wanted: dead review destructoid

Review: Wanted: Dead

St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

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The sequence comes around an hour into the story and lasts approximately 95 seconds. Lieutenant Hannah Stone, freshly showered from another terrible, violent day on the job, walks into the cafeteria of her headquarters for dinner. At the counter, she is handed fish soup, Bratwurst curry with potatoes, a blackcurrant jelly, and a steaming cup of coffee. Well earned.

Taking a seat at an empty table, Hannah stares at the bowl. Atop her soup is a severed fish head. It stares at her. Hannah looks it in the eye, which peers back into her soul. Hollow. Unblinking. Accusing. Hannah discards the soup to one side, where even a hungry cat decides not to partake in the free meal. Picking up her fork, Hannah stabs it into the bratwurst, or at least attempts to, as the cutlery fails to even pierce the sausage’s skin. Moving to the potatoes yields similar results, with the tots merely pinging violently off of the plate.

The jelly? Well, it scoops cleanly enough. Too cleanly, in fact, as it remains steadfastly glued to Hannah’s spoon, refusing to budge, and looking far blacker now than it did in the dish. All that is left to rescue this sad meal is the coffee. And so, in the deafening silence of the hollow cafeteria, Hannah picks up the cup… Is that a literal skull she spies in the steam of the drink?

Hannah’s dinner is ruined. The meal has been a disaster.

The preceding sequence has no bearing on the plot, the characters, or the narrative themes of Wanted: Dead whatsoever. But, with that scene of culinary disappointment, the game captured my heart.

wanted: dead review destructoid fish

Wanted: Dead (PS5 [reviewed] PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC)
Developer: Soliel Ltd.
Publisher: 110 Industries
Released: February 14, 2023
MSRP: $59.99

Wanted: Dead is a brand new third-person slasher/shooter, developed by Japanese studio Soliel and published by Swiss outfit 110 Industries. Described by its publisher as “a love letter to the sixth generation of video game consoles”, Wanted: Dead wears its Spirit of ’01 boldly on its sleeve, aiming to deliver a warts-and-all recreation of the clunky action, convoluted storytelling, and brutal, borderline unfair challenge of the run ‘n’ gun titles of the early-’00s.

The story, at least as much as can be discerned from an occasionally incomprehensible script, follows a week in the life of privatized Hong Kong Black Ops team “Zombie Unit” — a “Suicide Squad” of sorts, comprised of ex-war criminals tasked with taking on the dirtiest of deeds in Hong Kong’s underworld. Led by Swiss agent Hannah Stone, the unit, despite the locale, does not feature a single Asian member, such is the way with almost the entirety of Wanted: Dead‘s cast, perhaps offering the whiteist, most ridiculously Americanized version of the eastern world that fiction has seen in a long time.

This awkward anachronism forms the first of many mind-boggling aesthetic and thematic choices that infuse Wanted: Dead with its distinct identity. That is to say, Soliel’s title openly embraces its own awfulness, while occasionally blowing minds with the arrival of a cool character, a satisfying spot of ultraviolence, or a top-tier bit of Carpenter-esque synth. All of the title’s high points are juxtaposed with inane, repetitive enemies, a barely relevant gun customization system, relentlessly long stages, and exposition-free dialogue that would leave Roger Corman asking for “A bit more script padding, please”.

To be frank, Wanted: Dead is a modern atrocity of game design. And I love it.

Set in an alternate cyberpunkian future, Asia has thrived in the A.I. market post-Cold War, lorded over by humanoid (think “Replicant”) developer Dauer Synthetics. However, a violent smash-and-grab at the company’s headquarters forces Dauer to declare bankruptcy, leading to corporate fallout and mass rebellion by the synthetic populace. Because they’re apparently really good at being completely awful people, Zombie Unit is dispatched to investigate the mayhem, guided by police chief stereotype Cpt. Simmons and assisted by TV chef-turned-gunsmith Vivienne Niermantsverdriet, (portrayed by Stefanie Joosten of Metal Gear “Quiet” fame).

