Xbox One, PS4, PC, PS5, Xbox Series X|S
February 14, 2023
Well… that was something
The story follows an incredibly nasty week in the life of an elite Hong Kong police squad, Zombie Unit, on a mission to uncover a major corporate conspiracy. Lead the team and play as Lieutenant Hannah Stone, a strong and hardened ex-mercenary turned cop from Sweden, and plough through armed forces, gang members, and private military contractors in a dramatic cyberpunk adventure.
The haywire crew and tone of the game are first properly introduced at a local diner where Sure Know Something by Kiss is lightly playing in the background. From that first mission, Zombie Unit are a reckless and not very likeable group of surface-level criminals turned law enforcement. Herzog is the loud-mouth and insensitive member of the group and Doc is the logical and smart support. Cortez is a deaf specialist who signs using ASL throughout the game and adorably whips out his handheld console when idle in-game. While they are all over the top, there is no depth to the main cast or the side characters. Even the villains feel like they pop in and are eliminated before getting to know their motives.
Lieutenant Stone does get quite a bit of characterisation through a range of in-game graphics and anime flashback cutscenes. The otherwise stone-cold leader will occasionally blackout and a memory of what seems to be the past tells a little more about her background, cybernetic prosthetic, and motives. Although mixed mediums are a fantastic way to tell the story, the anime visual style is plain and the performance of Stone’s uninspired dialogue by Fee Marie Zimmermann doesn’t do the character any favours.
“…a handful of charming mini-games break up the action… a surprising delight to the experience.”
With clichéd and poorly written characters, the narrative itself fails too. It’s a typical corruption plotline with obvious twists and turns that won’t surprise anyone. The wildly disjointed pacing and scenes make the storytelling feel messy at times, lacking a lot of storyboarding or refinement. The writing is sub-par, with lots of one-liners and awkward performances, as well. Stefanie Joosten’s voice as the cat-loving yet violent weaponsmith Vivienne, and the online marketing videos, might be the only redeeming quality, but is still inconsistent. Special shoutout to Captain Albert Simmons who is the most patchy and laughable character (not in a good way) in a very long time.
Overall, Wanted: Dead has an ineptly crafted story that highlights its kookiness but not without being mainly bad.
Along the adventure, a handful of charming mini-games break up the action. The claw machine is one of the best and most realistic representations of the arcade ticket munchers in a video game. Ramen eating and karaoke rhythm games to 99 Luftballons by Nena are quirky fun, even if it’s only one song to pick from. Space Runaway is a classic mech, side-scrolling shoot ‘em up that is getting a free standalone release because it’s so well-made with its backstory. They are replayable at any time from the main menu and are a surprising delight to the experience.
This is my finest sword
The hack-n-slash combat offers a decent amount of fun. Stone can use a katana and a range of firearms to take out a variety of enemies in a Ninja Gaiden style. With a range of deadly moves and over fifty unique finishers, the gameplay can be truly chaotic—especially with the clumsiness of the controls and cover system.
Melee combat shows off that Soleil Ltd. trademark; slicing off arms, through torsos, and decapitating foes with creative moves and animated finishers is always exciting. There’s a variety of standard combos and mixed strings of actions with the sidearm for stuns or parries which can make large fights thrilling. Upgrading Stone’s skills to unlock charge moves or dashing uppercuts will add more to that imaginative catalogue of attacks. The real downsides to melee are the inability to jump and the terrible chainsaw pick-up. Not being able to leap into the air and combo enemies feels like sacrilege in a game like this, and the chainsaw is monotonous and repetitive and is supposed to be entertaining. Instead, Stone is locked to the ground to facilitate an awkward cover system and the honestly quite tame chainsaw finishers are censored for what must’ve been perceived as shock value by the developers.
The other half of the combat is ranged. Stone has a handful of weapons to use from afar, aiming for the head for high-damage precision or firing gleefully on the run. While gunplay isn’t that bad, the cover system it revolves around is appalling. Players can try to enter the finicky cover system by crouching near waist-height objects which look purposely placed across each superficial shooting gallery. Standard foes will pop in and out of cover like wack-a-moles and fire or endlessly scream the same “GRENADE” line and lob tiny explosives that will damage Stone regardless of cover. Other stronger types will often just run straight towards her, ignoring any cover themselves because they soak an enormous amount of damage, and need to be dealt with head-on. The cover system is broken and useless, especially when sword fighting is so much more satisfying and effective.
