Sometimes I want something that’s just relatable enough that I know where to tackle it from, but just weird enough that it feels unique. From the moment I saw it I knew Wanted: Dead would scratch that itch. A weird future 80s setting where people duel with katanas while using assault rifles, a setting that smashes together a bunch of different cultures, and minigames that feel like they came right out of Yakuza. Is this the mash-up we needed? Read our review to find out.
You play as Lieutenant Stone, a war criminal given a second chance at life through a corporate-sponsored police program. She’s the leader of Zombie Team, a corporate-owned squad in the Hong Kong police made to put down android riots. Joining her is Cortez, the mute demolitions expert, Herzog, the extreme womanizer sniper, and Doc, a doctor who seems to lack any emotions. Zombie Team is currently having a very bad week. The corporation that owns them has declared bankruptcy, there’s a massive android uprising, and the banks are trying to buy up bits of the police station.
While the basic premise is interesting, Wanted: Dead‘s story is completely all over the place. It’s nearly impossible to tell what’s actually going on. Characters are introduced and vanish from the plot totally randomly. An early cutscene establishes a character named Madam Wong, a mysterious businesswoman who has some kind of connection to Stone and actually scares her. After setting up this plotline, Madam Wong promptly drops out of the game and is never seen again. This isn’t a one-off thing either. Some plot elements that are brought up as if they will be important and then dropped rather quickly include the question of why the androids can feel pain, Stone saving a kid from an abusive family, the actual war crimes anyone in Zombie Squad committed, if androids are really androids or just brainwashed humans, several androids repeating the same phrase, and more. It makes the game feel less like a story and more like a chain of unconnected events.
The only real star in the story is how weird it can get at the drop of a hat. At one point, while walking around the station, I found an incident report that proceeded to play a cutscene about what happened. Stone passed out and the game suddenly became a 90s anime for her dream. In the middle of a cutscene where characters are eating ramen, a narrator took over and gave the history behind ramen. One cutscene hard cut to Stone singing 99 Luftballoons for no particular reason. Listening to the police officer’s weaponsmith explain how and why she named her cats is a delight. The story may be a mess, but I at least liked the style that Wanted: Dead was going for.
Each of the game’s five chapters has the same loop. First, you go through a set of cutscenes, often lasting way too long without making much sense. Following that you’ll get to the actual level, which usually takes about an hour to get through. Once you finish the level, you go back to the police station where you can talk to people and find collectible documents. Finally, each chapter ends with a minigame where Stone and the members of the team get to hang out.
Since it’s by far the biggest part of each chapter, the combat really needs to hit it out of the park. Wanted: Dead uses a mix of melee and ranged combat, with Stone having access to a katana, a pistol, an assault rifle, and a fourth gun that she can find on the field. At any point, you can pull out your assault rifle and play the game like a cover-based third-person shooter. You won’t do much damage this way, but it’s a solid choice for ranged enemies and as an opener for melee ones. The real meat of the combat, however, comes from the melee.
You’ll be combining sword attacks with your pistol, which is more made to be a short-ranged stun so you can close distance. It may seem strange to want to engage in melee combat when so many enemies have guns, but there are some definitive advantages. For starters, melee combat just straight-up deals more damage than ranged combat, so you can take enemies out faster. However, there’s also a Bloodborne-styled system where you can recover some recently received damage with melee attacks, so you always want to be in the thick of things.
However, perhaps more important than any of that, it’s the only way to cheese some of the game’s annoyingly tougher enemies. There are several enemies in the game that have an obscene amount of health and do tons of damage. One, in particular, is a giant man wielding a chaingun that shows up more than he really should in the game’s last few levels. The secret to beating him? Hit him with melee a couple of times until he stops playing the stunned animation, dodge backward so he whiffs his melee attack, then dash forward and repeat. Do this 6-7 times and you can cheese an ultra annoying fight that will either drain you of ammo or health.
The biggest problem with combat can be traced back to the parry system. Like many games with melee combat, you can guard, and if you guard right when an enemy attacks you parry. Unlike other games with parry systems, this doesn’t stun the enemy. So if you parry the first hit in a combo, the enemy will just keep attacking as if nothing happened, even if you attack them out of your parry. The result? Parrying is actually more dangerous than any other form of defensive maneuver. At least, a sword parry is. You see, there are some attacks that you can only parry with your pistol instead. These at least immediately stun the enemy and give you an opening, to the point where I kind of just wished all parries were pistol parries.
