Wanted: Dead

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: 110 Industries
Developer: Soleil Ltd.
Release Date: Feb. 14, 2023


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PC Review - 'Wanted: Dead'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Feb. 14, 2023 @ 6:00 a.m. PST

Featuring spectacular melee combat and exciting gunplay, Wanted: Dead is set in a dark and dangerous version of sci-fi Hong Kong where you will need sharpened skills to survive.

Wanted: Dead is set in a slightly different version of our modern timeline, where wars and plagues have left humanity both more and less advanced. You have robot arms, but you're still using old-school flip phones. Players step into the shoes of Hannah Stone, a convicted war criminal who is given a second lease on life as a member of Zombie Unit, a special police force in Hong Kong. Zombie Squad promptly becomes embroiled in a conspiracy revolving around artificial humans, evil corporations, and Hannah's own history.

Wanted: Dead's plot is bewildering. It veers from scene to scene with almost nothing in the way of coherent connections. Events happen and then move on to other events. Your team can be slaughtering people in a park in one scene and then having a karaoke sing-off to "99 Luftballons" in the next. Characters drop in and out almost at random. There's a rough plot to follow, but it's told in such a strange way. The ending is incredibly abrupt, but I can't tell if that's because I missed a secret or this is just the way it is. Important plot events happen entirely off-screen, but one of the longest cut scenes in the game is dedicated to Hannah poking listlessly at terrible cafeteria food. More time is spent with your characters arguing over food in the Atomic Heart diner than on the game's central conflict.

It doesn't help that it is awkwardly translated. The dialogue is coherent, but it has a weird, stilted quality that I associated with obscure Dreamcast games. Lines of dialogue don't flow together, word choices don't make a lot of sense, and in general, it feels like something that came out of the PS2/Dreamcast era. It's especially noteworthy when the game doesn't even keep the same translation choices between the spoken dialogue and written dialogue, with text files almost universally having a worse translation even when they are documenting the exact dialogue you've already seen in a cut scene.

I'm not sure how I feel about it. I'm certain some people are going to revel in the pure strangeness of the game. One of my factors to continue was to see what would happen next. It doesn't hit the strange highs of something like Deadly Premonition, but that title ended up being a strong mental comparison.

The gameplay in Wanted: Dead is a blend of melee and third-person shooter (TPS). Hannah is armed with a katana, a handgun, a rifle and one other weapon that you can pick up. Unusually, the handgun isn't meant for distance fighting. It and the katana are the basis of melee combat. The handgun is used to stun enemies, while the katana is used to damage them; swapping between the two allows you to combo attacks together. The katana can be used to parry melee attacks and some ranged attacks, and the handgun can be used to stop "unblockable" glowing red attacks. In essence, you're using both for maximum defensive ability.

Your rifle and other weapons are used as they would be in a traditional TPS. One trigger aims, the other fires, and you automatically take cover if you get near a pillar or waist-high wall. Nothing is outside of the norm for a TPS made after the year 2006. Ammo is extremely limited, though. You'll rarely have more than three clips of ammunition for guns, and any remotely strong enemy can soak up that much ammo before going down. Rifles are less of a primary weapon and more of a way to whittle down foes from a distance before you go in for melee.

When I started Wanted: Dead, I kind of hated the combat. It was only after playing for a while that I realized how the game wanted to be played, and then it seemed unintuitive. Despite enemies being incredibly lethal, you're not supposed to avoid risks. Basically, you want to charge into every single fight. Gunfire isn't something to be avoided, but aside from a couple of cases, you want to tank it to the face because you take chip damage from most attacks, which can be replenished by hitting enemies with your katana. Despite the game starting off with teaching you about cover and aiming from behind walls, you barely want to touch that stuff. If you're not up in the enemy's face with your katana, you're doing something wrong.

The downside to this is that the gameplay becomes extremely repetitive. There is almost nothing in terms of enemy variety, with only a small handful of miniboss foes standing out, and even those are fought in largely the same way. Foes who aren't defeated with handgun-sword combos and the minibosses need to blocked or handgun-countered. While the game isn't very long, it still overstays its welcome, especially since I had all of my skills upgraded before I even reached the last stage.

Once you get going, the game has a satisfying, almost Arkham rhythm. There is something satisfying about charging in and cutting a foe in half, using your handgun to counter another, and then unleashing a series of takedown animations on the rest. It feels pretty cool when you effortlessly clear a room, and there's a sense of satisfaction to defeating foes, even if they're pretty simple.

Bosses are similarly bare bones but are probably the most fun part of the game. They're designed very much in the old-school style, where you need to chip away at HP bars during vulnerable periods, while they can kill you in no more than three hits. They have lots of room for parries and counters, and the fights end up being a lot of fun, even if they're overly easy. There aren't a lot of boss fights, but they do their job well enough.

The difficulty level is going to make or break the enjoyment of Wanted: Dead, which is very punishing of mistakes. While gunfire is largely ignorable, melee attacks do an absurd amount of damage and often smash your character into the ground with a couple of hits. One mistake can end your entire run. If Doc is around, you get a free revival, and you can carry a limited number of stimpacks to restore your health — it's also refilled at every checkpoint or occasionally from enemies — but dying takes you back to your last checkpoint. This is common in the post-Dark Souls era, but checkpoints in Wanted: Dead are incredibly far apart sometimes, so a misstep can cost a lot of time. It's an old-school mentality where dying means you restart a stage, more so than with the bonfire system.

Beyond the relatively small number of missions, there isn't much more to the game. Between missions, you can explore the police station and collect various documents that detail backstory bits, including some that offer bonus cut scenes. You can also visit the station's playroom to play a crane game, sing karaoke, or play a fully fleshed-out, '80s-style arcade game. It's nowhere near Yakuza depth, but they can be fun enough diversions. There are about four main missions, which take about eight hours to complete, including time spent poking around. There are harder difficulty modes, including one that turns off the ability to regenerate health with your katana, but I'm not sure the gameplay has enough depth to stand up to multiple playthroughs.

Wanted: Dead isn't a graphical powerhouse. It looks nice, but there's a low-budget feel to most of the visuals that brings to mind the PS2/Dreamcast era again. They don't look that bad, but that's the general aesthetic that comes to mind. The animations are extremely good, and Hannah's ballet of death really stands out. The music is largely OK, but the most memorable are the '80s-era pop songs. The voice acting is all over the place. Some works well, and some really doesn't, and it varies from character to character.

Wanted: Dead is certainly an experience. It's a weird game with occasional flashes of something great. It's difficult to recommend it solely based on that. It's disjointed, repetitive, and feels more like a collection of ideas stitched together into the rough shape of a game rather than anything cohesive. For a certain kind of gamer, this is going to be catnip, but for the average person, it's probably going to be too weird to work, and unfortunately, the gameplay isn't strong enough on its own merit to overcome that.

Score: 7.0/10

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