What follows is a series of incredulous shooting galleries as Stone and her squad massacre their way through crime scene after crime scene — Hannah’s expert marksmanship and samurai-level swordplay turning the opposition into complete mush. Wanted: Dead is violent. Verhoeven violent. Hannah’s enemies peel apart like wet tissue, pumped full ‘o’ lead then sliced and diced. This results in sloshy crimson fountains that leave everything and everyone in the vicinity looking like Carrie White’s prom date.

There is an inherent “naughtiness” to Wanted: Dead‘s action, vulgarity, and narrative It knows that it’s being crass, obnoxious, and shallow. And yet, even in our far evolved gaming world, there is something appealing about its simplistic coarseness. Wanted: Dead is real tough, with painful restart points, an awkward cover system, and sword fights that — while satisfying and dynamic — put Hannah in the morgue after just a few mistakes. At times, the game is almost comically difficult. It will set you up with a brutal mid-boss battle only to then not reward you with a checkpoint immediately after. A police station invasion at the story’s midpoint is merciless, and only the bloody-minded will see much further.

(Though a secret Easy mode is unlockable, Konami fans.)

Deadly Ammunition

I need to make one thing absolutely clear. The gameplay in Wanted: Dead is archaic by design. While the game is playable, enjoyable, and compelling, (I’ve already finished it on two difficulty settings), it is incredibly samey, long-winded, and seriously lacking in variance. You can never tell whether the title is aware of just how intentionally clumsy/old-school it is. Wanted: Dead chooses chaos every step of the way.

The abominable NPC banter, the bullet-sponge enemies, the “one appearance” mechanics, Shoot the Red Barrel for Explosion. Endless rows of unopenable doors. Characters repeating themselves in battle over and over again… “Grenaaaade!” “Reinforcements!” “Get that bitch!” “Grenaaaade!” “Reinforcements!” “Get that bitch!”. One villain simply has Tom Cruise’s likeness. Sure, why not?

Are they all in on the joke? They might well be… And if so, then we’re the punchline, Jack.

Still, there is something so attractive about the simplicity of the whole affair, a flower of wanton indulgence grown from a plot of dirt. The characters are all universal dopes of dubious moral fiber, but they’re still bizarrely warm and likable. Some of the dialogue has terrible “first take” cadence, (Tommy Wiseau/Barry Burton levels), yet becomes oddly endearing. As for the score, it’s legitimately cool, featuring a host of original songs (some performed by Joosten herself) along with a handful of ’80s covers. If you wanna eat ramen to The Divinyls’ “I Touch Myself”, have I got the game for you.

It’s this curious amalgamation of design that keeps Wanted: Dead‘s blood pumping. Whenever you begin to tire of the stringently old-school gameplay, one of Vivienne’s cats will break the fourth wall, or you’ll encounter a genuinely cool setpiece or boss character. Even the story cinematics are packed with variance, bouncing between in-engine machinima, FMV, and traditional anime. Which all adds to the title’s frenetic “lucky dip” approach to style, tone, and thematic choice.

When not dishing out police procedure at the point of a katana, Hannah and friends can relax with a selection of unlockable mini-games. These include rhythm-action escapades based upon speed-eating ramen, or chilling out with Vivienne for a Karaoke duet. Hannah can also build up a collection of character figurines via some surprisingly authentic crane games, which are just as frustrating to play as the real thing. In addition, a full seven-stage shmup, Space Runaway, can be found within the Zombie Unit H.Q. and is, in itself, a fun endeavor that recalls genre classics such as Gradius and R-Type.

In order to improve her battle abilities, Lt. Stone can visit the shooting range for score-attack action, or take on VR opponents in sword-based showdowns. Mastering Hannah’s abilities is a key component to enjoying Wanted: Dead. A skill tree allows for the unlocking of new moves, better defense, and evasive actions, all of which are top priorities. Our girl is pretty underpowered from the off — which will potentially scare off impatient players — But the more you refine your headshots, frame-perfect parries, and gory finishers, the less frustrating your melee mayhem will be.

