlling Hannah Stone, the leader of Zombie Unit, a police squad that likes to carve their questions into their bullets before shooting at their suspects repeatedly. Subtlety and stealth are thrown out the window, as Zombie Unit consistently ride the cool guy conveyor belt from one explosion to another, laying waste to everything in their path, much to the chagrin of their long-suffering Captain.
Wanted: Dead plays like a blend between a third person cover shooter and a hack and slash game like Ninja Gaiden. You’re equipped with an assault rifle and a sword, and can switch between the two pretty seamlessly depending on what the situation allows. While gunning down enemies might sound more convenient, using your sword allows you to recover some lost health, which means getting up close and personal is often a winning strategy.
If that core gameplay sounds a little like the Wii U title Devil’s Third, that’s because some of the developers also assisted on that game too. The results are pretty much the same, with those who can vibe with Wanted: Dead’s idiosyncratic nature likely to find plenty of value, but there’s so much that gets in the way of the player’s enjoyment that Wanted: Dead becomes hard to recommend.
Players are given a few basic combos to work with, but the real meat of the combat comes from parrying and takedowns. Parrying adds an extra layer of skill to proceedings, and being able to parry an enemy’s full string of attacks becomes an essential part of the late-game experience, especially when the game starts throwing cyborg ninjas at you like they’re confetti. While it’s always satisfying to reflect an enemy’s attacks, the highlight of Wanted: Dead is the takedowns.
There’s about 50+ finishing moves in Wanted: Dead, and each of them feels like they’re channeling the energy of a John Wick stunt coordinator. The animation work done on these takedowns is so fantastic that even when you start seeing repeats, you never get tired of watching them. Unfortunately, cool takedowns and solid parrying aren’t enough to rescue Wanted: Dead from the doldrums of its own mistakes.
While there’s some satisfaction to be found with melee combat, the hybrid between shooting and melee can feel opposed to each other. For instance, gun-toting enemies deal almost no damage to Hannah, but a guy with a sword can carve her up in two or three hits, even on the normal difficulty setting. Some might like the high-risk gameplay, but others might not enjoy dying in such a rapid fashion.
Naturally, you’ll end up being hit by those combos while you’re shooting at someone else or when the camera is stuck in a certain position because some of the level design is too tight for the action on offer, leaving you to feel like you’ve been unfairly killed too. When that happens on a later level, where checkpoints can be few and far between, the frustration begins to amplify massively.
This is without getting into some of the glitches that you could find too. There’s major glitches, like the game crashing just after you completed some really hard sections, but before the auto-save triggers on the checkpoint, leaving you forced to restart the whole section, along with more minor glitches. A couple of silly ones include being hit by an incendiary grenade while standing near a wall, as the animation of moving backwards from the fire locks you between the fire and the wall, causing you to die. There was also another time on the second level where a squadmate, Herzog, just decided to have a permanent lie down for the whole level. It’s not even like he was catching a tan, it was a night time level.
Wanted: Dead’s janky gameplay with a solid core could be forgiven if the rest of the game made up for it, but the whole presentation of the game is exhausting. Unless there’s more cutscenes to unlock by playing on a harder difficulty, it feels like there’s so much context missing. About as much as I could gather about the game’s plot is that the villain was evil because he looks like a blonde Willem Dafoe. There’s a whole cyberpunk world, with an alternate history, and so much in Hannah’s backstory that could be explored more, but the story just has to take a detour after the first level for a five minute cutscene about ramen.
It’s clear that there’s been other influences on Wanted: Dead, with Yakuza/Like A Dragon being an obvious one. Some of the minigames are straight up lifted wholesale from RGG Studio’s games, but there’s a lack of refinement here that impacts the overall charm. Plus, it doesn’t help when the game’s myriad of performance issues also extend to the Karaoke minigame. How am I supposed to keep the rhythm when the game keeps skipping frames?
As someone who loved bargain bin picks from previous generations, Wanted: Dead had plenty of reasons to spark my interest, and to be fair, I guess a janky, not-for-everyone experience is precisely what the aim of the game was. It’s just a shame that Wanted: Dead’s gameplay, performance and fundamental story issues made enjoying the combat encounters so much harder.
A code for Wanted: Dead was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.
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