Publisher: XS Games
Developer: Iridon Interactive
Release Date: February, 2004
Wanted: Dead or Alive conveys a feeling that I used to get while watching generic westerns with dull storylines and bad acting: the wild west is one hell of a boring place. Desert for as far as the eye can see, cacti scattered about meagerly, chickens wandering around lonesomely, and those balls of dust that roll by slowly seemed to be the only thing there was. I'm positive it's not that plain in reality, but the media has convinced me that the West is one of the last places I'd like to go on vacation. Wanted: Dead or Alive does absolutely nothing to change my mind.
The setting is, of course, the West. You jump in the game with the cliche desert, cacti, chicken, and deserted houses made of clay or something such, and you don't really leave. Knowing that the next level is going to look just like the last isn't exactly enticing and certainly didn't give me any motivation to see if the game got any better. The levels basically consist of you running around, shooting everything that moves, collecting items out of crates marked with a red X, and moving on. Occasionally you'll run across a hanged man or a grave marked with a cross, but that's about as exciting as it gets, folks.
The gameplay isn't really a good reason to play the game either. You can collect different weapons, ranging from pistols to shotguns to knives to dynamite, and shoot guys. That's really all there is to it. To make things even simpler, there's a targeting system that does all the work for you; or at least when it works, in any case. Your character must be facing an enemy before you can tap the right mouse button to lock on (even if he's in view of you, the player, he must still be in view of the character), and even then you're likely to target onto another foe or even a crate before you lock onto the fella you want to. You could be looking at a guy shooting at you and a dormant wooden box, and your chances of locking onto the deadlier target wouldn't increase any.
If that doesn't take the cake for crap, the camera itself will. It's always connected to your character, so that when you turn left he will too. The problem is that it's at such an angle that it's hard to see anything further than twenty feet ahead or you. That means that you'll often hear the sound of gunfire, or be struck by several bullets, before you have any idea where your attacker is. There's absolutely no indication where bullets come from. The camera doesn't change at all when you're locked onto a guy, either; you're still free to lock on and run away, leaving the guy offscreen because the camera refuses to zoom out or in.
The general lack of variety in the game is no help, either. All of the guns work exactly the same - some are just stronger than others. Dynamite is the only exception, which you use to blow up the occasional big rock. Each cowboy that you take down acts exactly the same. Even the bosses follow the same horrendous AI patterns. Guys get stuck behind larger crates and fences. Bullets don't go through fences, so you can literally run away from five guys chasing you, get behind a fence, and watch them try to shoot you, never realizing that they could just walk around (or wonder why their bullets don't go through the fence, which I'm also wondering).
In the game there are a number of houses which have roofs that you can get on top of. Occasionally an enemy will be on top which you can shoot, but he won't shoot you unless you come up to see him. And once you're up there, you can target onto other guys standing on the ground. They won't be able to aim up a little and shoot you. They won't react if their buddy gets shot or even try to hide. It's just another thing to add to a long last of crappy things about this game.
Occasionally breaking up the levels are piss-poor "arcade-style" shooting minigames. You know those arcade games where you take down a bunch of guys, then the game moves your character, and you shoot some more guys, usually with a light gun? That's kind of like this, but ultimately a lot crappier and a lot less polished. In this, you can't shoot unless you're stopped - shooting is literally disabled - nor can you reload until you've used up your entire clip. The game will also have you walk straight by enemies that are just staring at you, or occasionally pit you up against like ten guys all shooting at you at once. You'll even see guys running to get in place to shoot you, and you can take them out long before they get to their spot. The whole thing just feels awful, and unfortunately you have to complete this stages to continue (if you still have any reason to continue, at this point).
The graphics are far less than stellar, though they get the job done. Pointy, polygonal men with badly textured capes and clothing are your only enemies. The dull yellow ground and brown rocks make up the majority of the scenery, with a dose of pointy green cactus and white chickens that you can walk through, clipping at large. The first-person shooting levels make everything look even worse, because you actually get to see all of this stuff close up. It isn't exactly pretty. On the upside, everything does run at a very smooth, rock-solid framerate.
Sound is decent, and easily the best part of the game. You get to hear some fun western-style tunes, complete with guitar backed up by whistling. Sound effects aren't as exciting, but at least get the job done; the majority of them are gunshots or the rare dynamite explosion. There's no voice acting; the pointless storyline is told completely by text that I really didn't care about. That's all for the better, I suppose. As it stands, the sound is the most memorable part of this game.
All in all, Wanted: Dead or Alive is one of those games that really turned out like complete garbage, and I don't mind saying that. I can't think of a really good reason to buy this game; hell, I can't even think of a half-decent reason to buy this game. Any fun wears off in the first few minutes when you see that the core of the gameplay (tapping the right mouse button to lock on and shooting away) doesn't even have a good lock-on system, there's virtually no variety, and the only mini-games that break up this tedium may be even worse than the main game itself. The graphics are pitiful, and the sound is the best part only because it's not total junk. Please, take my word for it and don't spend any cash on this lousy game.