I'm often too forgiving of short games, but Wanted tests even my patience. In truth I like short games, both personally and critically, and I don't think that, within reason, a relatively short game detracts from its quality. Sometimes brevity creates quality, as too much of a fun thing is often just too much. I likewise don't cry out for multiplayer in what is designed as a single-player experience just because most modern gaming platforms support some form of multiplayer gaming. However, with titles like Wanted: Weapons of Fate, there should have been something more for GRIN to hang their game on than a simplistic, stock-and-trade shooter. Although there's nothing transcendent or even particularly exciting about Wanted, even for a thinly drawn game, it's too short. There's also no multiplayer — though it's important I note there's no story hook for co-op play, and there's no way a competitive multiplayer mode would have worked out to anything but disaster; I wouldn't have shoehorned multiplayer into this game, either.
Based on release dates, a lot of people will think Wanted doesn't seem much like a movie game, although they know to be wary of movie games. The film's theatrical release was a long time ago, and the DVD release was quite a while back, too. Don't let this fool you: Wanted: Weapons of Fate resurrects both specific plot points and likenesses of peripheral characters from the film, so that it has far more in common with the movie than the original material, the popular comic books. The game takes place after the movie, catching up with Wesley as he sets out to discover the secret of his parents' past and avenge their deaths. It's a bumpy ride, and it's not that you'll need to have seen the movie or read the comics, or both, to follow the game. Rather, the game narrative seems disjointed and confused.
Everything starts with some clandestine operatives going after Wesley in Chicago. A cut scene follows, attempting to lay out why the young Killers are leading him on a round-the-world quest. That's the way it goes for the rest of the game: There are adventures and revelations followed by kneecapped plot dissertations. It will help in knowing characters, like the Immortal and Cross, Wesley's father, if you've seen the movie or read the comic books. Still, the problem is not a lack of background but the fact that the game is made up mostly of set pieces. No matter how much you do or don't know about the Wanted universe, it won't matter. You'll also switch back and forth, playing as Wesley in the modern day and then playing in Europe as Cross circa Wesley's infancy. That won't make clear sense, either. If Wesley's action sequences do little to drive forward the plot, then Cross' adventures do about nothing.
If you're fine with modern shooters opting for a more "realistic" weapons loadout — strict limits on the number and type of weapons you may carry at one time — you might be tolerant of Wanted's firearms inventory. The shortcoming here is the lack of anything else, really, to pick up later in the game. This is a pistolero game, and if you don't enjoy single- and dual-wielding automatic handguns, please forget all about this title. Granted, some of things you can do, as the game voice-over says, "with just a gun" are pretty cool, but it's just those few guns, most of which must be encountered or unlocked in later levels. It also takes a while to unlock all of the special shooting skills that Wesley can perform. There are a couple of places where the designers could work in a sniper rifle and a fixed-position machine gun while still staying true to the source material, but they're both poorly executed. The sniper rifle is just a fixed-zoom scope. Seriously. Your whole field of view is flat black except for that roving scope sight. To get a look at the entire area, you have to pop in and out of an awkward, confining cover position. The only way to put up your head all the way is to aim and enter the tight-focus scope mode.
Believe it or not, the fixed-position machine gun may be worse. It took me forever to figure out that shooting and then dropping the gun's shield was not just an animation; you must shoot and lower the metal shield, exposing yourself to the return fire of your targets. Don't shoot, recover from damage. (Damage, by the way, is handled by the now-ubiquitous incremental recovery model, with no health packs or healing implements required.) A big part of how long the game did last for me was dying 15 times on the first machine gun — until I figured it out, at which point it was all shooting fish in a barrel. That one cover mechanic was not intuitive, and it was too frustrating to stick into the game without an in-game hint.
