Wanted: Dead Review

Samurai Police Squad.
Wanted Dead Header

When Soleil pitched a PS3-era Japanese action game to 110 Industries, you have to wonder how the execs greenlighting the project imagined it would turn out. Was it going to have a tough difficulty level? Was it going to feature the kind of quirky weirdness that doesn’t make it into modern games? Would it have to have 2007-era character models and repetitive enemy types? You have to hope that they imagined something that features all three, because that’s exactly what they’ve got with Wanted: Dead. It’s as good/bad as you’d expect it to be.

As you tuck in at the Atomic Heart diner, you get your first experience of Wanted: Dead’s messed-up squad of characters. Lieutenant Hannah Stone, your character, has been busted out of jail to join this government-sanctioned death squad, Herzog is a brutal fighter and a perv, Cortez is a powerful martial artist, communicating via sign language due to his hearing impairment, and Doc is conflicted about his place here, drinking Irish coffees for breakfast while preparing to resurrect you in the middle of a fight. It’s a driving-rain, dark-skied, Cyberpunk-noir setup, and no one is happy to be here.

Developed by a team of Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive alumni, Wanted: Dead mixes third person cover shooting with its samurai swords. Customising your weapon is intended to play a key role, allowing you to tailor your sidearm and rifle to match your playstyle. You can focus on damage, armor piercing, range and stopping power, and a batch of weapon-specific attributes, while kitting them out in a range of lurid skins for a touch of panache. You can also pick up a third firearm along the way, which is helpful because you consistently run out of ammo for your main rifle within moments of starting each level, rendering nearly all your ranged weaponry utterly pointless.

Wanted Dead Hannah Stone melee finisher

That’s because the game wants you to get up close and personal, with Stone’s samurai blade your main, and most effective, way of despatching the armies of goons sent your way. The Ninja Gaiden heritage feels strongest here, and you have to weave in dodging, parrying, blocking and counter-attacking rather than just going for all-out combat. If you don’t, you’ll soon find yourself becoming familiar with the Game Over screen. I must have seen it at least five times in the first hour, and it teaches you to approach encounters with a modicum more strategy, timing and caution than the bombastic and brash team would make you think. You’ll soon learn that the most effective method is to utterly ignore any incoming gunfire and get into the sword stuff as quickly as possible.

Wanted: Dead is a throwback in any number of ways, from the punishing but approachable combat to the waves of identical bad-guys spewing down line after line of repetitive corridors or areas. It’s a video game in the truest and most traditional sense of the term, and it’s not here to change your perception of the world or to tug on your heartstrings. Wanted: Dead is here to chop bad-guys arms off while muttering expletives, all the while weaving its B-movie narrative into being. That is to say, it can be a pretty good time.

The key touchstone I kept coming back to was the Wii U’s ill-fated exclusive Devil’s Third. It shares a dose of developer DNA, extending out from the Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive franchises, but it’s the gritty, slightly schlocky tone and the mixture of brutal blade-work and gunplay that tickled my memory. That said, Wanted: Dead is a more technically accomplished game, and where Devil’s Third resolutely failed to marry ranged and melee combat in any meaningful way, Wanted: Dead brings it together in a way that works – kind of.

Here and there you can see the edges of the development team’s aspirations and the reality of crafting a game in modern times. That might show itself in the repetitive corridors, or the repeated exclamations from every enemy as they die. It might be the stilted finishing animations or the iffy camera that’s just slightly too close to allow you to see attacks coming from all sides. It might be your teammates shouting ‘Grenade!’ as it lands directly on your head, or it might just be the cheap and annoying boss characters. Oh, or the weak and unsatisfying gun combat. On second thoughts, that’s quite the list, isn’t it?

Wanted Dead Parry

I love it when it slips into out-and-out weirdness though, whether it’s the elevator music and relationship chats over gun maintenance or the narrator kicking in with a random spot of food history in the midst of a scene. Maybe it’s the Ramen-eating minigame, the 16-bit side scroller or the arcade crane machines in the police station; Wanted: Dead throws so many weird little asides in that you start to wonder whether this is all a fever dream you’re having on your sick bed. I think that’s the point.

Wanted: Dead is the kind of PS3/360 throwback game that some people will undoubtedly fawn over, and if you look past its foibles there are some tangible reasons to enjoy it. Melee combat is tough, providing you with the requisite endorphin hit when you parry an incoming attack and reply with a perfect counter. There’s an array of finishing moves, and a skill tree to work through that really improves your chances against the oncoming hordes.

It’s definitely not the most technically aspirational game you’ll see this year, and that’s reflected by its rock-solid performance on PC. If you’ve got a fairly modern rig you can easily hit 144fps at 1080p on High settings, and that top-tier frame rate really helps to make the game feel fluid. The models and the areas you visit are modest in their appearance, and there’s very little here that you won’t have seen ten years ago.

Wanted Dead Headshot

That said, the game’s biggest problem is its decision to use androids as a primary enemy type, with these robotic antagonists able to soak up ranged and explosive damage with wild abandon. They’ll also set themselves on fire with little regard for their own safety, roll out of the way of grenades with unerring speed, and generally just prove to be a complete pain in the bum unless you lop an arm or leg off. It doesn’t help that your so-called Police Riot Squad are about as much use as Elon Musk’s impulse control, and it consistently falls to you to actually do some damage, which you can barely do with any of your ranged weapons. All in all, it does become exhausting.

Despite its clear and comprehensive flaws, Wanted: Dead is still weirdly likeable, and will undoubtedly find a similarly strange and unique fanbase to worship at its feet.
  • Samurai sword melee combat feels good
  • A lot of strange asides add to the game's peculiar charm
  • Androids are a chore to fight
  • You run out of ranged ammo very quickly
  • So many dated elements
Written by
TSA's Reviews Editor - a hoarder of headsets who regularly argues that the Sega Saturn was the best console ever released.