Wanted: Dead is the new epitome of ‘old-school’, it feels like a game that you’d expect to play from back on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 generation. It’s silly, messy, frustrating at times and most importantly, it’s pure focus on gameplay makes it a fun title.
Developed by Japanese studio Soleil, with a resume consisting of Ninjala, Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time, NARUTO TO BORUTO: SHINOBI STRIKER and Devil’s Third, to name a few. The studio was founded by Takayuki Kikuchi, who worked on Dead or Alive 4, Ninja Gaiden and was a producer on Ninja Gaiden 2.
It’s important to note the last tidbit because Wanted: Dead feels to have some of the core gameplay concepts as Ninja Gaiden, albeit not as fast paced or as difficult as the aforementioned title, instead the game focuses on timing and patience.
The story revolves around the main heroine, Lt. Hannah Stone, as she leads an elite team known as the “Zombie Squad” in cyberpunk Hong Kong. Imprisoned as one of the losing combatants in a global war, Lt. Hannah Stone is given one final chance to escape her imprisonment, along with the other members of her squad. After a job goes awry, Zombie Squad and the department that keeps tabs on them are at risk of loosing their immunity to a company called Dauer Synthetics.
As Zombie Squad continues their investigation into a sudden Synthetic uprising, they soon find themselves involved with Dauer and a world of underhanded dealings and politics. A mysterious set of mercenaries soon start to take aim at the team and begins to haunt them down.
That may sound interesting now, but Wanted: Dead’s story isn’t going to stick with you, the writing feels muddled or even Frankensteined together. One moment you’re walking through the police headquarters and then, wham, a sudden 2D animated cutscene that dwells into Hannah’s past, then you go back just to be treated to another Hannah flashback, only this time using the in-game models.
The characters themselves are enjoyable, but it’s too bad the game doesn’t focus enough on them, I wanted to know more about Doc and his way of thinking. Unfortunately, the game settles for a hidden character file that the player could miss if they aren’t running around the entire headquarters looking for secrets.
Even the Captain is written like an old buddy cop movie chief, he’s old tired and shows his affection for the team through yelling, telling them they screwed up and he can’t keep covering for them and that he sees them as family. That’s not even a bad thing, his character fits with the tone of the game much more because you don’t have to worry about taking the game too seriously.
Graphically Wanted: Dead is a relic, as mentioned before the game looks like a seventh-generation title, character models are serviceable, and the animation is ok. Levels don’t have anything too memorable or unique about them, even the enemies outside of the bosses are cookie-cutter masked soldiers and small variants of synthetics, the coolest looking minions are the sword wielding ninjas.
There’s nothing here to really write home about, the game doesn’t do much to allow players to take advantage of the world around them, with the exception of some red barrels standing by waiting to be blown up. On the PC, the version used for this review, there aren’t a ton of options for tweaking. Players can adjust the frames to max out at 165, change the upscale and its quality including DLSS support, this is definitely a game that won’t demand too much from gaming rigs that isn’t sporting the latest CPUs and GPUs.
The biggest draw for Wanted: Dead is the hybrid combat that consist of Hannah’s Katana and her pistol, with a small selection of secondary weapons to spice things up, this is both a bright spot and a blemish. Balancing melee with a shooter goes against what many shooter fans know, stay in cover, and pick your shot wisely, unfortunately Wanted: Dead ignores that message and demands the player to continuously move around away from cover while facing a room of assault rifle wielding goons.
The game wants its cake and eat it too, for some strange reason melee attacks to more damage than a shotgun to the face, even when it comes to the enemy AI. Sometimes they will get shots on me while I was doing a combo and the damage was nearly unnoticeable, but then other times those same shots would absolutely drain Hannah’s health as if she was getting hit with rounds from a gatling gun, these unbalanced moments happen far too often and becomes frustrating when you’re trying to get to the next room and you’re out of ammo.
Speaking of ammo, the game really doesn’t want players to play it as a shooter, because ammo is so ridiculously limited that you won’t grow an attachment to any one weapon and the enemy AI is just raining ungodly amounts of rounds. The idea that players should run towards the grenade launching enemy while battling a spider mech firing silo rockets with just a sword sounds cool, but the execution just isn’t there.
