2/14/2023 0 Comments
Wanted: Dead Review
I've had a little bit of trouble getting this review started, mostly because I'm finding that Wanted: Dead is a difficult game to describe. The blurb provided by the Devs describes it as "a AAA love letter to the 6th gen of consoles", but I was reminded more of my youth, a time spent pumping handfuls of 10p coins in the machines at my local arcade. It reminded me of playing games like Final Fight, Knights of the Round, Aliens and the like. It's structured much like a traditional beat 'em up of that era, except in a fully 3D setting instead of a 2D one. There's a lot of hack and slash DNA in the experience, although you would expect that from ex Ninja Gaiden devs, but actually it's an eclectic mix of genres. Part hack and slash game, and part cover shooter, it also contains various well done and substantial minigames that are almost (or even more if you're me!) as challenging as the combat is.
Oh and I suppose I better mention this now because it's definitely a huge part of the experience. Wanted: Dead is NOT a cake walk, expect to be challenged (even on medium difficulty) and to die repeatedly. You'll be pushed to become a master brawler, with quick response times, in order to beat some enemies but you'll also need to be a crack shot too.
You see each level is made up of long corridors, rooms and locations that are all liberally sprinkled with waist high walls and things to hide behind. Gun toting enemies will use these for cover, popping out every so often to spray you with bullets. This is where the cover shooting comes in for you as well though, much like the Gears titles (or a million other games) your character will automatically take cover behind walls, peak round columns and duck behind low objects, allowing you to return fire. Careful management of ammo is a must, your own customisable assault rifle only holds just over a 100 shots and on fully automatic can be drained much quicker than you think. Being a crack shot, while targeting weak spots like exposed heads quickly and effectively is the name of the game here.
Do not be fooled though.
Trying to play this as a cover shooter only will screw you up in a brutal way as not only are there gun toting enemies to deal with, but melee ones too. Knife wielding mercs, sword slashing ninja, sledgehammer swinging synths and more are also part of the enemy forces and these will rush you, doing brutal damage and forcing you from cover easily. To deal with these you'll need to hone your hack and slash skills, and this is where your katana comes in handy. Fighting close range requires much more nuance than using guns and you'll need to pay close attention to enemy telegraphing in order to survive. One wrong move can be enough to end your game, especially with tougher enemies, so knowing your responses is essential.
Basically it plays out like this, tapping X will swing your katana and you can link these quick attacks together with your pistol to do combos. The handgun, which fires with a tap of Y, acts more like a close to mid-range melee weapon than a gun, it auto aims and has infinite ammo, and is used as a slow hard attack in melee combat. RB is your block button but this is far from perfect as it will only stop one attack (until upgraded) before you get staggered. Unless you learn to parry that is…
Yip, that Dark Souls style perfect timing parry is here and it's essential for dealing with certain enemies. As they get ready to attack, just as it goes to hit you, you press block and knock the opponent's weapon aside, stunning them for a second and leaving them open for a brutal counter. But this only works against normal attacks. Well they weren't going to make it that easy, were they? Some attacks have a red flash or glow and these not only do major damage and have more range, but are also unblockable to boot. You can roll or dodge out of the way to avoid them, but what's best is to gamble on your reaction times and use the pistol for a brutal reversal. As the enemy flashes red, which only happens for a split second, tapping Y to fire your handgun will do major damage to your opponent, stunning them for a few seconds and opening them up for follow up combos.
As you take down enemies you'll earn points that you can use to unlock new abilities and make life easier for yourself. The ability to slide and attack, to perform health restoring takedowns on injured enemies, different grenade types, assistance from AI teammates and more are included and you'll definitely need them as you advance through the game. I can't understate how difficult Wanted: Dead can be, even on normal mode. I died on the very first level, to normal enemies, numerous times and found myself overwhelmed regularly. Many opponents can one shot kill you, or drain your health enough that you'll need to use one of your 3 health flasks to survive even the slightest damage. Melee opponents will surround you and attack from off screen, taking you by surprise and all the while you'll be under constant assault from machine gun toting baddies from range. It can be frustrating at first, can feel overwhelming and a bit unfair…
But then it begins to flow.
And my God does it feel good when it does! Once you know what you're doing, earn a few upgrades, and get used to what attacks the enemies do, things begin to click. Sliding forward to remove an enemy's legs, parrying an attack from another foe, slashing off their arm before performing a finishing move, only to then leap over cover to decapitate the dude hiding behind it gets highly addictive, and looks so cool that you'll forget all about how frustrated you were at first.
It's all very good looking and flashy and that's good because the style will be a huge draw here too. The game is just so cool that I found the whole experience, both in and out of combat, really interesting and intriguing. Apparently, at least going by the achievement I unlocked, there are over 50 different unique finishing moves and each is brutal, bloody and gory. Taking off arms and legs is a constant, they'll go spinning off with showers of blood spurting after them, but most impressive are the moves you can pull off on incapacitated opponents. If you've done enough damage to an enemy, they'll be staggered and will flash black and white. Go close enough and hit Y+B together will pull off a stylish finisher that restores a little health and performs one of the unique animations that will remind you of Mortal Kombat and its famous Fatalities. The first time you see your character slice off a mercs arms, only to then somersault behind them and blow his head off with the handgun, you'll gasp out loud with the coolness of it. You will want to do it again. When you then discover that each enemy type has a handful of unique deaths to see, you'll become addicted to pulling them off, especially as they return health each time.