“The cover system is broken and useless, especially when sword fighting is so much more satisfying and effective.”
Wanted: Dead is a ridiculously hard game. With a handful of lives before a game over screen, it can be unforgiving when combined with its upsetting combat mechanics. Especially early on with minimal skill upgrades, there is not much variety to parrying and overcoming stronger enemy attacks creatively. The dark mini-boss ninjas are the most infuriating of all. Players will fire all their ammo into these dangerous foes and eventually must take them head-on with parries, while also avoiding their occasional one-hit kill strikes and staggering kukri throws. With strong confidence, when players encounter the first ninja boss in the Japanese-style house, they’ll need to replay this section a handful of times. Wanted: Dead is ruthless.
Boss battles are no different, although with more strategy and thought involved. There are only a couple of major bosses in the game and they all have unique attacks, arenas, and required tactics to defeat. Perfecting and upgrading the parry mechanics is essential in passing these milestones, with key timing to deflect projectiles or one-hit stabs critical to survival. While bosses remain an exceptional challenge, they don’t feel unfair and require a decent amount of gameplay skill to overcome.
After dying a lot, players might be lucky enough to catch the “neko-chan mode” prompt. This will increase the player’s health, stim packs, damage output, and defence against attacks. Stone also gets a cute cat headband to wear. Switching to this mode made the challenge bearable, turning the journey into an admittedly more mindless hack-n-slash but ridding the woes of the painful cover mechanics and damage-sponge enemies. Why this isn’t currently available from the beginning of the game is a mystery.
More time in the training room
To add to the disappointment, there are many functional issues with Wanted: Dead. Visually, it’s okay but not great. Many animations are stiff and others like the finishers are smooth as butter. Elements of the environment, weapons, and lighting will distractingly pop in and out of the world. While the levels aren’t intricately designed, they are creative and offer a fine range of places to cut bad guys to bits. It’s just a shame so many visual bugs disrupt the experience.
Besides the charming use of licensed music, the audio leaves much to be desired. Constant and annoying screaming and one-liners from the cannon fodder foes, cheap sound effects from what could be a bargain bin for SFX, and the aforementioned terrible voice acting are very obvious. There were moments when my ears were about to bleed thanks to the vast crowds of enemies all shouting and firing and the chainsaw repeatedly shredding through foes. There’s also a weird oversight when turning off subtitles, making Cortez unable to be understood without understanding American Sign Language.
“Wanted: Dead is far from polished.”
Let’s throw on top of that constant frame rate drops on PlayStation 5 and an error where firing in the middle of another animation or action will activate the DualSense haptic trigger feedback, despite not shooting a gun. Wanted: Dead is far from polished.
On a personal note, I want to mention I still had a fun time playing Wanted: Dead. In spite of how objectively bad this game honestly is, I was drawn to finishing the eight-hour campaign. I think it was a combination of nostalgia for those wonky, bargain bin and rental Xbox 360 and PlayStation 2 action games and the serviceable combat. Or perhaps it is the ineffable charm of the terrible writing, voice acting, and story mixed with the cute mini-game activities. It’s inexplicable. But just keep in mind, regardless of the score and review, for the right person there might be something here to enjoy.
- Mini-games are actually quite fun
- Melee combat and finishers are exciting
- Glitchy and unpolished
- Bad voice acting and uninspired story
- Cover mechanic and enemy AI is not good
- Really annoying sound effects in chaotic fights
- Very basic level design
Even with its quirkiness and challenging katana action, Wanted: Dead is a mess. It offers an odd nostalgic charm of the incomplete and unpolished games of the mid-2000s and never takes itself too seriously. Still, without the enjoyable mini-games, imaginative slice and dice finishing moves, and “so bad it’s funny” voice acting, there’s not much more to love. This might be one of the most disappointing games of this year.