Although the execution animations are awesome and are one the most rewarding aspect of the game’s combat, by cutting off limbs there’s a chance that an enemy will become stunned, once this happens Hannah can go into an animation where she will pull of stylish kills depending on where she and the enemy are. She’ll push an enemy towards a wall to slice their throat with her Katana or spin and execute a headshot, my personal favorite is the John Wick-esq body roll to headshot, there are over 50 finishers and it’s worth trying to trigger them all.
When it comes to available weapons don’t expect a wide array of choices, Hannah has a rifle, a pistol and a sword that can’t be changed out between missions. Throughout the game there will be an ally drone that will resupply the team and serve as a checkpoint, at these moments players will be able to change out certain pieces of Hannah’s rifle and pistol. The rifle can change out the sight, stock, magazine and the barrel, while the pistol is limited to a sight, barrel and the grip.
The pieces player chooses will have small affects on the weapons’ overall performance, for example, changing the rifle’s barrel will heighten or lower the gun’s accuracy or recoil. Meanwhile, changing the sight on the pistol can affect stopping power and damage, they feel like small changes but can help serve a purpose when chaining together combos.
Weapons can be picked up from fallen enemies including an LMG, a grenade launcher, a shotgun, an SMG, and the worst chainsaw in videogame history. As a friendly warning, stay away from the shotgun, it’s more likely to get Hannah killed rather than kill the enemies with it’s extremely low range and ammo count. And for the love of everything that’s good, avoid the aforementioned chainsaw, it’s a trap and basically gives enemies free shots at Hannah.
As the game goes along, Hannah can acquire new skills and squad abilities to help her survive the onslaught of swords and bullets, some abilities will only work if you have a certain teammate with you, but you can’t choose who goes on a mission, the game does it automatically depending on the story.
Skills are set into three categories: offense, defense, and utility. Utility allows Hannah to carry extra grenades and grants allies special finishers or the ability to give Hannah an extra health pack after reviving her if she dies while in battle.
Even these features feel kind of half baked as the only ally ability that actually has an affect in the field is Doc’s revive ability, and that’s the last ability that can be unlocked which means you will have upgrade the first two allies before you can unlock the actual useful ability.
The allies that fights alongside Hannah make for great distractions and cannon fodder as players don’t have to worry about any of them dying or bleeding out, they have unlimited health and will shoot well enough to eventually kill an enemy, but they won’t be around during boss fights and Hannah will have to go solo for that.
Boss battles are challenging as each boss has their own gimmick and forces the player to slow down and pay attention to their attack patterns, from an enemy that can turn invisible to a duo that will attack with one of them using a blade to get close to Hannah while the other uses a gun to fire from afar, these are actually the most annoying part of the game because a couple of the bosses have a cool look to them but feels like Soleil stopped at the design phase. The bosses have no characterization to them as they serve little purpose to the story and are just an excuse to pit the players against an idea of a cool character.
When players aren’t out on missions they can play some mini-games, from basic fun games like a surprisingly addictive claw machine, to karaoke and ramen eating. These mini-games are a great break from the main game and will help de-stress some of the frustrations you may attain from the story.
Wanted: Dead isn’t perfect, loading times can vary from blink of an eye fast to head into the kitchen and get a sandwich slow, granted I played the game on an HDD, and I have heard from another reviewer with an NVME that the loading time was blazing fast.
A game like Wanted: Dead is something I would recommend to friends like me, players who crave a single player game that doesn’t muck around with season passes, live service or loot boxes, what you see is what you get. Sadly, I wouldn’t recommend the game at the full $60 price tag, but definitely something worth picking up during a sell at $40.
The voice acting is awkward and sounds like inexperienced newcomers, or maybe Soleil didn’t have the resources to do a bunch of takes, but the messy voice acting fits and helps sells this game as an old school style game that isn’t trying to be an award winning thriller, instead it’s silly and enjoyable for how low-key it is.
With all of its short coming, Wanted: Dead is the awkward duckling that reminds you that games used to be fun and all about the gameplay, not work and doing log-in challenges. In an industry moving towards selling gamers subscriptions, it’s nice to see and play a game that respects the players and challenges their skills and patience without being too punishing.
This review is based on a review code provided by the publisher
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