Initially, There is a lot to be excited about for Wanted: Dead. The lineage of the developer, the bizarre mix of shooter and slasher, and just a bat-shit-crazy premise. The game is helmed by Takayuki Kikuchi, who had worked at Tecmo on Team Ninja and was a producer for Ninja Gaiden 2. The truth hurts more than having a samurai sword plunged in the heart by your plushie Leonardo you had as a kid. Wanted: Dead looks bad and has terrible voice acting, but I still had a lot of fun with it and it makes me crazy.
Give it to me straight, Doc.
Let’s start with the positives and there are many good things about Wanted: Dead.
The visuals look dated but with some modern character models. Weirdly, it is like those 2.5D games where you have pretty backgrounds with flat sprites, except here, it is the opposite. There is a very interesting soundtrack with a mix of retro-inspired synth-wave, pop, and metal tracks. I often found myself jamming to the music while I was idling.
The roster of characters is diverse and unique; they all seem like stark stereotypes from popular movies though. Vivienne, aka Gunsmith, is one of the more interesting characters. She will give you some interesting tidbits while working on your weapons. There is an oddly large variety of mini-games to play along with the main campaign. In between levels, you will play rhythm games akin to PaRappa the Rappa. There’s a claw game to collect figures of the game’s cast and a fully fleshed-out side-scrolling space shooter called Space Runaway. All that aside, the combat is the best part of Wanted: Dead. At times it feels really damn good and will make you nostalgic for some of your favorite action games. The anime cutscenes are gorgeous, breathing some cool variety into the odd bit of the story. Let’s break it down.
No Guts, No Glory
Now for some glorious, unnecessarily violent combat! The combat is a throwback to classic action games. Blending a third-person cover-based shooter with Hack N’ Slash sword combat (think Kill Switch meets Ninja Gaiden). The controls feel weird at first, but after some time and adjustment, you start feeling like a badass, one John Wick would be proud of. You start the game with a rifle and a pistol, and your trusty samurai sword. The rifle is used for long-range and cover-based shooting, whereas the sword and pistol allow for up-close combat that combines slashing and shooting into a melee dance of steel, bullets, and death.
You can see a lot of the DNA from Ninja Gaiden 2 in the brutality of combat, which members of the Wanted: Dead dev team had been a part of. Enemies move aggressively, forcing you to push forward or retreat on a dime. You need to choose to engage either from cover and shooting or get up close and cut them to pieces. Enemies are tenacious; some even continue to fight after you’ve severed a limb off the poor bastard.
You are able to pull off a variety of insane finishing moves that will see Hannah Stone (the main character) slicing guys to ribbons and executing them with her pistol. As you dispatch enemies and progress, you earn skills points, which can then be used to unlock new abilities, skills, and character improvements that add depth to the overall experience. I really liked this system and always found the little ding sound that accompanies receiving skill points very satisfying.
The game can be challenging, but not as often as it should, and sometimes entirely too much. On some levels, you will be chopping enemies down left and right, and on others, you will repeatedly die, wondering what in the hell happened. You have three health kits to start, and your squad member “Doc” will revive you once per battle, but you will see the Game Over screen really fast if you are not careful. You are able to get more health kits as you progress, but they will be of little help on some of the more “cheap” sections of the game.
I wanted to say that the combat is the saving grace of Wanted: Dead. That if you can see past the ridiculous story and nonsensical array of gameplay sections, you will get your money’s worth. However, combat starts to get very inconsistent later in the game and it stops being fun when it stops working. Do not tout the lineage of Ninja Gaiden if you are not living up to those standards. Ninja Gaiden is hailed as one of if not the best action games ever made. Wanted: Dead has a unique and, at times, fun spin on the genre blending the shooting and melee combat. Sadly, it just doesn’t put its money where its mouth is.
“You could have been Great!”
There Has To Be A Reason. Right?
At the start of the game, we meet a prisoner in a cell who is called upon by the warden. He begins to explain a scenario, but she stops him short and tells him whatever it is he wants; she’s in. Cut to Hong Kong, and Zombie Squad, led by Lt. Hannah Stone (the prisoner), who are given a mission to stop an invasion of Dauer Synthetics, the top robotics company in the world.
Most of what is presented throughout the story is done so in a slow drip feed of scenes that seem to have nothing to do with one another. Long, drawn-out dialogues between characters do nothing to explain why you or anyone else is here, leaving you more confused in the end.
Anime Cutscenes give background on Hannah and are one of the better-looking parts of the game; unfortunately, they are few and short.
As you progress, the game will have you play a few mini-games, starting with a rhythm game to music while your characters eat ramen. The only thing this section accomplished was making me want ramen and immediately move on to the next stage.
It seemed after each stage, there was a “Chief chews us out” scene pulled straight from Lethal Weapon or any other buddy cop movie. In which the chief reiterates that they “are like his kids” with no context as to how. He yells at them for fucking everything up, but it never really explains how. They were sent in to do a job, they did it and now they are in trouble, I guess.
I can’t begin to explain how disjointed the story feels as random elements are used and never seen again throughout the experience. Here are some examples;
Random Narrator during a cutscene
Random sniping from a helicopter segment pulled from Call of Duty.
Random karaoke mini-game out of nowhere.
Random cutscenes with no context.
I say these are random because they just are. They happen out of nowhere. The karaoke mini-game comes off the back of one of the “chief chews us out” scenes with no transition. It fades to black, then comes back on a mini-game set to 99 Red Balloons, and the Chief is there bopping along to the music!
Major Malfunction Reporting, Sir!
So many things drag Wanted: Dead down that it makes me feel like an upset parent, “I’m not mad, just disappointed.” Most of the time, I cannot tell if it was on purpose or just poor design.
The checkpoint system is awful. Many of the longer and tougher sequences have a hard penalty for failure, as you will have to restart the whole horrible section from the beginning upon death. This, on top of the frustratingly difficult sections, could lead to rage quits. Not to mention an array of glitching and clipping that can occur at any given time, leaving you swinging at a dead enemy that is still standing in an idle animation.
None of the voice actors sound like they are native English speakers, which in itself isn’t an issue, but when it constantly distracts or leaves you confused because you can’t understand what someone said or why. Maybe it’s just bad writing. The lead, Hannah, is played by Fee M Zimmermann, a relatively unknown actress from Switzerland. To her credit, I liked her accent, but a lot of what the character says felt misplaced. Doc sounds like a robot, worse than Peter Dinklage as Ghost in Destiny.
Most of the dialogue comes off as very flat and underwhelming. Cutscenes are strangely drawn out with little storytelling or making fucking sense, for that matter. The music can hit hard at times but I wish it went even harder, like Metal Gear Rising, which has arguably one of the best video game soundtracks ever.
Environments are mostly bland, lacking any real depth or interesting vistas. They mostly serve as a path from one swath of baddies to the next. It gets the job done, but I think there could have been a little more depth or variety in the textures.
Getting Real, Painful
I am incredibly torn. On the one hand, I love this game, but on the other, I cannot recommend it to anyone besides die-hard action game fans like myself. I have had a lot of fun playing Wanted: Dead; I’ve had a lot of frustration playing too. It all makes me a little nuts, but maybe that was the idea. Love it, or hate it Wanted: Dead is a unique experience that seems like it is all on purpose. With a goal to lean into what Wanted: Dead is, a throwback to action games of the past.
Wanted: Dead gets 6/10