“I’m not mad, I’m disappointed.”
How many of you have heard of that term before, or used it to describe your feelings regarding someone or something? Sadly it is exactly how I felt while playing Wanted: Dead, the latest action game by Soleil (made up of former Valhalla Games Studios developers who worked on Ninja Gaiden and Devil's Third, among others). It simply left me unsatisfied.
So what do we have here? Wanted: Dead tells the story of a Hong Kong police force consisting of criminals who are sent on suicide missions. “The Zombie Squad”, as they’re called, are tasked with uncovering a corporate conspiracy while being caught in the crossfire of a conflict between humans and machines. This story is most often dull and uneventful, then without warning suddenly raises the ridiculous level to 11 and there’s never a balance between the two.
These sudden shifts between plot threads are a mechanic I’ve seen a thousand times over. But these jump cuts featuring this bunch of characters who have zero chemistry with each other, from the game to sudden ramen-eating contests and karaoke nights, are sharper than the sword the main character uses. I’m all for nonsense! But the game doesn’t know if it wants to be silly all the way or actually make you engrossed in its bland plot and terrible voice acting which would make Tommy Weisau blush. Are you saying something or do you want me to have fun? Because this game tries to do both and in both cases, it fails because I’m not sure what’s the intention.
You know what, though? This is an action game. Who cares about the story? I want to rack up a body count! Does Wanted: Dead deliver on the gameplay? Well… sometimes? Not really?
Okay, starting with the basics, this is a third-person action game. You control the leader of the Zombie Squad, Lieutenant Hannah Stone, as she guides her team through missions and a bunch of enemies. Hannah may not be a ninja, but she’s capable when it comes to defending herself from the waves of enemies wishing to kill her. You see, Hannah isn’t only a master of the blade but also a trained shooter.
Let me save you the trouble: the gunplay doesn’t work. Its inclusion in the game baffles me to no end. The basics for fun are present, and you can shoot either blindly or with an over-the-shoulder angle for easier aim. Ammo could drop from defeated enemies. Weapons are upgraded. There’s even a cover mechanic… which is the worst cover mechanic I’ve ever experienced in a shooter. As opposed to other shooters in which there’s a dedicated cover button, Hannah will automatically take cover if the player stops moving near one.
There are two problems with this. For one, let’s assume I don’t know there’s a cover near me when I stop moving, either because I didn’t notice it or the camera hid it. Hanna will automatically take cover and throw off any other move I tried to do as I now need to clumsily get her out of there. The other problem is when I actually want to take cover, and Hannah may not be in the right position to hide, which ends up with me taking unnecessary damage as I’m trying to figure out where I need to stand in order for this to trigger.
But let’s assume you took cover or you just don’t care and you just want to go in guns blazing. Well, I have a bigger problem for you: the guns are basically pointless. I tried plenty of times to kill my foes with my firearms and not ONCE did it ever work. Out of the many enemies this game sends down to end your playtime, not even one enemy fell to gunshots. I’m not even sure how this makes any sense. You can upgrade the two guns you have but I wasn’t able to notice a single difference. The gunplay is broken. It doesn’t work.
Luckily, our heroine also has a sharp blade with her and that blade is how I ended up getting through the many waves of enemies. The swordplay is fun enough and is easy to get the hang of, but it’s also extremely basic and bare-bones without many options to grow. There’s a skill tree that will grant you more abilities, but most of the upgrades revolve around extra damage or defense, and barely any new moves to spice up the button mashing. It’s not the dullest combat I’ve ever experienced, but it’s also got a long way to go in order to match other games in the genre.
With a combat system that is sometimes fun until it gets tiring and otherwise simply doesn’t work, one would hope that the enemies would be fun to fight, right? Sadly no. The enemies in this game are the worst thing about it and it’s not because they want to kill you, but because they’re tough as hell and are not balanced in the slightest. There’s been this debate about how hard games should be and if gamers today actually don’t know how to play games because they complain games are too hard. I can see Wanted: Dead being brought up in those talks and it’s because it’s hard… for all the wrong reasons.
There’s nothing wrong with a challenging game. Games need to be challenging because if a game is too easy it can become boring. Wanted: Dead, however, isn’t challenging, nor is it hard. It’s unfair and inconsistent. If the challenge the game presents is unfair then the fault of the difficulty is on the game and not the player.
Hannah and her team will face a lot of enemies in their missions and while some go down easily others will just keep fighting even if you cut off their limbs. It’s never clear when an enemy is fully down, or, even worse, when an enemy is hiding from you and you need to find him because progression is locked until all enemies are eliminated. Not to mention enemy attacks could vary from causing significant damage to killing you before you could say “Wait, what!?” and trust me, I timed it.
And that’s just the small enemies. The “special enemies” like the ninja or the bulky dude are endurance tests in the worst sense of the word. You WILL die in this game, and the worst part about that is the atrocious checkpoints. Death can often send you back close to 20 minutes of gametime that you have to replay because you failed to respond correctly to an enemy pattern you couldn’t learn.
Placing a checkpoint so far back isn't a challenge. It’s a frustrating test of patience and an artificial way to expand playtime. And if the game wants me to learn and observe enemy patterns, sending me so far back to have another shot isn’t a fair challenge. Add to that the inconsistent enemy behavior, the fact that the gunplay doesn’t work, and let’s not forget that your A.I. controlled partners don’t help in the slightest… Wanted: Dead isn’t challenging. It’s crippling.
I’ve gotten through some hard games in my day. I completed the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy back on the PlayStation 1. I’ve gotten through many tough classics from the SNES and Genesis days. I also played through all of Cuphead. While some of those games had their bits of unfairness throughout them, these were the exceptions and not the rule. Wanted: Dead lives up to its name because it wants you dead, and if the game has to be unfair and cripple you to get it then so be it.
All of this is coming across as ironic as the game is pretty crippled itself. I played the PS5 game for this review and while the game ran smoothly for the most part; moments that got too busy brought the frame rate down to below even 20 FPS. This is ridiculous considering we've seen older games that look better than this run perfectly on the same system with no issues. While we’re on that note, the game also crashed 5 times during my playthrough, three times after dying and choosing to restart, while the other two were random.
Since I did touch on it, Wanted: Dead isn’t a terrible-looking game. It’s definitely colorful, stylish, the character designs are pretty neat, and it’s appealing to the eye. The problem lies in the fact it looks like a game from 2 generations ago, and it still doesn't look up to modern par, even being outpaced by actual older games. The game's audio also leaves me feeling conflicted, as the music fits the levels but is just bland rock music. It feels like it is there just to mark a thing off the list and none of it will stick with you after the game. The voice acting isn’t good as mentioned but it does give the game some sort of unintentional charm, whenever you can hear it because of the terrible audio mixing.
I’ve been pretty negative about “Wanted: Dead” in this review and I’m sure you’d assume I hate it. I don’t. I may have gone on and on about all the things which don’t work about it but I can’t say I hate it. I don’t like it… but I can’t say I hate something in which I can see some sort of appeal shining through all the flaws. Somewhere, in its core, there’s a good game trying to come out. It’s such a shame it’s been brought down by the many flaws that plague it.
Would I recommend this game? How can I? Unfair challenge, bland combat system (half of which doesn’t even work properly), a boring story, passable at best presentation, all tied together by massive frustration. But I won’t lie, I can see the appeal, I can see how some people would find enjoyment in this game. The problem is that I can’t tell if whoever is reading this review will end up being someone who’ll love it or hate it. If you’re looking for something to play and are a fan of the genre, either rent the game first or wait for a price drop. If you have a gaming backlog and the game doesn’t look like your thing, this is sadly an easy skip.
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