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Wanted: Dead Is Bloody, Charismatic, Janky, & Needlessly Tough

Platform(s): PC (version reviewed), PS4, PS5
Genre: Hack-and-slash third-person shooter hybrid

Hannah Stone is not your average cop. In fact, even with the getup she has, you can sense something is off with Wanted: Dead’s protagonist. See, she’s part of the game’s police force Zombie Division, a group that handles cases in the most extreme ways. Usually in blood and death.

Stone’s method of solving crime cases involves shooting first, slashing first, and probably asking questions later or never at all. Right from the game’s aesthetics and its promise of a pulp-like no-frills guilty pleasure kind of adventure, Wanted: Dead feels like a purposefully-made 2000s-era game throwback that emulates Ninja Gaiden (the reboot) and Devil May Cry in terms of challenge and setpieces. Upon closer inspection, that’s a half-truth. What developer Soleil has tried to achieve is not without jank, but not without value either.

Keystone

Wanted: Dead’s linear level design mixes character action with third-person shooting in an attempt to be unique. Like Devil’s Third back in the day, but actually working. At the very least, they got the better half right: the sword fighting. The slashing and fighting with Stone’s katana may take some time to get used to with its initial attacks, but she has a super-quick attack in the form of a handgun shot. You can mix up your combos with hard slashes with handgun fire in-between, quickly damaging enemies and dismembering them for quicker executions.

When you get hit, you have a chance to recover parts of your health provided you keep attacking and don’t get hit; it’s kind of similar to Bloodborne’s “health reward via aggression” mechanic. It works well in this context and design, if I’m being honest. Slicing and dicing enemies, and cutting their limbs off get satisfying especially when you figure out the correct attack strings to use. The art of dodging and parrying will also mean life and death in this game where Stone dies pretty fast for a hack-and-slash protagonist.

The shooting, however, only hits the bare minimum function-wise. It kinda sucks. While it has its uses in getting some headshots with the right mods, and the velcro auto cover system mostly works, I rather kill enemies with sword slashes and melee combos, dismembering them artfully and methodically instead. All the guns in the game feel unwieldy and off, whether it’s Stone’s assault rifle or the shotgun. The shooting mechanics are secondary at best, and even then some of my melee attacks can miss at times when it’s crucial. I can personally tell you that I was at a barrier in the first hour when I couldn’t figure out how to deal with the game’s high-HP ninja. After some parrying practice and patience, I was fine. Wanted: Dead really wants you to play by its defensive rules.

You have partners to help you. They’re pretty dumb most of the time, but at least they do their job adequately if enemies are within the vicinity. From my playthrough, they do a good job distracting enemy fire while I just flank them behind cover, sword-slicing my way through victory. At the very least, your partners’ backstories are fleshed out bit by bit with the game’s many, many cutscenes. Some are in animated form, while others are CGI. You even get some R&R and off-time in the form of minigames, be it a ramen-eating contest to karaoke. Heck, there’s even a 2D shmup that’s equally challenging for you to futz around with. Even after finishing the game within 10 hours or so on regular difficulty, you can still access the minigames on the menu, so that’s convenient.

Police Story

While Wanted: Dead has some charm and some interesting gameplay and minigames to break up the pace, the terrible shooting mechanics, and lack of checkpoints in crucial parts of the game mean you have to really take up the game with its own broken-as-heck terms. At the very least, it’s a 10-hour-or-less thrill ride so it’s not a complete slog and it has its heart in the right place design-wise. It will toughen you up, if you give it a chance.

It’s not completely unfair especially when you unlock all of Stone’s moves through sheer diligence. However, the game will test your patience, especially in the harder difficulty levels where it might as well be called Hannah Must Die mode. I’m sure other action game fans can find something to praise and like inside, but I frankly don’t see anything here beyond a tough-on-purpose hack-and-slash trying so hard to be like a Ninja Gaiden-style clone but only getting some of its core bits right. Perhaps with a bit more polish, Wanted: Dead might be going places beyond taking the throwback lane.

Pros

  • Stone’s moves and actions are fun to control once everything’s unlocked.
  • Fun melee combat, especially the parrying.
  • Has some charm and colour amidst the violence.

Cons

  • Pretty janky at times, especially the shooting.
  • Can be unfair at times.

Final Score: 60/100

Review copy provided by publisher’s PR company.

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