Wanted: Dead has a lot to live up to, there can be no mistake about it. Developed by ex-creators of not just Ninja Gaiden but also Dead or Alive, these games have established themselves within the gaming culture for many years and will continue to do so. Whether you were playing through the Master Collection for Ninja Gaiden at the time or moved on to other games, there are definitely gaps in the market for new slasher action games. Wanted: Dead seeks to make this a reality for many excited fans and wants to slice its way into your life just like the other games from the creators have. The question remains if it actually succeeds at doing just that.
The Story — A Tale That Doesn’t Quite Hit the Mark
When the game starts, it is clear that the story revolves around times of great upset and turmoil set in a fantasy retro ’90s version of 2022 Hong Kong. You play as Lieutenant Stone, a likable character with enough depth to their overall personality to keep you hooked throughout the game. Other budding characters also form a major part of Stone’s Zombie Unit team, these are Doc, Herzog, Cortez, and the Gunsmith Vivienne. Most of these characters are excellent at differentiating themselves from each other with nice voice acting, and Cortez also communicates through sign language which was a nice touch I wasn’t expecting.
However, Herzog’s dialogue can be a little off-the-cuff at times — clearly a “lady’s man” Herzog makes a few actions and comments across the game which didn’t really have any effect. For example, one of the opening moments in a diner had Herzog dropping a fork to look down a waitress’s top. If anything the actions left a bitter taste in my mouth. This may vary for different people to an extent, but it feels like the developers have tried to take a certain masculine direction with Herzog that hasn’t hit the mark.
The dialogue and pacing as a whole are some of the core issues with the game’s story. Although interesting at points, it doesn’t save it from feeling randomly placed together and sealed haphazardly with Flex Tape. Something that took a while to get used to was random intersections of anime-style cutscenes for key story moments — this was because of the jumps in style so quickly. The same emotional effects could have been generated with just the regular cutscene dynamics. Although, these anime intersections were an effective attempt at bringing in new elements that grew to found as the game progressed.
The story does have some emotional parts such as while listening to Lieutenant Stone’s past or the synthetic robot discussions. Friendly dialogue moments between Stone and the cheerful Gunsmith character were always a joy to listen to. Even the Gunsmith’s cats get featured sometimes in these convos and it is lovely to see. The Diner, used as a setting for catch-up talks, served as a nice reprieve, and the story did feel better rounded at these points. Nevertheless, if you are looking for a hybrid slasher game with a wholly impactful story, this likely won’t be the one for you.
The Gameplay — An Influx of the Old and the New in Wanted: Dead
Thankfully, the core gameplay of the experience is beautifully crafted and makes the faults of the story’s pacing less significant. The game prides itself on being tough and, at times, brutal. Especially so in the starting levels when you are still getting acquainted with the mechanics. There is a short tutorial to go over the key information if you need it but it still does take some time to find the flow of combat.
When the flow is harnessed, the highest echelons of combat design can be observed with the interlinking of both slasher and shooter gameplay. Every second of the combat was satisfying, of slashing through foes like a crimson edge finding its place and then carving forward with glory-inducing finisher moves. Exciting boss battles push the boundaries of your skills and leave you wanting more. Along with that, you can opt to find chainsaws in levels for instant kills to your foes or choose to upgrade your weapons by switching out parts at a gunsmith drone. One downside to the combat is that the cover system can be a little arduous at times as you stumble about to find the cover without peeking out too much, but it still holds up well.
Unfortunately, with frame-rate drops and occasional crashes happening this hindered the game’s overall performance. It should be noted that Cortez, Herzog, and Doc will be with you as you venture through the levels and assist you in eliminating enemies — Doc also will bring you back to life for one time per life.
As you eliminate enemies you will earn ability points that can be used to buy skills from three different trees of abilities: Offense, Utility, and Defense. As you progress with the game and unlock more of these, the game cements itself even further as an experience that I will want to return to for even just the combat/game feel alone. The New Game+ mode is a perfect way to experience this again for those looking for replayability.
Level Design and Setting
There are plenty of moments in the game when the level design felt successful, one of the most effective was a club area which you will fight through. However, the game was very minimal in terms of levels; there wasn’t a ton of them at all. Although there were numerous interesting sections on most of the levels. You could also find Collectible documents scattered across the world which slow itself to some extra exploration.
After each mission, the player returns to the Police Headquarters which acts as the main central hub for the team. Within the area, expect to hunt around for extra collectible documents or even just explore and chat with some of the NPCs wandering around. Partaking in some minigames such as Claw Machines to get statue collectibles of characters was intriguing as it was something quite unusual.
Minigames and Music
From Ramen eating to Karaoke and more, there is a large number of minigames for you to partake in that can also be accessed through the main menu. You will unlock these gradually as you progress with the game. Rhythm-based Ramen eating was definitely not on my bingo card for what I expected from the experience. Nevertheless, it was a fun time to play and the same goes for the Karaoke with the Gunsmith.
The music and soundtrack of the game are excellent and some tracks have also been recorded and sung by Stefanie Joosten who you may also better know as the character Quiet from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. The jukebox in the lounge room also is a nice implementation that had me dancing away to new 80s-inspired music.
All in all, Wanted: Dead is a highly enjoyable experience but the story’s pacing and content hold it back from true greatness. The combat system is brilliantly implemented and the lighthearted minigames are great for some extra fun aside from the main content of the game. Even the art style is greatly executed. Wanted: Dead may not hit the mark in every area, but it still serrates the cut between hybrid slasher/shooter gameplay perfectly and I knew that it would be revisited by me for a long time to come even after the credits had rolled.
This game was reviewed using a copy of the game provided by the game’s publisher, public relations company, developer or other for the express purpose of a review.