Everyone has that one game from their childhood sitting on the shelf that no one else has heard of. It’s typically a 5 or a 6 out of 10 action game that did well enough that you bought it, but not so well that it became a long running franchise. Mine is Oni, a launch window PS2 game made by Bungie and published by Rockstar of all people – it was a middle of the road action-shooter that was the dictionary definition of “bang average” and probably sold about four copies before it was quickly forgotten. One of those sales must have gone to 110 Industries because loading up Wanted: Dead instantly took me back to the early noughties!
At A Glance
|Positives||+ Peak melee/gunplay mechanics|
+ Fun upgrades
+ Decent sized levels
|Negatives||– Horrible pacing throughout each mission|
– Inconsistent difficulty
– Rough visuals
|Price (When Reviewed)||£49.99|
|Our Playtime||13 Hours|
|Available On||PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One|
Part hack-and-slash, part 3D action-shooter, Wanted: Dead is a love letter to games like Oni, Ninja Gaiden and Enter The Matrix – those forgotten action games of the early PS2/Xbox era. The aim is to blaze through the story as violently as possible while looking as cool as can be. If you think of all the action sequences from John Wick smashed together into one bloody video game, you won’t be far off what Wanted: Dead is like to play.
Before I get too carried away, let’s run through the story. Wanted: Dead is set in a futuristic Hong Kong, in a world where governments have fallen and corporations rule in a violent competition for profit and greed. The police act as little more than bodyguards to the highest bidder and Lieutenant Hannah Stone, complete with a mechanical arm and her Zombie Unit, are tasked with uncovering a corporate conspiracy in a set up that is not at all Robocop. Yes, Wanted: Dead ticks a lot of tropey boxes: big conglomerates taking over governments and the police becoming little more than security guards, but that’s not what we’re here for. Thankfully 110 Industries knows that, and while the plot is very paint by numbers stuff (the only stereotype that’s missing is
Murphy Stone shouting “Dead or alive, you’re coming with me”), the journey is where people should focus most of their attention.
Like any early noughties game Wanted: Dead drops you straight into the action with only the briefest blink-and-you-miss rundown of the various kill buttons… and away you go. Mercifully, everything is rather intuitive – shooting is locked to the shoulder triggers and melee attacks are reserved for two face buttons and using a combination of presses, Lt Stone, who is the only playable character, can execute any number of brutal moves that usually end up with some form of limb removal. The gameplay element is an absolute dream, from the off it’s slick and reactive enough that I managed to cut down hundreds of goons with a swish of a sword and a blast of an assault rifle.
Unlike games like Ninja Gaiden and Devil May Cry where you have to struggle until you get the cool upgrades right before the final boss, Wanted Dead gives you almost everything upfront. I was impressed through the opening levels on what I could do right out of the gate, and after the first level I had 35% of the games’ skill tree unlocked. Stone can use points earned for her kills on incremental upgrades such as incendiary grenades or teammate assists, which does help speed up general progression, but is hardly needed to succeed in the game.
110 Industries developed Wanted: Dead to be an homage to those early 2000s action games, and while they absolutely nailed the gameplay, the same can’t be said about everything else. Visually the game is decent enough, just like Stone and her motley crew they get the job done. As the gameplay zips by, the visuals don’t present too much of an issue but when watching the lengthy cutscenes it is easy to notice a lack of polish. These show up mainly with the character models, which are quite literally rough around the edges so the point that it gives the impression that the game’s code is held together with spit and duct tape. The audio is all over the place too; the rat-tat-tat of an automatic weapon tends to drown everything else out, and the voices come through the screen at a gnat’s whisper. It was a shame because the scripting and the delivery of the lines was so comical I wanted to hear more scenery chewing performances from everyone.
The level design also became a bone of contention in that it’s a cookie cutting affair revolving around fighting in an open area, running down a corridor, having another fire-fight and moving on. After repeating this for 45 minutes Stone and her team will have to face off against some oversized boss before calling it a day. This did start to get boring after the first couple of times, as only the look of the environments changed – boardrooms gave way to a giant park, which in turn gave way to more office buildings.
The enemies are tough, can absorb a lot of bullets and even land a few suckerpunches here and there, which normally wouldn’t be a problem, except it highlights Wanted: Dead’s biggest omission – the spacing between save points. I’d have preferred more variance in the level setups, or simply more checkpoints so I could have a rest and help break the monotony that the game became. Don’t get me wrong, there are a number of times where you can save your progress throughout any given map, but it often seems they are either too spread out, or bookending a short corridor. Having to run through half a level where I took on wave after wave of goons, only to be gently tapped on the noggin with the butt of a rifle and be sent back to an hour earlier is more soul destroying than anytime spent in Elden Ring – at least From Software had the decency to put in an autosave function. This is compounded by the game’s boss fights which ramp up the difficulty for no apparent reason.
For the most part the difficulty level isn’t the problem with Wanted: Dead, despite spongy enemies and your three AI controlled “teammates” who shoot at nothing but the walls – the issue really is the consistency. There has to be give and take somewhere, and even something like Dark Souls, which is built around the difficulty of the levels, ultimately feels stable and fair. Being forced to repeat the same sections of a level over and over because something so ridiculous takes you out at the last possible section isn’t the one.
Outside of the main game, Wanted: Dead takes a strange turn. In between missions, Stone and the Zombie Unit are sent back to HQ for downtime and I was free to explore at my leisure. I quickly came across a handful of minigames that ranged from target practice, to a relaxing crane game and, for some unfathomable reason, ramen making classes. This and the karaoke minigames felt completely strange as they were rhythm games I was forced to play in an effort to better get to know my teammates. I get that cops need to let off steam, but I’m not sure why I needed to “have fun” in these useless objectives – I hate doing it in real life, so why enforce this hell on me during my own downtime.
Wanted: Dead looks back at the last twenty years of game design and manages to combine shooter and hack ‘n’ slash elements rather cohesively into one of the tightest melee/shooters I’ve played in a long while. Unfortunately, while I will scoop praise on the gameplay until the end of time, there are issues that can’t be ignored. When I wasn’t shooting things with gleeful abandon, everything else was trying to make me put down the controller. The wooden plot and lifeless characters are a given, but the strange minigames, awful level pacing and difficulty spikes left a bitter taste in the mouth. There’s no doubt this is a fun game and I can see a small section of players absolutely loving it to death, but outside a tight knit niche of fans, I’m certain that Wanted: Dead will sadly be quickly forgotten.
In the interest of full disclosure, VGamingNews was provided with a copy of the game in order to conduct this review.