Wanted: Dead has all the trappings of a successful hack and slash: a well-known affiliation with former Ninja Gaiden developers, a three-part combat system that mixes melee and ranged combat, and a main character that visually sets herself apart from other protagonists. Unfortunately, the hopes for a fantastic game quickly buckle under a lack of combo variety, camera issues, and a monotonic line reading that drags Wanted: Dead down to a disappointing level of mundanity.
A cursory glance at what developer Soleil built gives the impression of a solid combat-focused game with a few gorgeously designed cyberpunk characters and locations, but there becomes a distinct lack of anything memorable in its props, enemies, and even its level design. Even though there is an amount of undeniable fun once players are conditioned into what works and doesn’t work in melee combat, some users will have a difficult time justifying sticking around to reach that point.
The effort to set Wanted: Dead apart from other games starts with the design of the main character: Lieutenant Hannah Stone, a Swiss national working for the Hong Kong Police. Stone is covered in beautiful and colorful tattoos down her right arm and a metallic orange forearm and elbow on the other. Sporting blue jeans with a futurist police vest and covered in scars, Stone’s design catches a player’s eye with her visually appealing and assiduous look. The developers seemingly worked hard to make her stand out in a sea of female leads with her own look. The dip in her likability isn’t caused by her looks though, but rather by her voice.
The lieutenant’s voice isn’t grating or hard on the ears but the drop in her likability stems from a lack of inflection in her voice whenever she is speaking. She orders food at a diner with almost the same monotone and verbal pace as when she is giving instructions in the middle of a fight. It isn’t just her, though, as the whole cast has a seemingly odd flow whenever they’re speaking, sounding completely bored by everything going on around them with only a rare flash of surprise in their voices. This seeming indifference occurs in both cutscenes and during regular gameplay and winds up being a bit of a distraction with just how odd it sounds.
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Unfortunately, Stone and maybe one or two other main enemies are the only memorable characters in the entire game. Her squadmates are mostly forgettable set pieces with the same lack of emotion in their voiceover. Her Zombie Squad teammates, Doc, Sgt. Arnold Herzog, and Sgt. Manolo Cortez, are never vital parts of the story and will occasionally be separated from her or be limited to just one squad mate during certain story beats. But that won’t bother most players as their one-liners in combat are delivered without much enthusiasm and are repeated ad nauseum. The normal rank-and-file enemies themselves are copy-pasted throughout each level with occasional color swaps to indicate slightly harder difficulty, such as androids with different hats or cyber ninjas with different color palettes. Fighting the same identically dressed enemy over and over again can begin to dull the excitement of progressing to the next area rather quickly.
Wanted: Dead’s combat arsenal consists of three primary weapons: a sword for melee fighting and blocking/parrying, a pistol that can be used to interrupt certain attacks and finish off enemies at range, and a rifle that can be used up close but is better used in long-distance fights. The two ranged weapons can be modified for looks and functionality with separate gun pieces for higher accuracy, clip sizes, recoil dampening, etc. These modifications drop one at a time at save points which are the only locations during missions where players can adjust the pistol and rifle. Users can pick up and use an enemy’s dropped ranged weapon, but cannot keep it after completing a mission.
Soleil has experience in designing melee combat with former Ninja Gaiden developers on staff and as the developers for Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time, but sword combat in Wanted: Dead feels shallow. There are only a small amount of combos built into the combat system, mostly consisting of either a few straight sword strikes or sword slashes with a pistol shot interspersed followed by more sword strikes. Players can change which strikes come next using pistol shots, but there is only a limited variety and users may soon grow bored by seeing the same melee attacks over and over again. Wanted: Dead’s lack of depth or variety while fighting up close may well be a source of frustration that continues through the entire game and into New Game+. Some users will also be frustrated with how some enemy attacks lock on and track through Stone’s dodge, forcing players to panic mash the dodge button to get away. It feels a little cheap before learning enemy attack patterns and learning to dodge better, but will more than likely be a source of annoyance until deep into the game.
The combo system also starts off with being unable to block more than a few strikes before the player’s guard is broken, and though it is possible to upgrade it to take more hits, the system forces parrying as the go-to method for stopping damage in melee combat. It will be interesting to see how players respond to a game that forces parrying as the only reliable way to not take damage during melee clashes, especially with how small the parrying window is when first starting the game. And although some players won’t be bothered by it, the lack of a jump button seems odd when considering ways that the combat system could have been improved.
Attack options open up a little bit more when choosing how to start an engagement, like starting a fight by sliding into an upward sword slash or using the unlockable flying knee strike, but these opening options are limited to only a few choices as well. Close combat is further hampered by the game’s 3rd person camera and its distance from Stone. Since a lot of the game takes place in enclosed spaces like smallish rooms, hallways, and alleys against multiple enemies, the camera will sometimes move or stick too close to Hannah, allowing enemies to attack from blind spots behind her. With the default dodge ability being only a short slide that doesn’t move very far, and some enemy attacks that track Stone despite her dodging, players may feel some frustration at being unable to avoid attacks in any meaningful way.