It doesn’t help that damage values seem completely and totally random. I’ve seen the same attack do anything from barely chipping away at Stone’s health bar to taking off more than half of it. For the life of me, I can’t seem to figure out which attacks are actually deadly, and which are just going to be worth powering through. The same seems to apply to guns: most enemies with guns seem to do minimal damage so you have ample time to go up and stab them, but sometimes a volley of bullets will suddenly cause my health to just drop to barely anything.
It’s even worse when it happens to your own damage values. This is best seen with the grenade launcher: sometimes it’s a weapon of mass destruction that instantly kills any target. And sometimes it hits targets dead on, you see an explosion, and they just sort of walk out of it totally uninjured and not even playing a stun animation. Even weirder, I’ve shot grenades at the same distance and sometimes they’d hurt me, and sometimes they wouldn’t. The lack of consistency always hurts Wanted: Dead‘s fight.
Sometimes you can stun enemies, something that, again, happens at total random and doesn’t particularly seem to have any pattern to it. Should you do so, you can then instantly execute them with a special attack. There’s a good variety of finishers, which is good since you’ll be doing this a lot. During the game I got to see Stone remove limbs, wrestle people to the ground, throw grenades under them, steal their weapons for attacks, and more. Even when the fight drove me nuts, I was still excited to see these finishes.
There are some other combat elements to Wanted: Dead I could mention, but none of them are really that useful. You’re joined by the other members of Zombie Team, all of whom have different powers they’ll use at random. Cortez and Herzog can put people in a chokehold and occasionally do a super-powered sniper shot respectively, but with no way to actually ask them to do this all that really means is sometimes they’ll randomly kill an enemy. Doc will at least revive you at full health once, which is super useful when he’s around. There’s also a skill tree, but the rate you get XP means it should be maxed out before the halfway point.
At the end of each combat section, you’ll fight a boss. The first boss is a big spider tank, a frantic long-ranged fight where you need to constantly find new weapons to take it on. It’s a thrilling high point in the game’s combat. The other bosses are all just some punch person who wants to punch you (sometimes with a sword or knife) and you’re basically following the same pattern of parry or dodge and strike. None of them do anything particularly interesting, nor make the game feel different than any other fight. The only exception is the game’s third boss, who sometimes turns invisible, causing you to need to keep track of her footsteps on the rain-covered rooftop. However, pretty early in the fight you break her invisibility armor and then she’s just another punch person.
As mentioned before, all levels end with a minigame. Are the minigames at least fun? Of the three, two of them are basically the same rhythm minigame, just one has you eating sushi while the other has you singing along with Nena’s classic one-hit wonder 99 Luftballoons. They’re basically the same minigame that the Yakuza series uses for karaoke, and works well enough without being noticeably terrible or fantastic. The other minigame is a full 7-level SHMUP called Space Runaway that is actually available completely free on Steam if you want to try it. It’s totally fine, but I stopped after the first level. In addition to these, there is a shooting range and practice arena, but that’s just the aforementioned combat mechanics in a new place.
If there’s one enjoyable feature of Wanted: Dead, it’s the soundtrack. It features several covers, with hits like Donna Summer’s She Works Hard For the MoneyDivinyls’ I Touch Myself,Kiss’ Sure Know SomethingMichael Sembello’s maniac, and more. Yet with the exception of maniac showing up in a cutscene, all the songs in the game are relegated to a jukebox in the police station, which seems like a weird choice. Why put the effort and money into licensing the ability to do these covers only to not actually use them?
Wanted: Dead Review | FinalThoughts
I think the best way to describe Wanted: Dead is style over substance. The game has a neat setting, a great (if criminally underused) soundtrack, and just the right amount of weirdness needed to thrive. But it wastes it all on inconsistent and unfun gameplay mechanics, a game that alternates between boring and frustrating, and a story that is mostly nonsense. Hopefully, in the future, we can get something that takes the good and attaches it to a better game.
TechRaptor reviewed Wanted: Dead on PC using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.