If you've seen the movie, you'll know Wanted's trick before you ever play the game: curving bullets. The designers have put in quite a few other special skills for Wesley to master over the course of the nine acts, but it's only curving bullets that really matters. Other skills are too derivative or work only under duress. The chained-cover system, complete with a blind-firing/flanking scheme to put your enemies off-guard, is novel for a couple of hours, but in the final two-thirds of the game, after you've learned to curve bullets and also, later, picked up the machine pistols, you'll use cover only to stay out of the line of fire.
Sometimes, you'll get into cover, you can't peek out, you can't blind-fire and you can't aim or shoot. There's no evident reason why, other than a flaw in the gameplay. There's an enhanced movement skill that is really more "Bullet Time" of Max Payne fame. Sure, Max Payne stole it from "The Matrix" movie, and those filmmakers stole it from John Woo, so this particular slow-motion effect has been stolen so many times that it's fair game. I don't even care that it's stolen. It's no good here, or I wouldn't care it was stolen. There are also some scripted melee kills of little use, and even a meatshield maneuver. The problem with the meatshield is that every time I got hold of an enemy for this purpose, there weren't any of his buddies left around for the guy to shield me from. Alas.
Curving bullets is probably the only salvation this title gets, and it's not so charming a feat to redeem even half of everything else. All you need to curve is enough adrenaline, earned by killing bad guys, and hold down the right shoulder button while moving the left thumbstick until the line depicting the bullet's expected trajectory from your gun to the enemy's head changes from red to white. You can curve single-shot weapons for more slow-motion cinematic sequences, or curve bullets from multi-shot weapons for more deadly explosive impacts. Curving bullets works smoothly, but when you get up to the levels where hitting most of your enemies with a curved bullet doesn't kill them and only sends them staggering out of cover, it loses a lot of its luster. All of the tricks in Wanted's arsenal eventually yield to blasting away with your pistols out in the open.
Wanted's presentation is not bad, but like the action and the weapons, it's staid and an overall lackluster experience. Voice acting is weak without being miserable, although some of the voice-over and cut scene dialog skips all the way over the border into the land of crass. For a game about an elegant, ancient guild of assassins, the whole game is crass. It's not a blue streak or a wild-child angle; it's just "Beavis and Butthead" without the irony. For example, while the middle and highest difficulty settings have unremarkable names befitting the backstory, the easy setting is labeled "Pussy." Not kidding. This is an ESRB M-rated game, and I'll accept a lot of coarseness in the name of humor, but when it's not funny, it's mortifying. I will say that my favorite part of the game is when Wesley, in a "live" voice-over during an interactive sequence, says something about an "f'ing ambush." It's like at one point, GRIN was told to land on a T rating to suit a broader market, but then everything went to hell anyway, and they forget in that one scene to restore the full instance of everyone's favorite dirty word.
Graphics in Wanted are, again, not terrible but nothing to write home about. For the most part, the game runs smoothly, with a few graphical glitches here and there but no degradation of play. The game is a little dark, especially interiors, and you may have to turn up the brightness to see in a couple of the acts. The game's third-person, over-the-shoulder perspective lends itself to the cover and slow-motion elements of play. The game will look to some of us, what with the Killer's sleek suit and the cobbled European villages, heavily inspired by Dark Sector — a low-rent Dark Sector. The games do look a lot alike, and despite being the later game, Wanted does not look as good as its predecessor. But graphics were clearly never intended for this title's highlight. Gameplay should have carried the day, yet unfortunately, it falls down there, too.
When I say that Wanted: Weapons of Fate is short, I mean, you know, really short. It'll provide six hours of gameplay on the moderate difficulty setting, maybe eight if you hunt down all of the collectibles to unlock comic book covers and video. It might take 10 or 12 hours if you play on the highest difficulty the first time through. The other way to extend the game's life is to keep playing and collect all of the Achievements. You'll have to care a little about Wanted and a whole lot about esoteric Achievements. I can't recommend this game to anyone other than gamers who are long-time fans of the Wanted comic books. Even then, there aren't any life-changing revelations in the game's ho-hum ending. Wanted is mediocre and too short, and it's only of vague entertainment even for players with prerequisite interests.
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