Wanted: Dead Review | Goomba Stomp Magazine

2023-02-15 19:34:14 By : Ms. Linda Lee

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Wanted: Dead is either stupidly amazing or just stupid, a crazy hard shooter/slasher with a memorable aesthetic, but ultimately thin gameplay.

Developer: Soleil Ltd. | Publisher: 110 Industries SA | Genre: Action, Shooter, Slasher Platforms: PlayStation 5, Xbox, PC |  Reviewed on: PlayStation 5

There’s a thin line separating something being “dumb” from being “gloriously stupid”. Wanted: Dead, a third-person action game from some of the minds behind the Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive franchises, somehow rides that line for the entirety of its runtime. It is a game absolutely stuffed to the gills, from minigames to collectibles to two different styles of animated cutscenes. It features a sampler platter of genres that both meshes extremely well and falls apart almost as soon as pressure is applied in any meaningful way. It is fun; it is frustrating. Billed as a “love letter to the sixth generation of consoles“, Wanted: Dead is either destined to be a fondly remembered cult hit or be instantly written off. One can’t help but admire it.

Wanted: Dead wastes no time throwing the player into its strange, dystopian world. A hard-boiled group of killers and war criminals, pulled from the depths of the worst prisons imaginable, have been formed into a Suicide Squad-esque team of supercops in a grim, cyberpunk version of Hong Kong. Led by the brooding, katana-wielding Lieutenant Hannah Stone, the Zombie Squad is the most diverse group of cop stereotypes imaginable.

There’s ladies’ man and ramen connoisseur Herzog; nerdy Doc, a combat medic with a crush on waitress/ stripper Cinnamon; and Cortez, who communicates in sign language and explosives. Back at the station is a police captain who has had it up to here with Stone and her team, and even an insurance adjuster who has made it her mission to see Stone’s destructive antics curbed. There’s a gunsmith named Gunsmith, voiced with authority and snark by Stefanie Joosten, who played Quiet in Metal Gear Solid V and has been featured in some completely bananas marketing for Wanted: Dead.

Also on the table are a revolution of the Synthetics (essentially Replicants who dream of a life free from dangerous labor), a corporate conspiracy that goes all the way to the top, boss fights ripped directly from the Metal Gear Solid series, a break room full of more arcade cabinets and crane games than a bowling alley, and at least one tragic backstory featuring trauma-induced amnesia. Wanted: Dead is a shotgun blast of stimulation, and though the aesthetic can be overwhelming, its multicultural influence and embrace of absurdity help make its worldbuilding enjoyable. At least, as enjoyable as it can be before the plot falls apart entirely.

Mileage may vary on how much the player will care about the tonal shifts and completely out-of-pocket dialogue exchanges present throughout the game (during the first main mission, a back-and-forth between Doc and Herzog will either inspire guffaws or groans of confusion: “How does it feel to be an old, grumpy alcoholic?” “I don’t know, how does it feel going down on your sister?” “I’m from Wisconsin”).

Wanted: Dead aims to present a world like the one in John Wick, where everyone is hypercompetent and covered in tattoos, and perhaps nonchalantly carrying around a samurai sword. In this version of reality, cops wear ripped jeans and tank tops under their body armor, and every other figure of authority has a robotic prosthetic. The overall effect is as though Cyberpunk 2077 were filtered through Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball by way of Strider. Whether this mishmash of style works or not is up to the player; at the very least, it becomes impossible to look away.

But Wanted: Dead is more than its gritty, neon-soaked nightclubs and skyscraper-sized police station. The actual game sees Stone and her team blasting through various missions in a truly bonkers mashup of genres. Part third-person cover shooter, part demanding hack-and-slash, Wanted: Dead is right on the cusp of being truly great and engaging. Unfortunately, the split focus of mechanics means that neither the shooting nor the slashing feels as good as it needs to.

Stone carries four main weapons: her sword, her pistol, and her rifle. She can gain skill points by defeating enemies and finding collectibles, which can then be invested in a skill tree. To the game’s credit, unlockable skills have an immediate, tangible effect on combat- once the player unlocks bullet time, it’s impossible to imagine not using it. But some skills feel needlessly locked away; the dodge roll and dash attack in particular feel essential, like Stone should have these abilities from the beginning. Fortunately, skill points are easy to earn, and the player can spend them any time by pulling up the pause menu.