And, for everybody else, there are chainsaws.

wanted: dead review chainsaw

Loose Canon

For all of its tongue-in-cheek “flaws by design”, Wanted: Dead does have one major point of contention. Despite offering a cast of fun weirdos and a cool futureworld for its storytelling, the narrative actually goes nowhere. Multiple threads are cast and then instantly dropped, while exciting and intriguing characters — such as the cloaked assassin Kolchak, the sexy insurance agent Madam Wong, and the innocent synthetic, October — are introduced as main players only to simply vanish a scene or two later.

Fatally, just as the threads of the plot are coming together… the credits roll. And while Soliel should be praised for not letting the unvarying gameplay outstay its welcome, (approx. 11 hours dependent on skill), there is so much left on the table in terms of the central thread and individual character arcs. Having gone through the game twice, I’m still utterly disoriented in regard to the main conspiracy, the villains, their motives, and Zombie Unit’s reasoning. Hannah herself leaves the tale riddled with questions, while several characters are simply M.I.A. by the halfway mark.

Insert “Scenes Missing” placard.

Clearly, Wanted: Dead has been produced as Act One of a possible three-act play. So y’all better go buy it, as I, and the rest of the gaming world, need more of Vivienne and her 11 cats in our lives.

‘Where’s that fluffy bastard?’

Are you a video game fan who complains about mechanics such as free-to-play, always-online, gacha, games-as-a-service, forced multiplayer, empty open worlds, crafting, constant gear stat introspection, microtransactions, or the infamous “UbiBloat”? Well, guess what, they made a game that doesn’t have any of those things. Not one. Admittedly, it doesn’t have a lot of other things too: Ray tracing, a coherent storyline, co-op mode, varied gameplay/enemies, character shadows, or An Ending.

There is also the subjective, but important, point of pricing. How much is too much to pay for a game of this caliber? And does its “Bargain Bin” theme suggest that it deserves a matching price point? The answer is between you and your wallet. Read other reviews and weigh up the odds. Buyer beware, friend.

Wanted: Dead is the best worst game I’ve played in years, and is absolutely not for everybody. It’s barely for anybody. It’s antiquated in many ways, whether intentionally or otherwise, and it’s also rock solid, throwing the player in the deep end and telling them to buckle up. Yet, in fascinating fashion, the PS2-era gameplay, wanton violence, narcotic atmosphere, and gratuitous scripting are just inexplicably appealing. I mean, we did all want a sequel to The Punisher, right?

You can question the necessity for such a title in 2023, but there’s no questioning the passion and boldness with which it attacks the zeitgeist, leaving a beautiful mess in its wake. Other games whisper and tiptoe, terrified of not falling into the Exact Genre Parameters that constitute success in the AAA gaming space. By comparison, Wanted: Dead stumbles into the party uninvited — whiskey in hand, pants ’round its ankles, bellowing “99 Luftballoons”. It takes the opportunity to flip the bird at a nearby Soulslike, before telling a billion-dollar shooter to eat shit. Then it falls over a chair and vomits.

A hangover of abandoned game design, dressed up in unruly aesthetics and powered by cyberpunk Pat Benatar. The unforgiving gameplay and repetitious action will leave some utterly appalled, but the radiant cast of reprobates, silly mini-games, baffling dialogue, and shameless commitment to the bit results in one of the most bewildering, hypnotic releases in some time. Simply put: Wanted: Dead is a fucking train wreck, and you better get your ticket punched.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

Solid and definitely has an audience. There could be some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.

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Chris Moyse
Senior Editor - Chris has been playing video games since the 1980s and writing about them since the 1880s. Graduated from Galaxy High with honors. Twitter: @ChrisxMoyse