My playthrough of Wanted: Dead reminded me of a simpler time, fond memories of going to Blockbuster or another local video rental store and picking out a game solely based on its cover art. Unfortunately, more often than not, the flashier the box, the higher the chance the game itself could be a stinker and Wanted: Dead may not outright stink, but it sure does leave a funny taste in the mouth.
When I heard ex-Ninja Gaiden staff members were working on a new character-action game alongside Stefanie Joosten of MGSV fame, I knew I had to check it out. Wanted: Dead takes place in a fictional future overrun with your garden-variety selection of evil corporations alongside synthetic androids thrown in for good measure.
You play as Lt. Hannah Stone, who works for the Zombie unit for the Hong Kong police department alongside her allies, most of whom seem to be completely deranged or, at the very least, unhinged in some profound way (remarkably, everyone seems to be okay with this fact despite the increasingly strange tension the game dishes out).
The story in Wanted: Dead hovers somewhere in between generic to convoluted but is singlehandedly saved thanks to the sheer uncanny strangeness of the dialogue, stilted delivery and often, unavoidable awkwardness from voice actors that don’t speak English as their first language while trying their darndest to convince you of the contrary.
“Wanted: Dead excels in bolstering itself on its goofiness.”
In other words, Wanted: Dead feels like a B-movie of video games—with good intentions all around, but one with all the hallmarks of your favourite guilty pleasure. Wanted: Dead excels in bolstering itself on its goofiness. It does this so much so that it made me stick with the game despite some of its frustrating and often tedious gameplay sequences, which manifest as uneven checkpoints and what feels like levels that tend to have way too many enemies that ultimately make each stage feel more like a chore than a challenge.
Combat is thankfully good enough to keep most players engaged, with both the third-person shooting mechanics and swordplay feeling well-implemented and satisfying to master. As Hannah, the player can dish out strings of attacks and special moves that emphasize building up a combo meter.
Building up your combo meter allows Hannah to unleash finishing moves that chain groups of enemies in close proximity to each other for quicker kills. Certain attacks can only be parried with a gun or with a sword. Missing this window can often lead to a one-hit death, which can feel cheap at times, but thankfully, Wanted: Dead’s skill tree eventually grants the player the option to make things easier.
Some of Hannah’s health can also be restored using sword-based attacks that will replenish any damage received from individual enemy encounters. Hannah’s rifle can be augmented and upgraded throughout the game via checkpoints. However, I found most of these upgrades superficial or inconsequential in helping me out of a tough spot.
Various weapons can also be picked up or found within the levels themselves, including different types of guns and even a chainsaw, which essentially acts as a one-hit kill weapon to get a few free clears in a room. This tends to be a welcome addition as things can quickly become overwhelming in Wanted: Dead. Unique enemies and bosses cap off most stages in Wanted: Dead, which for the most part, are welcome. However, some of these enemies tend to be cheap and gimmicky, often resulting in a frustrating death.
At the end of the day, Wanted: Dead won’t likely appeal to most people, but thanks to its undeniable charm and over-the-top approach to gameplay, Soleil’s latest will likely garner a cult-following and, at the very least, warrants a look for those interested.