The game’s gunplay also feels lackluster when presented with a world where violence and the police run rampant. The rifle acts as a standard 3rd person shooter weapon, allowing players the freedom to target whomever and wherever they wish to shoot. Headshots do quite a bit of damage to common foes and can be used to soften up some of the harder targets. A few enemies will drop ammo for Stone’s rifle but some enemies are bullet sponges and during the game’s longer sections between saves, players won’t be able to rely on the rifle to do all the heavy lifting. Most players will be better served by saving some of their ammo for enemies that can’t be killed with melee due to being up high or too far away. Stone’s pistol, on the other hand, will feel odd until players reconcile with its limitations. The pistol’s auto-aim usually chooses the closest enemy to attack, though sometimes it seems to switch to whoever is within line of sight. While fighting solo enemies it isn’t an issue, but the moment there are two or more (and there are usually many more) enemies facing off against Stone and her squad, it becomes more difficult to ensure pistol shots hit the right target.
Another limitation of the handgun that may aggravate players is how it forces Hannah out of cover to shoot. While Stone’s rifle can be shot around corners blindly or aimed and then return to cover smoothly, firing the pistol will force the player to stand up from behind low cover or disengage from walls. It feels like an odd design choice, but more than likely Soleil wants users to engage and not hide for long stretches, especially since the pistol has unlimited ammo.
Where the sword and pistol really shine is in the game’s finisher attacks. These are more difficult to trigger early in the game but as users progress through the game, groups of enemies become susceptible to the theatrical kills, where Stone does a myriad of different moves. There are over 50 different execution animations, with some only occurring when standing near walls or railings, or certain specific locations. They are satisfying to behold, and even after 20+ hours of seeing decapitations and various arm and leg amputations, players might not have seen them all.
The game contains a standard progression system where defeating enemies grants skill points to be spent on offensive and defensive skills, as well as a section for various utility unlocks like being able to carry more grenades. Most players on their first playthrough should have enough points to buy out the entire skill tree about two-thirds of the way through the game. So there isn’t a lot of wiggle room in choosing how someone builds their character, only in which order a player decides to purchase skills.
Graphically, the game is very pretty throughout, with well-crafted textures that are grounded in reality while still featuring a futuristic feel. But none of it manages to set itself apart as noticeably different from most other games. In certain late-game areas players will undoubtedly notice a lack of variety in both area design, repeated textures, and static items found throughout. Grenade explosions, slashing Stone’s sword, or shooting the top of a desk can cause a plethora of papers to fly up into the air, adding a certain cinematic feel to indoor combat. Some areas do a good job of using light sources to create a visually exciting ambiance, but these are found mostly early in the game. Certain sections of the game see repetitions of background objects and clutter, but Wanted: Dead tries hard to keep the player’s focus on the action occurring around Stone. There is an excess of blood as enemies become literal fountains of it after being eviscerated. The splashes of blood that cover Hannah and her enemies as she chops through them may feel a little over-the-top, but the blood trails strewn along the ground following Stone’s sword slashes are a neat detail.
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The game’s anime-style cutscenes are a definite treat and are used to explore a bit of Hannah Stone’s backstory. While these scenes might be considered an elementary and simple anime style, they will still excite anime fans. One of these anime scenes is set in a nightclub that is particularly memorable and is easily the most visually engaging scene and level in the entire game. Wanted: Dead’s story itself isn’t anything groundbreaking, but it serves adequately to keep at least a minimal amount of interest.
There are a small variety of mini-games such as karaoke that plays in the style of Dance Dance Revolution to claw games with collectible items that grant skill points. These mini-games are introduced through in-game cutscenes before progressing to a new area but are kind of jarring and lead to a weird feeling like the user is watching something that happened before the game’s current week takes place. Soleil even added a previous title of theirs as a playable mini-game, which is a neat way to give it new attention.
Despite the numerous issues with Wanted: Dead’s combat, there is something undeniably fun about clearing rooms full of enemies as Lieutenant Hannah Stone. Sprinting from enemy to enemy and parrying an attack that leads to a hit that takes off an arm or head before executing them in an athletically and spectacular fashion has a certain gratifying feel. Soleil obviously put in the work to create something new and enjoyable, and although some choices should and will be questioned when Wanted: Dead is released to the masses, the game is so very close to being something memorable.
Wanted: Dead has glimpses of greatness but is held back by mediocre systems and design choices that keep it from flourishing. Brief flashes of brilliance can’t help but be overshadowed by combat that feels repetitive, and voice actors that sound bored despite the surrounding chaos. Its difficulty, combat style, and visceral style will bring it some attention, but it more than likely won’t be enough to keep most players enthralled for long.
Wanted: Dead r PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S. Today Technology was provided a PC code for this review.