Wanted: Dead Review
In the name of democracy
I've already seen the game-over screen three times in less than an hour of playing. Although I had to keep my wits about me, I had relatively no problem killing the entourage of foes in the Japanese-style hall. I cleverly used my environment to my advantage, lured my adversaries towards an arched bridge, and carefully executed several combos with my sword. I continued this assault until my enemy's limbs flew into the air before delivering a devastating killer blow with my handgun. Gore-soaked with the blood of my enemies, I then proceeded through the hall until suddenly; a Ninja broke through a shoji door. I grabbed my rifle and shot towards the Ninja as they dashed towards me, but my efforts were futile, and they quickly killed me after landing a few attacks.
Wanted: Dead encapsulates the bygone days of the mid-2000s, inspired by titles such as Ninja Gaiden and Devil May Cry, as it entails high-octane gameplay that will challenge even the most seasoned gamers. However, you will be thoroughly disappointed if you expect an experience up to the calibre of those beloved titles.
You assume control of Lieutenant Hannah Stone, an ex-reengaged soldier who now has a prosthetic left arm due to being injured in the line of duty. While imprisoned for war crimes, Stone makes a pact with a government rehabilitation program to join the Zombie Unit, an elite police squad trying to keep law and order in the corrupt, cyberpunk streets of Hong Kong, in exchange for a pardon on a life sentence.
The storytelling is best described as "I'm fourteen, and this is deep". It's a strange hybrid of attempting to be edgy but comedic, which feels a bit of a miss. For instance, one moment, Stone will be at a greasy diner, smoking a cigarette while cracking several witty anecdotes amongst her comrades. The next moment, everything gets serious as the team receives an incoming call about a disturbance and hastily responds to the scene. With it then reaching full circle, as when the mission is finally over, it ends with your captain giving the Zombie Unit a stern lecture about damage costs and piling up bodies.
The character's personalities also add to this tone. Stone often appears harsh and almost cold as she devoids sentimentality for what happens on the field. Herzog, another member of the Zombie Squad, is a foul-mouthed serial philanderer, and another character, called Gunsmith, is an eccentric cat-loving enthusiast. The cutscenes reinforce this cheesy tone even further, but probably not for the reasons the developers intended. The visuals are adequate enough, but the voice acting and audio synchronizations are incredibly sloppy. This is strangely not as off-putting as it sounds, as it adds to the old-school charm, but it is disappointing when you consider the game's full asking price.
The action has a steep learning curve and combines firearms and sword-fighting; think John Wick or Devil May Cry, and you are on the right track. Stereotypically, you'll enter an area and cannot proceed to the next until you kill all the enemies that stand in your way. The combat has a rapid pace as you can quickly switch between the sword and handgun with a simple button press, which helps create combos in succession. The hyper-excessive gore also adds to a high-energy atmosphere, as striking a few moves onto your opponents will lead to a lot of blood splatter.
Some enemy mercenaries will specialize in close combat and will wield a ninja-like sword or a machete. Embracing close combat scraps when the opportunity presents itself is the ideal method of attack, as it's easier to control the incoming aggression heading towards you, as you can utilize dashes and parries to your advantage. Additionally, performing sword attacks not too long after receiving damage will recover health, which can help in tight situations.
In contrast, others enemies will opt for long-ranged attacks like firearms or grenades. In these situations, you can choose to keep your distance and use the rifle gun. You can take cover in the environment, but it usually won't keep you protected for too long, as some enemies will start chasing you down. This leads to continuously adapting your fighting style depending on who you are facing. However, enemies' attack patterns don't differ too much, making it easier to learn counters when you reach the latter half of the game.
The sinister hand of death is always looming over your shoulder though, as it only takes a handful of blows to lose all your health and get the game-over screen. Not only that, but if an enemy successfully lands a few hits, you will momentarily be stunned, which can make it incredibly hard to recover from, so ideally, you'll try and avoid being hit altogether. In other tough action games, you can afford a hiccup or two, and you still feel like a badass after you've defeated your foes. But in Wanted: Dead, the gameplay felt unduly harsh and even rigid, which drains the fun away, as everything constantly needs to be pitch perfect.
The experience you gain after killing opponents can be used on a skill tree, which branches into three categories: offense, defense, and utility. Although you can unlock more elaborate dashes, parries, and so forth, these upgrades feel limited, as the player's skill level will be the determining factor for success. This is a bit of a shame, as the sense of progression is hindered here. You will also encounter several Gunsmith Drones that act like glorified checkpoints when progressing through the level. At these checkpoints, you can also mod your gun's specs and restore all your ammo and health. This will come in handy, as death will be a common occurrence, allowing you to promptly reach where you met your grisly demise without wasting too much time.
There are also issues with level designs and boss battles. The environmental design just feels poor, as it's not that exciting to travel through and is accompanied by bland backdrops. The worst offender for this is the second mission, where you fight through an empty park that has no memorable characteristics. This is particularly bad when you consider there are only five missions throughout the game. Boss battles are another sore point, as there were six in total, but two of them were just battles against spider tanks.
The visuals and sound effects are underwhelming, and make the title look like it could have been released in the early life-cycle of the PS4/Xbox One. The soundtrack is not too terrible, as it attempts to match the fast-paced action, but none of the songs is particularly remarkable. I wanted an as authentic experience as possible, so I kept at the normal difficulty level, and it took roughly 10-12 hours to complete. But this time could dramatically change depending on which of the four difficulties you select.
On a lighter note, in between missions, you will get some downtime as you unwind and relax in the police headquarters, where you can talk to characters and play some mini-games. These activities harbour a lot of similarities to the Yakuza series, although there are only a few to play. They're all enjoyable, but the standouts are probably the QTE mini-games, where you'll either participate in an eating contest and try to chow down on a bowl of ramen or sing karaoke songs questionably on a lit-up stage. They are a nice and bizarre change from the punishing gameplay.
I have a soft spot for slasher/shooter titles, but even with my love goggles on, the title is hard to recommend at its full price tag. Wanted: Dead almost tries too hard in certain areas and not in others, which gives everything a cheap feeling. It would have been more beneficial for the game to have crafted better levels and more diverse enemies and bosses, instead of relying on the punishing gameplay and dying for the fourth time because you got bamboozled by a pile of enemies at once.