Wanted: Dead review | A love letter to the sixth generation of consoles. That is one of the marketing sentences for Wanted: Dead, a truthful way of portraying this game. Unfortunately, some mechanics and visuals seem to come straight out of an original Xbox console. So they took that love letter a bit too seriously. Coming from developer Soleil Ltd, I expected much from this new Wanted: Dead game. Their previous games didn’t set the world on fire but they do have experience working on Ninja Gaiden! So based on that fact my expectations immediately take an elevator to the hype floor. Ninja Gaiden is still one of the best action-adventure games for consoles! They promise a similar fast hack-n-slash melee experience combined with a typical third-person shooter with brutal finishers, aiming for nostalgia and giving a modern twist to an established action genre. My expectations had quickly plummeted to an all-time low. There is not much wanted about this Wanted: Dead, a game with so many bad features and oddities. I tell you more about it in this review!
We would like to give a special thanks for allowing us to play Wanted: Dead weeks before release, it is very refreshing to be given enough time to meet the embargo deadline.
|Publisher||110 Industries SA|
ℹ️ Reviewed on Xbox Series X | Review code provided by PR/publisher, this review is the personal opinion of the writer. Got unanswered questions about this game? Get in touch on Twitter!
What we Liked!
- A strange but thoughtful story with engaging characters all missing a screw in their heads. | You are Hannah Stone and a member of an elite unit called Zombie Unit. It soon becomes clear that the police are extremely corrupt. Hannah and a few other crazies are now trying to make this clear to the outside world. What follows is a 15-hour story with some absurd storylines and characters who seem to have escaped a madhouse. With a fat nod to B-movies and inspired by games like WET and Lollipop Chainsaw, Wanted: Dead gives you a nostalgic trip back to the days of the original Xbox console. When video game making was a simpler time. More and more, the story fades into the background and the characters take over through their charming or funny backstories. Everything works together from voice actors, visual choices and the most unexpected moments to show cats around your screen, to make Wanted: Dead a memorable time. So it’s definitely spot on here, too bad the other crucial things of a game are a little less.
- Police HQ | Wanted: Dead is at its best when it doesn’t take itself seriously. When you are at a Karaoke bar, getting a history lesson about Ramen or when you get to watch an anime cutscene about a prior mission from Hannah. Most of all this craziness happens while you explore the police HQ in between main missions. Hearing what other police officers say, searching for collectables or simply giving attention to all the twelve cats running on the third floor. Mini-games are a welcome change of pace and truly make Wanted: Dead more memorable, collecting characters in the Crane Game or the seven missions from Space Runaway, a retro arcade game. It reminds me a little about Yakuza, which also slows down the main game experience with a few funny side activities.
- Finishing strikes | Later on, you’ll read that I’m not the biggest fan of the combat gameplay but the brutal finishing strikes are a blessing to keep things interesting. Mainly for visual impact but also to keep it a little more varied. It all works with invisible stamina. Whenever an enemy becomes tired he goes into a stunned state, he’ll start to flash so you know you can pull off a powerful finishing move. This can be done environmentally or simply by inserting your katana through the ears of the enemy. This is accompanied by a clever camera system that isn’t afraid to show gore details, and even though some executions happen frequently you never get tired of it. Kinda like Gears of War’s chainsaw executions. Something you can do in Wanted: Dead too, by the way, it took some gameplay inspiration from Marcus Fenix. Over 50 unique finisher moves are professionally captured by motion capture, and I loved every single one of them.
