On the face of it, the initial trailer and previews for Wanted:Dead looked quite interesting. A unique mix of sword and gun combat, cover shooter mechanics, all from some of the original creators of Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive? Sign me up!
So I did, and after spending 12 or so hours with review code, I’ve come to the conclusion that frankly, this game just isn’t very good. Equally, I’m also not very good at it. But we’ll get into that.
Allow me, if you please, to set the stage.
Guns and Swords are cool.
Wanted:Dead is set in a cyberpunk-inspired future Hong Kong, and you play as the stoic Lt. Stone, the leader of an Elite Police Unit called the Zombie Unit. Normally, I’d seek to not spoil the plot, but as I honestly had no idea what the fuck was going on throughout most of my play through, I’ll skip that particular courtesy.
Trust me, none of it makes any sense. Shadowy corporations, synthetic android people, an obvious bad guy in charge that’s definitely going to be the final boss. It’s all completely an utterly nonsensical. It tries to do some interesting things, so it’s certainly…quirky, but they are seemingly at random, and don’t really help to deliver much in terms of exposition. There are also occasions where the main character falls over for a bit and experiences some ‘memories’ in the form of short pieces of anime.
The game honestly feels like it’s been dug out of the early 2000’s and released untouched for us to enjoy. Plough through hordes of identical enemies in bland, poorly designed environments, with the appropriately awful voice acting to match. It’s not all bad though, and I’ll touch on some of the things I liked in a bit.
First up though, I need to talk about the difficulty. I was a big fan of Ninja Gaiden Black and Ninja Gaiden 2 – I’ve completed both, and I’m fairly used to the challenge those sorts of games throw at you. However, it was over a decade ago, and perhaps my reflexes have slowed since then, but my god, I found this game to be utterly brutal.
Not in a “fair, learn to master the sword” kind of way, but more in the poorly designed, bad camera, irritating-one-hit-kill enemies kind of way. After many repeated deaths, I was treated to an offer to lower the difficulty from “normal” to “Neko-chan” mode.
A quick google advised this was the “Cute Cat” mode. Thinking I could at least play through on easy and then revisit once I’d honed my skills a bit, I gracefully accepted, a mixture of amusement and annoyance at being compared to a hapless kitten. Very kindly, the game went a step further to remind me of my lack of skills by affixing a set of cat ears to the main character, which would remain present throughout the playthrough.
Thanks devs, well played.
It’s not all bad…
Let’s get the good stuff out of the way – the actual moment to moment combat in Wanted:Dead is at first glance, quite enjoyable. A mixture of cover-shooting, hack-n-slash sword play and bullet time pistol wielding may leave players, certainly for the first level at least, moderately pleased with the purchase. Combos involved a mixture of slashing sword with X interspersed with pistol shots to string together combos. You can parry attacks, but I found the parry next to useless most of the time, with none of the slick responsiveness of Ninja Gaiden. There is something super neat there, and I have hopes it’s something we’ll see fleshed out in a future game.
There are also cover mechanics, but in a game where the premise is to constantly be on the move, it felt utterly redundant. Sure, you could scavenge some weapons from the battlefield, and cheese bigger enemies from behind cover, but the more challenging ones are so bullet-spongy there was little point. You can equip different stocks and scopes to both your rifle and pistol to change recoil and stopping power etc, but it’s a fairly bare-bones system – much like the games ‘skill-tree’
The Skill Tree allows players to add some additional bits and pieces to your move-set, and the pace at which you unlock them is fairly swift. This is in part to the game actually being super short, with only 5 ‘levels’ to play through, the final of which is so utterly drawn out and repetitive, it became monotonous. The same background music on loop, the same enemies thrown at you over and over, narrow corridors where the camera barely functions, a couple of nonsense cutscenes, and a final boss. The final level went on for so long that it started to feel like some of the texture work and assets repeated themselves so often it was as if they were straight out of the Unreal marketplace. There’s also a lot of repeated lines in the game – sound effects for enemy deaths (there are seemingly two variations on “ARGGHHHH” repeated ad nauseum) as well as my squad shouting “GRENADE” in exactly the same tone, over and over).
The boss fights basically involve hacking and slashing at your enemy while constantly spamming evade, with some attacks virtually killing you in one hit if you’re not already at maximum health. There’s a mixture of invisible purple haired sniper ladies, strange veiny blonde man, big burly robot man, other big burly robot man in armor, and a mixture of standard grunts and the occasional ninja. The AI itself is pretty rudimentary, many times combatants just standing around you for a bit before choosing to attack. There’s also the opportunity to fight Spider Tanks lifted straight out of Ghost in the Shell, if that’s your thing.
One of the levels takes place in the Police HQ, a hub of sorts that you can explore during the levels themselves. When it’s not under attack and full of bad guys, the Police HQ is full of side-activities, like claw game cabinets, ramen eating mini-games and even a spot of Karaoke. The rhythm games of eating and singing are particularly awful in that the button presses aren’t actually in time to the music behind them though, so sadly it’s painful, dreadful filler that I’m sure some folks may find ‘charming’. I never went back to play them out of choice after their initial introduction.
As the game and its plot drew to a close, as characters conversed about the truth being revealed, we’re treated to a final cutscene before the credits rolled. Maybe there is more to it at higher difficulties? After being brought back to the main menu in a state of genuine bemusement, I considered pursuing another playthrough. I decided against it – I actually value my time, and the one saving grace of the game – it’s unique sword/gun combat – is not enough to suffer through it again. I’ll leave it to others to find out.
Xbox Series X
- Pretty interesting sword and pistol combat.
- Everything else.