The early 2000’s was a great time for game developers to experiment with many types and genres of games which left an impression on gamers all over the world. Whatever your jam was back then, the 6th generation of video game consoles had something that you liked. The mainstays of the day, however, could arguably be the hack-n-slash and the third-person shooter. If those were your favorite types of games then developer Soleil and publisher 110 Industries has something for you. From the team that brought you Ninja Garden and Dead or Alive comes the wildest hack-n-slash X third-person shooter to grace consoles and PCs this year: Wanted: Dead.
Wanted: Dead follows a week in life of the Zombie Unit, an elite Hong Kong police squad on a mission to uncover a major corporate conspiracy. This is no ordinary squad, however, as the unit is made up mostly of former war criminals. As you might expect, hijinks ensue and you will find yourself in the middle of one of the most brutal, body dismembering slashers of the last decade. You take on the role of Lt. Hannah Stone, a no nonsense hard boiled Hong Kong cop with phenomenal sword moves and catlike reflexes. With a supporting cast made up of a marksman, a mute brute, a field surgeon and a weapons engineer, you have a team of comrades that have your back as you get to the bottom of the goings-on of the corporate ruling class.
Paying homage to the cyberpunk theme, Wanted: Dead showcases a mix of advanced weaponry and lo-tech ’90s retro designs. While your main weapon is a samurai sword, the game offers a plethora of ballistic weapons that will make you smile every time you have to dispatch an enemy. But why would you take out your opponent with a well placed sniper shot to the dome from 50 yards away when you could get in the enemies personal space and relieve them of an arm or a leg or both? The choice is yours. With over 50 brutal finishing moves, the object of the game is to see how many cool ways you can slice and dice the enemies on your way to finding out the truth. In a refreshing change of pace, this game blends two familiar classic formulas in one: a slasher and a third-person cover-based shooter.
Gameplay in Wanted: Dead takes place mainly in tight corridors that offer plenty of cover so that you can have protection from the baddies trying to stop your progress. There are scattered open areas that you will come across but these are few and far between. The corridors are usually dark and helps to set the tone as you never know what is going to jump up to try and take you out. Enemies will do their best to shoot you or throw a grenade and try to drive you out of cover. If that fails, those same enemies will rush in and try a little CQC and attack you with knives or swords of their own. That is when you can get off a few well placed sword strikes of your own and liberate their extremities. Enemies are varied and aggressive and give you a fair amount of challenge to keep you on your toes.
The visuals in the game look really good but are reminiscent of something that you would have seen on the PS2 back in the day. I think that this is very intentional by the devs and really had me wanting to pull out my old systems and booting up some of the games from that era. The feeling of nostalgia that this game presents was really astounding and shows the care that was taken to pay homage to this era of gaming. While I wouldn’t say that the visuals are on par with the current generation of video games fidelity wise, I think that was the whole point. Character designs are pretty cool and each one has a different style that makes your team feel like they are indeed a ragtag group of ne’er-do-wells that are just in it for the money.
The sound design and voice overs is one of the high points of the game for sure. The music is upbeat and on point and sets the tone for the game quite nicely. In addition, the ambient sounds of approaching baddies as well as explosions, the crackling of furniture that has caught on fire from a nearby tossed grenade as well as the clang of swords as you fend off encroaching enemies is sharp and crisp. The voice actors did a great job of bringing the characters to life even though a lot of the dialogue is fairly cringe, but again, I feel, like the visuals, that is by design. All together, these elements combine to wrap this project into a nice package to present a gaming experience from a time long past.
While I did enjoy my time playing Wanted: Dead, there are a few things that kept me from really being immersed in the experience. One thing that was glaringly evident was the fact that there are wild difficulty swings that made the game feel somewhat unbalanced. In one area, you can come in and have your way with the enemies but then you will proceed to the following area and all of the enemies felt like they were all on super soldier serum. These particular bad guys weren’t even bosses, just the regular run of the mill cannon fodder. Had the developers spent a little more time tweaking this aspect of the game, it would have gone a long way to me really enjoying getting to the next area.
In order to not end up as street pizza, using cover is critical if you want to be able to survive the onslaughts brought on by the opposing forces. Think Gears of War type of cover usage. However, getting into the best positions is not as crisp in this game as it is in GOW. For lack or a better description, trying to get into cover felt really gummy and I was often pushed out of cover by my own teammates. In addition, the lock-on mechanics were also somewhat gummy to boot and didn’t work as well as they should have. If this aspect of the game had been a little more polished, it definitely would have elevated this game head and shoulders above many shooters currently on the market.
Another aspect of this game that I felt was a hindrance is the fact that save points are available only at particular places in each level. You cannot save wherever you want and instead have to either wait until you hit the halfway point of the level or finish the level entirely. The cool thing about this is that you get the ability to upgrade your weapons, armor and gadgets, however, this old trope from the golden days of gaming is one that I can absolutely do without. Let me save wherever I want! This feature has the frustrating effect of having you replay sometimes large chunks of the game repeatedly simply because you may have a hard time getting past a particularly strong enemy. This would immediately take me out of the game and leave me wanting to just play something else which I think is the opposite of what the devs were trying to achieve.
Overall, I had fun getting into Wanted: Dead and I think that if you are looking for something different to play as well as something that reminds you of how games used to be, you could do far worse that this one. I just think that the devs didn’t need to create an exact copy of the games from yesteryear in order to pay homage to the era. It would have been just fine to update a little of the back-end and quality of life features that modern gamers are used to today. There is a lot packed into this small package like FMV as well as some pretty awesome mini-arcade games that you could lose a few hours playing. However, I would be hesitant to recommend paying full price for this one, but if you can find it on a Steam sale, it would definitely be worth it.
This review is based on a copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Ninja Gaiden meets Cyberpunk
+ Fun, fast-paced action shooter/slasher.
+ Great music and sound effects.
+ Enemies are varied and offer a decent challenge.
– Save points are too far apart.
– Cover systems could have used a little more polish.
– Difficulty swings during levels left me scratching my head.