- Katana and my small but trusty pistol | Staying on the move is important and Hannah has enough combat experience to slaughter dozens of enemies. Rather quickly you realize that Hannah can easily be taken down if you aren’t careful. One mistake is fine as other members of the Zombie Unit can revive you but trust me when I write that you’ll respawn at checkpoints frequently. Slicing enemies with your katana is fun but they block them faster than Flash can say how much he loves Iris West Allen, the enemy adapts to your attacks so using your gunfire, grenades or evade/block skills are crucial to surviving encounters. Sadly all of that is rather janky and resources are extremely limited, forcing you to get into close encounters. It has heavy difficulty spikes and some enemies, for example, a female ninja with throwing knives, are so damn annoying as they seem to dodge everything. Maybe I just didn’t fully understand the combat mechanics but I had a hard time pulling off counter-attacks, I caught myself spamming the pistol attack button in the hope of counter-attacking. I never found the precise timing to pull it off when I wanted to. It doesn’t help that the game struggles with performance when a few enemies are on the screen. Combat is essential in Wanted: Dead, it is a passable experience but not one without frustration. Unlockable skills help with making the combat better but it takes a long time before you can unlock them. It is a shame as the combat mechanics had the potential to be much better but it lacks the polish to shine.
- Voice acting | I agree it is part of her charm but Hannah is voiced in such a bad way that it is clearly done on purpose. Hannah sounds like me when I just went to a techno rave for twelve hours and had to raise my voice too much while being surrounded by 60 cigarette-smoking dancers. That moment when I wake up the next morning (or afternoon), drink my coffee and try to say ‘good morning’ to my girlfriend… that’s how Hannah sounds like. Her dialogue delivery always seems to be a tidbit too late too.
- Visually it doesn’t impress | The finishing moves look great, but that’s where it stops. Graphically, this game is not a high flyer, with blurry backgrounds and NPCs that are literally out of an Xbox 360 game. Obviously, they do try to offer some top visual moments but they completely fail at that. A great example is the lightning storm when you are suddenly in a giant garden during a mission. With lighting effects, they try to make something of it but the effect is so ugly like I’m looking into a strobe. Hannah then is nicely designed but then again her other zombie unit members are uninspired and lack many of Hannah’s standout elements. About realistic facial expressions they have not yet heard. It is completely lifeless as if she wears a mask that is always on the same feeling. You can’t seriously watch cutscenes or have any credibility when Hannah constantly looks like she’s pulling a splinter out of her big toe.
What we Disliked
- Serious performance issues | As you may know, I am a big rhythm game fan. If a game like Wanted: Dead cannot even bring a stable frame rate during a simple rhythm mini-game… what about much more complex moments with close combat and snipers in large rainy environments? Right, a stumbling visual experience where your reflexes for defending against annoyingly difficult enemies or that rhythm game become a frustrating experience. Wanted: Dead tries to be a nice-looking game but it is almost laughably outdated with the worst point being that wasted frame rate performance.
- Animations | Is it done on purpose? It might very well be but the woody animations for this type of game genre simply don’t work well together. Hannah Stone fights well but seems to be the sister of the tree-like creature Groot. She really moves around as a videogame character, it might be part of the love letter to the sixth generation of consoles but nowadays it simply doesn’t work. It has an effect on the believability, and the effectiveness of the combat mechanics and makes the cutscenes look worse than they actually are.
- This is Gears of War, done by a drunk monkey | I’m ending this review with Wanted: Dead’s worst gameplay mechanic. And sadly that’s one of the crucial gameplay elements of the game, shooting your weapons. Wanted’s shooting reminds me of the terrible Gears of War clones Scourge: Outbreak and Binary: Domain. You shoot your machine gun as a typical third-person shooter but things go terribly messy when the game starts to automatically drag you to cover, turn too much with the camera and you are immediately out of that cover. Aiming while being glued to a wall isn’t easy with the game’s performance and here Stone’s bad animations really take a leading role. Luckily you aren’t forced to use the glued cover mechanics much but some parts of the game are focused around it.
How long to beat the story | 12 hours
How long to achieve 1000G | 20 hours
You’ll love this game if you like these | WET
A game that escaped from another era, with a modern twist here and there. However, some elements are too poorly developed. There will certainly be an audience for it, I had a fine time with it but had too many frustrations. I do love Hannah though! Hannah is great.
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