Combating enemies, from sledgehammer-wielding Synthetics to riot shield-carrying private security to f***king cybernetic ninjas, follows a familiar pattern. Stone can rush in and lop off limbs with her sword, hang back and shoot foes from a safe distance, or practice some combination. In early levels until about midway through the game, rushing in is fun, chaotic, and effective. Stone can use finishing moves a la Arkham Knight or Marvel’s Spider-Man by pressing two face buttons near a stunned enemy. These executions are gorgeously animated and brutal as can be, as Stone drives her sword through an enemy’s neck and finishes them off with a pistol shot that blows their head clean off. At its best, battles in Wanted: Dead are stylish, gleefully violent, and over quickly.

Unfortunately, combat is frequently not at its best. Missions are incredibly straightforward, with Stone and her team entering an area, carving through a few waves of enemies, and pressing onward, until the inevitable boss fight. The Zombie Squad feel superfluous. Enemies will occasionally attack an ally, but Stone never has to worry about managing her team’s welfare or defending them. Players can unlock abilities for every member of the team, but outside of Doc’s ability to revive the player, these abilities don’t feel very impactful. Wanted: Dead does a good job of characterizing every team member, but in battle they feel interchangeable and unmemorable.

Enemies begin to feel like bullet sponges in later levels, which makes the shooting feel less exciting. Ideally, the player slams up against some chest-high cover, pops off a few rounds from their rifle, vaults over the cover, and finishes off their foe with a combo attack. But these scenarios are hampered by comically bad AI. Enemies will run straight up to Stone, or else stay completely fixated on another team member, allowing her to walk up and slash at her leisure. While certain enemies like the aforementioned ninjas demand the player parry and counter effectively, most fights are rote and repetitive. For every satisfying combo attack or finisher, there’s a two-waves-too-long combat encounter.

The best ideas in Wanted: Dead shine brightly, but inconsistently. Players can pick up weapons dropped by enemies, but they rarely feel as effective as Stone’s starting kit. In a few memorable sequences, players can find and use an honest-to-God chainsaw to dismember enemies and kill them in one swing. These moments should be memorable setpieces, but since holding the chainsaw slows Stone down and neuters her ability to use a rifle, the chainsaw feels as limiting as it does empowering. All that said, it is extremely funny to rip through an enemy with the chainsaw and see a bright red “CENSORED” bar where there should be spilled entrails.

Wanted: Dead is meant to be unrelenting, and even features an unlockable Japanese Hard mode where things are even more brutal for the player. But the ramp-up of difficulty may not feel satisfying for those who didn’t grow up mastering Ninja Gaiden Black. Normal difficulty is hardly a cakewalk, but anything beyond the default mode feels cruel for the sake of it. Nothing wrong with that, but losing a fight and having to restart because an unseen grenade killed Stone from offscreen isn’t what most players would consider fun.

These criticisms may sound harsh, but Wanted: Dead still has a lot to offer even if the player doesn’t want to dedicate time to study the blade. Between missions, there are surprisingly fun minigames that feel pulled out of any given Yakuza title. They are perfect for blowing off steam, and offer a chance to see the cast doing some goofy instead of something gory.

The crane game is perfect for those who want to learn more about the worldbuilding, as every collectible snatched by the crane offers another glimpse of the weirdly dense lore in Wanted: Dead. There are two rhythm games for those who love music, where players can tap buttons on beat during karaoke or as they slurp bowls of ramen. Music for these is fantastic, and the police station even has a jukebox for those who just want to dive into the eclectic soundtrack on their own time. One cabinet even lets players blast their way through an entirely separate game-within-the-game, an extremely difficult arcade throwback in the style of R-Type or Gradius. Mastering these minigames is surprisingly rewarding.

Wanted: Dead isn’t the first game to bill itself as a throwback title. But it manages to hit on something nostalgic. The old-school difficulty and occasional jank can be charming, and the character designs have the appeal of games from the early 2000s. It may not be for everyone, but for those who want to slice through an armored mech as a tattooed supercop, it will undoubtedly resonate.

Cameron Daxon is a video game evangelist and enthusiastic reader. He lives in Los Angeles, California and once nearly collided with Shigeru Miyamoto during E3. His favorite game is Bloodborne, but only when he’s not revisiting Super Mario World. He’s also in the writer’s room for YouTube personality The Completionist and other places on the internet.

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Wanted: Dead Review | Goomba Stomp Magazine

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