Wanted: Dead is a weird one. Don’t get me wrong, weird doesn’t mean it’s bad or anything like that. Well, some parts kinda are, but overall the game is somewhat charming.
This feels like an old game. You know, that old time when games didn’t really care all that much about presentation, story or characters. It was all about gameplay. Wanted: Dead fits perfectly into this category, is all about that old school fun ecstatic hardcore gameplay.
Wanted: Dead is a third person slasher/shooter game from the makers of Ninja Gaiden. Having read that last part, you should know what to expect… a truly hardcore experience and you’ll get that and then some.
Before I continue, I need to put this out there… I died in the first ever encounter in the game. But that first death was my own fault. You know, I just start rushing towards the enemies like I’ve done in pretty much all of the slasher games I’ve played in the last 10 years and got immediately shredded by gun fire.
Second try, one of the random dudes, with a helmet looking like it’s straight out of Dead Space, just slashes me down with a machete in a three hit combo and I’m dead. Third try, I killed everyone in the first encounter just to be immediately demolished in the next encounter. “Oh, so it’s one of those games” I realised and I started to well, take my time with each encounter.
The fights are not easy and you might need to approach them like some sort of a puzzle. That’s how I did it at least. I would take out the gun toting enemies first from afar using my assault rifle, grenades and molotovs then go in and finish up the rest using my katana. You see, while the game is a hack n’slash with guns, it doesn’t play or you should not play it like Devil May Cry for example. You need to approach it more tactically, take as many enemies down using your guns, block and parry any incoming melee attacks, and slash down / execute any of the remaining mercs.
I don’t want to say it, but I think I have to now… Wanted: Dead plays a lot like a soulsborne and if you want to survive, you have to play it like one.
In Wanted: Dead you always need to be on your toes as you die pretty fast. It’s a brutal game from the start and it only gets harder from there as more enemy types are thrown into the mix. You have the basic grunts equipped with all sorts of assault rifles, shotguns, grenade launchers and machete. There’s also an annoying juggernaut carrying a minigun, some pesky Grey Fox knockoff ninjas and some other ones I don’t like to spoil.
Incoming melee attacks are well telegraphed and you can either dodge, block or parry them which usually opens up most enemies for an execution. There’s also another parry mechanic where you use your handgun to “parry” unblockable attacks that again open up enemies for an execution. Slashing down dudes with the katana feels really good and cutting off limbs or decapitating is visceral and utterly satisfying. Dodging away behind cover when your health is extremely low so that you can pop in a medpack is also satisfying. Each encounter is tough and since the checkpoint system is designed in a way to also make you suffer, you need to be even more careful as dying usually means a brutal amount of progress lost.
There are also a couple of boss fights, again, designed to make you sweat. I was forced to master the timing of my parries, dodges, and counterattacks to avoid my eventual demise. Unlocking stuff like extending the katana combos or the parrying time, more health, more grenades in the skill tree along the way made things easier, but still it was no walk in the park. However, no matter how hard each encounter was, and there are some stupidly hard ones, finally killing everyone never got old and was well worth the trouble.
Now, as for the story, while there is one, I honestly did not care about it at all since it didn’t really added anything for me or went anywhere for that matter. The world is run by big corporations and one of these somehow controls the Hong Kong police which in turn employs psychopaths, murderers, terrorists, bad guys as police officers for some reason.
The game follows a week in life of the Zombie Unit, an elite Hong Kong police squad on a mission to uncover a major corporate conspiracy. Heather Stone, the chick detective you play as is one of these psychopaths, murderers, terrorists with a dark past, I guess. There are three other team members in the unit, also psychos.
When I was talking about Wanted: Dead being weird, I was mainly talking about the story and the characters. Somehow, everyone is fine with these mass murderers being part of the police force and running around freely inside the police station. And even though they are employed by this big corporation, that same corporation hires out another PMC to hunt and kill them? At the same time, there’s also a plot line about a synthetics/robots revolution that also goes nowhere?
And the overall tone is just well, weird. One moment you are decapitating hordes of mercenaries and the next you are playing a karaoke mini-game singing 99 Balloons by Nena? Or playing ramen eating mini-game? Or playing a claw machine in the police station? Or playing just a straight up arcade SNES shoot-em-up? What?!
The writing and dialogue is also just weird, with some scenes that make no sense or are full on cringe, as the cool kids might say. It’s not bad or maybe it’s so bad that’s actually good? Does that make sense? It feels like it was written by, I don’t know, fucking Tommy Wiseau.
Same goes for voice acting, which is all over the place, ranging from ehh to just bad. Take the main character Stone for example, her voice actress is, and there’s no other way on how to put it, just bad. Clearly English is not her native language and that’s not usually a problem, but her delivery of the lines is just baffling. She’s like the female version of the Tommy Wiseau’s stilted/janky/cringey The Room character. It’s just weird. I mean, the devs had to know, right?
As for the rest of the presentation, you really feel the budget or lack thereof. Most of the environments look a little bit plain with subpar lighting, but there are exceptions here and there like the night club level. The characters look fine, nothing special worth mentioning. The animations during gameplay, on the other hand, look really great and you feel that a big part of the budget was spent on them and that’s really nice as Wanted: Dead is all about gameplay. There’s also some anime cutscenes, for some reason, that play out unexpectedly… again weird, but I’ll take it. Performance, is stable most of the time, but when action heats up the frame rate drops a lot. Hopefully a day one patch might improve it, but as of this moment, I don’t know if the game will receive one.
Wanted: Dead is not a game for everyone. The tone is weirdly all over the place, the premise and writing are weird, voice acting is absolutely weird, but the gameplay is special. Most of the time it’s punishingly hard like “fuck you” kind of hard, but at the same time it is utterly satisfying especially when it clicks and you master your dodge, parry and attacks. This is a love letter to hard as fuck PS2 era games and if you understand what that means, then this is definitely a game for you. Thanks for reading!
The game was reviewed on a PS5 using a code provided by PR. Wanted: Dead is out now on Playstation, PC and Xbox.