Review – Wanted: Dead
Wanted: Dead is a game I’ve been following for a while. It comes from some of the developers from the fantastic Ninja Gaiden 2 and Dead or Alive franchise (yes, including Xtreme Volleyball, as they have so proudly stated in one of the trailers). It’s a low-budget unashamedly PS2-era action game that promises to be tough as nails whilst delivering a great action experience.
Set after a great war that tore the world apart, much of the world is now run by corporations in a dystopian cyberpunk world. You play Lieutenant Stone; an ex-war criminal who has been assigned to the Zombie Squad for the Hong Kong Police Department. Stone and the rest of Zombie Squad stumble onto a much larger conspiracy that will make them corporate targets.
The story in Wanted: Dead is fairly underwhelming. Whilst it’s full of a charming and likeable cast of characters with plenty of their own quirks, nobody really gets time to shine. We don’t get to see any characters really develop as the game goes along, and it feels like missions are just very loosely connected with very little thought or emotion. Some characters are even completely forgotten about or thrown in randomly without any thought.
It is too interested in setting up sequels, instead of fleshing out and delivering something cohesive upfront. It even features a frustrating cut-to-black ending, that it didn’t come close to deserving. In fact, I was a little confused when the credits started to roll. Whilst it’s quite interesting at times, it just isn’t explored thoroughly enough.
As for the gameplay, this is where Wanted: Dead will really shine for some. Wanted: Dead is a third-person hack ‘n’ slash/shooter hybrid. As you move in and out of melee to kill waves of enemies, it’s an absolute breeze to control and jump between the two modes. Although, shooting can take a minute to get used to.
Stone’s sword is assigned to the X button which will be your main source of attacks. However, by combining that with her sidearm, she can chain combos together. In addition to this, if you see an enemy flash red by pressing the Y button, you will perform a ranged counter. This is really helpful against enemies with heavy sword attacks or powerful weapons like grenade launchers. Especially since this puts them straight into a stunnable state. Or for standard melee attacks, hitting the block button at the right time will parry them and open them up for a melee counter.
Once you’ve done enough damage to an enemy they will enter a weakened state; by pressing the Y + B button which will restore a portion of your health. If done with multiple weakened opponents nearby Stone will be able to quickly dash to each one and dispatch them in a stylish combo attack. Combining this with the bullet time ultimate that will nearby enemies is a great way to clear entire groups of enemies.
Stone also has a rifle to utilize for her badassery. By moving towards walls, you will automatically enter cover. While using the triggers, you can pop out to take enemies from afar. Mechanically, the shooting is as simple as it gets, and certainly won’t be remembered for it either. However, it does add a little extra variety and strategy especially playing on higher difficulties.
As a whole, the combat system is an absolute blast, and beautifully combines ranged firearms with close-range sword gameplay. Whilst, not the deepest or most polished, with no real move list to play around with, it can occasionally feel a touch repetitive. But there’s always some fun to found in it. This is helped by the skill tree system that gives Stone new moves that help in a meaningful way.
As you would expect from the sadistic developers behind the likes of Ninja Gaiden 2. Wanted: Dead is a tough game, a really tough game in fact and you will die a fair bit. Whilst the standard enemies don’t present much of a threat, some of the ninja class enemies are absolutely brutal, with their tight parry times that will punish you if you miss them. This difficulty is hammered home by the occasionally harsh checkpoint system, that will cause you to go through multiple enemies encounters multiple times. Sometimes even with significant difficulty spikes. Although, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Then clearly taking inspiration from the Yakuza series is the wealth of mini-games. From the sensible shooting range challenges all the way to karaoke, arcade machines and ramen eating. It’s an absolute blast but I was hoping for just a little bit more from them.
The entirety of Wanted: Dead is filled with a crazy amount of jank. Enemies will stand around idle often waiting for you to do something. Some will get stuck in the environment or spin around in circles. Then there’s the arcade machine mini-game, that was unplayable due to a crazy amount of screenshake.
Nothing in Wanted: Dead‘s visuals will impress you. The environments are largely dull and lack much creativity. There’s not a lot of variety in the enemy designs, none of which look particularly good in the first place. However, Wanted: Dead does have style, with the John Wick-style takedowns that really make you feel like an absolute badass. They are brutal and absolutely stylish to look at.
Same with the sound as well. A lot of the voice acting is very stiff and lacks any emotions. Characters are very one-dimensional; often with only one tone of voice. Yet again, it does have its charm and I was hoping for more from these characters. There’s also just an overly repetitive enemy death scream that is played way too often. However, one area in which it does shine is the 90s-inspired synth soundtrack, with some pretty banging original tracks.
Wanted: Dead is certainly an interesting game that won’t be for everyone. It’s full of jank, isn’t particularly well designed, and often feels incomplete. However, it is a good time, and I’ve had a blast with it despite its flaws, and it left me wanting more by the time I was done.
A technically rough game with repetitive locations and character models that just don’t look great.
Wanted: Dead is tough often times unfair and filled with a lot of jank. Saying that, the unique melee/gun combat has a lot to like about it
Voice acting is all over the place, but does have a certain charm to it as well as an awesome 80s style soundtrack.
Despite some glaring issues. Wanted: Dead succeeds at the most important part of gaming: giving you a good time.
Final Verdict: 6.5
Wanted: Dead is available now on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X.
Reviewed on PC with an RTX 2060, Ryzen 5 3600X and 16GB RAM. Tested on Steam Deck
A copy of Wanted: Dead was provided by the publisher.