Wanted: Dead – Stylish, crazy… Frustrating!
- Developer: SolieL
- Publisher: 110 Industries
- Release date: 14th February 2023
- Genre: 3rd Person Action-Adventure
- Platforms: PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One/Series X|S, PC
- Reviewed on: PlayStation 5
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
Wanted: Dead Review
As a fan of game developers pushing boundaries and exploring new territories, I can only imagine the interesting meeting that must have taken place for the team behind the acclaimed Ninja Gaiden series to decide to step out of their comfort zone and create something new. With Wanted: Dead, the team certainly delved into uncharted territory with a stylish, hybrid slasher/shooter game that offers some thrilling moments, but unfortunately, it is equally frustrating for many self-inflicted reasons.
Wanted: Dead the game takes players on a journey through a week in the life of the Zombie Unit, an elite police squad on a mission to uncover a major corporate conspiracy. Players take on the role of Lt. Hannah Stone, a tough-as-nails Hong Kong cop, who must take down mercenaries, gang members, and private military contractors in an exhilarating cyberpunk adventure.
The star of the show is Hannah Stone. She is the lead of the Zombie Squad who is a German kick-ass cyberpunk and wisecracking ex-convict, but she’s not alone. All of her ex-convict team-mates are dragged from a prison cell to do the kind of dirty work that regular police are reluctant to take on.
Each mission in this 15-hour campaign is linear and generally consists of two encounters before a checkpoint. This pattern repeats many times until the mid-level or end-level boss which, when defeated, whisks you away for a cutscene and back to the Police HQ. The first level alone took me around three hours to complete. Many mid-level checkpoints allow for resupply, but to get from one to the next, you only have two lives and as many med packs as you can find.
The whole game, from the very start, sticks two fingers up convention and never lets that sense of “bat-shit crazy” end until the final credits. Outside of combat, you may suddenly be shown a frankly irrelevant cutscene, a flashback anime sequence, or be whisked to a quick-time ramen eating or karaoke session, much like you would find in the Yakuza games. As a player, there are times when you will sit and wonder what the hell is going on. The sum of the parts as they are presented doesn’t make sense and is presented in many different ways, but this sense of not really knowing what to expect next adds to the quirkiness of the game.
The world you play in for this adventure is mainly set around a futuristic Hong Kong filled with enhanced mercenaries and synthetic cyborgs, among other things to battle. It’s not exactly the most beautifully rendered version of Hong Kong, simply due to the lack of visual interest to make the world look lived in and used. The buildings have the same tones and colours and quite often just look the same from room to room. However, the lighting for each set quite literally sparks a small amount of visual excitement. Flashes of lighting sporadically light up the areas across the rain slashing through another source of light. The lens flares as car headlights and police lights move realistically, reflecting well on the backgrounds and players. When you combine that with the smooth gameplay and enemy movement, Wanted: Dead isn’t an ugly game, it’s just not hugely interesting to look at.
Between missions, Hannah can freely explore the four floors of the Police HQ, where there are many side activities to be found, mainly mini-games. These can range from a simple arcade game to play like the crane-grab game for collectables or changing the background music to something a little more substantial, like the shooting range that has a time challenge leaderboard and those ramen-eating rhythm games again! I have to admit, a game that suddenly had me in a karaoke bar singing “99 Red Balloons” in German while trying to hit the right notes gains extra kudos, just for the sake of it!
Once Hannah has spoken to a certain character, she can then proceed to the elevator to launch the next mission.
The missions and mainly the combat is where the game will make or break the game for many, and for me, sadly, I fell into the latter. I may have missed the memo, but since when does making a game “old school” mean it’s stupidly hard? I knew full well that playing a game made by the same people who made Ninja Gaiden meant that Wanted: Dead wasn’t going to be a cakewalk, but at least Ninja Gaiden was fair, something Wanted: Dead isn’t.
