Wanted: Dead Review – Don’t Play, Dead Inside

Wanted: Dead Review - Hack and Slash Like It

Wanted: Dead Review on PS5

The sixth generation of consoles was a massive shift in the video game industry, as many of the titles that populated this era became cornerstones gaming would build off. The PS2 saw an angry Spartan man begins on a journey to take down the Greek pantheon, which would later inspire every subsequent game to adopt a formula like what Santa Monica Studio developed.

GameCube saw Capcom release the groundbreaking Resident Evil 4, which set the bar so high for survival-horror, it has yet to be surpassed. Xbox saw Halo revolutionize the first-person shooter scene, which paved the way for Call of Duty and many more first-person shooters looking to claim the throne. Again, the sixth generation of gaming was pretty influential.

You’re probably wondering what any of this introduction has to do with Wanted: Dead, and I’ll just cut to the chase. Before its release, many of the previews circling the title praised it for being a love letter to the sixth generation of gaming, and I went into it with high hopes as that era defined my earliest gaming memories. One hour in, I realized this love letter wasn’t worth reading, as the final product is anything but a message of love.

Wanted: Dead Review - Hack and Slash Like It's 2005
Image Source: 110 Industries via Twinfinite

Wanted: Dead sets the scene immediately with a rather scattered intro through history, as various events led to the rise of Dauer Synthetics and its creation of synthetic beings. Fast forward to the present, and players assume the role of Lt. Hannah Stone, a former prison inmate granted an opportunity to redeem herself. Stone becomes the leader of “Zombie Squad”, a police force residing in Hong Kong that operates outside the standard police code.

In this cyberpunk version of Hong Kong, a conspiracy starts to unravel after a heist unfolds at Dauer HQ, and Stone’s team must figure out what’s going on. I won’t go too in-depth, but the story does have its cool moments as you learn more about Stone and some of the man vs. machine themes. That said, it felt as scattered as its intro, with portions leaving me confused as to why I was doing what I was doing as it happens so abruptly.

At the head of this project lies 110 Industries: a group of developers that worked on Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive, with both heavily influencing titles Wanted: Dead to create a third-person, hack-and-slash/shooter hybrid. The core loop is relatively simple; as Zombie Squad, Stone and her three squad mates are sent to various stages to complete a linear mission. You’ll shoot and cut your way through enemies, as Stone is conveniently an expert swordswoman alongside her expertise with a variety of guns.

Swing Stone’s sword through foes for some satisfying swordplay and finishing moves, or pepper away at enemies with a variety of weaponry such as assault rifles or submachine guns; the choice is yours. Killing foes will grant you experience points that, in turn, grant experience points that you can invest into a modest skill tree for better healing effects, better sword combos, or a “slo-mo” ability, with the latter being a lifesaver.

In between missions, you’ll return to the Police HQ, where you can chat with fellow officers, participate in a few bizarre mini-games for extra collectibles or personal pride (if you don’t like losing), or discover backstories on previous cases and characters.

Wanted: Dead Review - Hack and Slash Like It's 2005
Image Source: 110 Industries via Twinfinite

To reiterate, at its core, Wanted: Dead is super simple. There’s nothing overly complex, which I appreciate, as the evolution of gaming has led to new complex systems that are hard to get behind. However, I cannot stress how unsatisfying almost every aspect of the game is. Not because it’s simple but because it’s none of its systems work.

From a gameplay perspective, the gun and swordplay feel heavy and meaty, which is a good thing, but it also feels like your attacks don’t do anything to the opposition. Unload on foes with your rifle or cut them down with your sword, they’ll tank damage, yet they can completely disregard your onslaught of attacks to murder you.

This issue is amplified by the number of actions that deal a “stunlock” or staggering effect to you, rendering you nearly immobile after you equip your gun or swing your sword away. Enemies will completely interrupt your attack and end your life in one slash, and I found this direction to be more annoying than challenging as it’s such an odd balancing choice. It would make sense if heavy or special attacks inflict this status on you, but it’s literally every single thing that triggers it.

Hack-and-slash games are judged by the fluidity of their combat, as you seamlessly weave together combos to dissect your opposition. Wanted: Dead feels like the least fluid experience I’ve played to date, as I actively found myself spamming the square button as I wanted to clear fights to avoid how drawn out they could be with every action/reaction slowing down time to a crawl .

This issue grows uglier when facing bumps; the second boss made me want to quit playing, not because it’s hard, but because the system is infuriating. Minor complaint, there’s no lock on mechanic, which wouldn’t be that big a deal if the camera didn’t freak out when surrounded by enemies.

Moving on from the gameplay, the in-game dialogue is jarring and wildly awkward. Some characters deliver dialogue in such a painfully slow or awkward manner, with a majority of the dialogue lacking any sort of flow you’d experience in a typical conversation. It’s worse when it happens in a cutscene, as major moments elicited little to no response from me since I was genuinely distracted by the delivery.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not expecting every game to be The Last of Us or God of War Ragnarok, but this was jarring even when you compare this to games from the sixth generation. This also bleeds into the gameplay, as the audio design feels lifeless, with teammates yelling the same hollow “GRENADE” callout, which there are a lot of, weapons bearing weak audio and music is either there or completely absent during gameplay.

Wanted: Dead Review - Hack and Slash Like It's 2005
Image Source: 110 Industries via Twinfinite

Now, there are a few things that work in the game’s favor. From a graphical standpoint, while it doesn’t look amazing, Wanted: Dead does serve up moments where it looks great, with a special shoutout towards some of the more unique takes on cutscenes.

The finishers are neat as Stone ruthlessly cuts down her foes, the skill tree is engaging “enough” to keep you interested in leveling up, and it does feature the Bloodborne “Regain” mechanic daring you to get your health back after getting wailed on. I have to highlight the mini-games, particularly the claw machine, for how fun they can be compared to the actual core game.

Hack-and-slash games have come a long way since the early days of gaming, with Devil May Cry serving as a good measuring stick for the genre. Wanted: Dead would’ve worked 15 years ago, but even then, it would’ve been hard-pressed for this project to find a footing in that era as the demon-slaying saga served up a better product in every single way.

Wanted: Dead tries to rekindle that flame of passion for gaming’s earliest titles, and while it might resonate with some who unconditionally loved this era of gaming, the final product is very unsatisfying and a reminder of why going back in time is a double-edged sword.

Wanted: Dead Critic Review

Reviewer: John Esposito | Copy provided by Publisher.