When I first started learning about Wanted: Dead, it immediately caught my eye. It gave off gritty, action vibes with plenty of hack-and-slashing, reminiscent of games like Devil May Cry or Binary Domain. It also looked pretty goofy, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wanted desperately to like this. Unfortunately, what we have here is a game marred with horrible voice acting, repetitive and frustrating combat, embarrassing AI, and a short story that doesn’t really make a lot of sense.
“Protecting” the streets of Hong Kong
Wanted: Dead’s story doesn’t make a lot of sense, and you don’t really get any closure as you progress. You play as Hannah Stone, a member of a riot squad, called Zombie Squad, in the Hong Kong Police. You get called into a robbery in progress and that begins a whirlwind series of battles. Furthermore, you’ll go from taking down rioting Androids to dealing with a rival police department hell-bent on stopping you and your squad.
The game is a mix of action and hack-and-slash combat. Hanna can use assault-style weapons to attack from far back. But up close, she’ll use her sword/katana and pistol to do most of her damage. As you progress through the game’s five missions, she’ll encounter countless waves of enemies who will absorb damage and really try your patience.
The combat isn’t hard to grasp. Ammo is always at a premium, so you’ll spend most of your time firing from far range when you can, then shifting to more close-quarters combat using your pistol and katana. As you use those two weapons, your adrenaline meter increases, which then allows you to go ultra-aggressive for a moment in time. These moments can be a lot of fun as you watch Hannah absolutely obliterate the surrounding foes.
Combat that gets repetitive far too quickly
There are two big gripes with the combat. For starters, enemies absorb a ton of damage. Because most of your foes are either robotic or have military-grade armor, they can take more hits before going down. But that also means that you may have to unload a full clip or constantly shoot your pistol and swing your katana before a foe drops dead. This wouldn’t be a problem if ammo weren’t so hard to get and if your pistol did more damage from close range.
The other issue is the lack of variety in foes. Wanted: Dead is not very fun with regard to variety. There are only five actual “missions”. After a while though, you start to see a lot of the same types of foes. It’s pretty boring to go from corridor to corridor facing off against the same enemies. Thankfully, the boss fights at the end of each mission are varied and offer up a challenge, but the rest of each mission is pretty unremarkable.
At the same time, Hannah doesn’t really get any new weapons or abilities. Yes, there is a skill tree that unlocks some skills in the beginning. After that though, the upgrades are primarily perks such as an added attack during a combo, or increased melee damage. There are no new weapons and no real sense that Hannah is getting stronger. The only new weapon we get is introduced late in the game, and it’s only used once to complete a very specific boss battle.
Hannah is boring and her squad sucks
Hannah Stone is not a good character. Yes, she’s the focus of the story, and we learn bits and pieces about her as we progress, but I never felt any sort of connection. By the end of the game, I was left with more questions than answers about her and I never felt like the story was properly resolved. Worst of all, the voice actress playing her does an awful job. It’s hard to tell if they were purposely making her sound bland and boring. There is one dialog early in the game in an elevator where her delivery stands out the most for all the wrong reasons. I don’t know how it got into the game.
Her Zombie Squad mates are no better. They also fall flat in their line delivery. On top of that, we don’t really learn too much about them. I get the game wants to keep the focus on the main plot, but why I am supposed to care about my squad? We get a few cutscenes of the group hanging out, but that’s about it. Worst of all, they are absolutely horrible teammates.
Every mission will either have the entire Zombie Squad go in, or it will feature just Hannah and one other member. Unfortunately, these guys cause more harm than good. They can’t hit an opponent even at close range. They throw grenades in areas where they shouldn’t. In some instances, they’ll just avoid combat altogether while Hannah goes in and kills everyone in the room. The only saving grace at times is when the character Doc is around. If you happen to lose all your health, he’ll revive you. He’s the only member that actually made a difference when available.
With a bit more time, this could have been so much better
What really disappoints me about Wanted: Dead is that deep down, this could have been a much better game. There is definitely something here that some people will enjoy. For those who love punishing combat, this has plenty of it. Those who love campy 80s action flicks will appreciate some of the game’s references (including plenty of nostalgia on display here). This is developed by the same studio responsible for the popular Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden franchises, and the Nintendo WiiU game, Devil’s Third. This is not a new developer, but one with plenty of experience in the genre.
The game also goes in some interesting directions outside the main story. For a game heavy on action, there are some serviceable mini-games. You’ve got a ramen eating contest, karaoke singing, and even a classic shoot-em-up that you can play. These are unlocked as you progress in the main story but you also play them from the game’s main menu (side note: the shooter is available as a free download on Steam if you’re interested).
Heck, the game also takes some chances with its storytelling. Without going into specifics, outside the standard computer-generated cutscenes, we also get a few anime-inspired ones. It instantly reminded me of the O-Ren Ishii introduction in Kill Bill Vol 1. All of these things are the kinds of design choices I appreciate developers trying. It’s very much outside the box. Unfortunately, they don’t mask the game’s inherent problems.
Still, it might not hurt to try this out
When I was an editor at GameSpot, a colleague of mine wrote a great article defending games that land in the 6 out of 10 range. These are games that aren’t bad but aren’t great or memorable either. For all their issues, they still have something worth checking out. Wanted: Dead is very much one of those kinds of games. It’s not unplayable, but it’s clearly not good enough for what it could and should be.
Note: A code for the Steam version of this game was provided to me by the publishers.