The shooting mechanics in the game are quite frankly the worst part of the experience. Hannah is equipped with both an assault rifle and handgun that can be modified in a gun shop, but they are so ineffective as to be nearly useless. There are three major issues with using weapons: the lack of power means that you chew through ammunition far too quickly for little to no reward; enemies can charge straight at you without stopping while being pumped full of lead, whereas you can’t; and when you aim (and you need to preserve any ammo you have), the camera angle comes back so that at least a third of the screen is blocked off by the back of Hannah’s head, severely limiting her view. In a fast-paced action game, being limited in this way is like nailing yourself to a spot and being an easy target.
Even weapons that you can pick up are equally ineffective. For example, grenade launchers require two or three close hits to take down basic grunts.
The list of combat issues goes on. Enemies can leap at you to hit you from off the screen. Even with the camera speed at full, an auto-lock on this still happens. Some enemies can launch grenades at you, and you have no idea where they will land. Enemies can bypass your team and make a beeline for your position through a hail of their fire.
However, the game is much more effective and enjoyable with the melee weapon and handgun combo. The katana that Hannah wields deals much more damage per hit and can be combined with the handgun in combos. Even so, basic grunts still require, depending on the level of difficulty, around five hits with a sword. The only issue with using the katana is that to get to the enemies, you may have to cover a wide-open space and suffer from being hit by bullets. In other words, don’t bring a knife to a gunfight!
The hand gun is a curious aspect as it doesn’t allow the player to aim and it auto-locks every time. If you fire the handgun when an enemy has a red light in their wind-up for an attack, you can interrupt it to launch a counter. The katana also has a guard/counter function, but it didn’t seem to reward the player with a big enough window to deal extra damage for the risk of trying to parry as late as possible.
Given that Hannah can go down in just three melee hits, I started to wonder if getting in amongst the enemies to slash with the blade was a good idea at all. There were even times when it felt like there was no slowdown for an enemy who had been parried! The only other option is to dodge, but there were issues here as well. For instance, sometimes when enemies wind up for an attack, I’d dodge at the last instant to be directly behind them, only for the enemy to spin around and still hit me in a very unrealistic fashion. Sadly, the overriding feeling from the combat was that it just made you as the player feel far too weak and ineffective, rather than the intended powerful, kickass badass.
However, the more you play the more you begin to discover how to correctly play the game. Movement is the key – Quickly moving around the battlefield, landing a few blows, and then moving onto someone else really helps, as does recognising enemy attack patterns so that you can stun them to finish them off with a finisher.
The other weapon you have is to build up a meter to unleash bullet time. When triggered, bullet time slows time down and staggers enemies within range of your handgun around you. This means that any enemies staggered around you can be finished off in one finishing move all at the same time. It was a very gratifying and stylish moment, which soon became very addictive to try to repeat.
Defeating enemies and completing levels give you points to spend on building up your skill tree. It is worth experimenting with your gameplay style first before committing hard-earned points in a direction you probably won’t use. Looking back, I wish I’d started pouring my points into the melee mechanics first.
The audio in the game is a complete mixed bag. The voice audio levels are woefully quiet, and even when turned up to full volume, I still had to raise the TV sound louder than for any previous game just to hear what was being said. In the end, I gave up and just put the subtitles on instead. However, the soundtrack of the game and in-game effects are really quite fun, with catchy techno old-time beats from a bygone era that make the game feel retro-cool.
The wooden visual acting performances belie what is actually quite an interesting, dare I say, quality storyline. The actors at times only had a basic narrative to work with, but then at times delivered quite hard-hitting quality moments that made me sit up (quite literally) with interest.
Wanted: Dead is a wild ride! It has its flaws, such as poor gunplay mechanics and gameplay issues, but its unique and unpredictable story presentation makes up for it. The game has a “B movie” type feel to it, and while it may frustrate some players, others will enjoy the challenge, even if it’s unfair at times. The game is a shaky start for a new IP from the developer, but it has the potential to be improved or built upon in a sequel.