This stylish presentation carries over to the story and characters too, with a nice spin on the cyberpunk dystopian future being presented. It's sort of anime inspired, characters look like they're extras from Ghost in the Shell or something similar but with an 80s action movie aesthetic mixed in. You play the role of Lt. Hannah Stone, a soldier who was so brutal during the last World War that she was imprisoned, for life, for the unspecified war crimes she committed. Rotting in a cell for years, she's thrown a lifeline when a shady visitor offers her a job…
Think "Suicide Squad" and you've got the gist of it. The city of Hong Kong needs crack anti-terrorist specialists to deal with the rising crime the city is experiencing. This new team will be known as "Zombie Squad", and Lt. Stone is its leader. Known for shooting first, slashing second, shooting again and then MAYBE asking questions after, their brutal but effective methods have meant they deal with the most dangerous terrorist attacks the city experiences.
And that's why when Dauer Company HQ is attacked, it's the Zombie Squad that shows up. Dauer are the exclusive makers of synthetic beings, the only company capable of creating android that have replaced much of the human workforce. It's made them rich, with ties to every level of government, in every country in the world.
Obviously a company this powerful has secrets, and in order to keep them, they demand that the police stand down and allow their own security forces to deal with the problem.
Lt Stone is having none of that of course. Gearing up, she leads her squad into the building and into combat, finding herself ultimately involved in a conspiracy that might shake world politics to its very foundations. How are synthetics created? How are they used? If they're just machines then why are they rioting? Why do they think they're human? And what are these strange memories the Lt has of a past that she doesn't seem to remember?
These questions will be answered across the games 5 levels, which doesn't sound like much but the Devs state around 20 hours of gameplay to get through. I'd say this was about right. I finished normal mode in around 10 hours and think that higher difficulty will take about the same because although you'll then know what to do, the already challenging difficulty will be even higher. Playtime might even be extended if you're an achievement Hunter as some minigames are rather difficult.
Oh that's right, I briefly mentioned those minigames earlier, yeah?
After each level, your team will return to the station and you're given the opportunity to unwind and chill with the boys before returning to duty. Each time this happens a new minigame is introduced that then can be played anytime you like in the station. First up is the Ramen minigame. Here you go enjoy a bowl of tasty noodles with your buds, and eat along to some banging 80s tunes. It's a rhythm game basically, press the right buttons at the right time, get enough perfects and you finish a bowl. The more bowls you eat, the higher the score but the harder the challenge. Instead of one input at a time you'll be handling two. Or holding one button as you press another. Later you'll go to karaoke with your friend the Gunsmith and bop along to a selection of songs, again in the rhythm game style. Now I'm not going to lie, I'm crap at these types of games and I found these particularly hard. Even the beginning song, 99 Luftballons (which is catchy as hell!) was too much for me but those better at rhythm games will find a wide range of excellent bangers from the 1980s to sing and dance too. There's also the claw machines to play. We're all familiar with these, move a claw grip left and right, back and forth, then press a button to drop the claw and get prizes. You can collect models of each important character, weapons, and more to display on your desk, as well as new recipes for the ramen minigame and new songs for the karaoke one. Later you'll go to the arcades and unlock a full side scrolling shooter, with a fun variable aiming mechanic that could easily give something like Rtype a run for its money. You can even go to the shooting range and challenge yourself to beat the scores of other officers. There might even be a reward if you top the station leaderboard.
Now for the downsides…
Honestly? There aren't that many and most come down to difficulty and spacing of checkpoints. There is a little bit, a tiny little bit, of a problem with the camera too. It's a bit close up on your character and when melee opponents are all around, it's easy for them to attack from off screen and get in some cheap hits. Which isn't good because it's easy to die from one or two basic attacks. This is negligible though, you're not supposed to stand still and let enemies surround you so this doesn't matter if you're playing "correctly". Which might be a problem too. It's one of those, "play it this way" type games that only let you win if you play it's way and not the way you want to play. However difficulty and the distance between checkpoints will be the major criticism I think the game will get, but this adds to the challenge in my opinion. Sure it's frustrating to fight through a horde of difficult enemies, flawlessly, then meet a hard miniboss that must be taken out with perfect parrys and where one hit means death, only to then get another horde of enemies who kill you when you're only one room away from a checkpoint throwing you back to the beginning. I remember the "escape from the police station" level feeling particularly like this, every enemy must be handled almost perfectly or you'll find your few medkits used up ridiculously quickly. Wave after wave, with powerful sub boss enemies between each one, became frustrating after the 6th attempt and I did find myself getting annoyed when I was sent all the way back to the start each time. However I was also getting further each attempt. I knew what to expect, I died because of my fault and my mistakes.
Then it was done, I'd done it, and I was elated. It feels rewarding, similar to something like the Dark Souls/Sekiro style of game where the challenge is very strong but is able to be overcome with skill and concentration.
So like I said at the beginning, Wanted: Dead is a little hard to describe. It's a cyberpunk anime 80s action movie styled game, with challenging and difficult hack and slash combat, loads of cover shooting, and a bunch of minigames that includes rhythm based ones, claw games and side scrolling SHMUPs. It's stylish, with flashy gorgeous and gory attacks, great character designs and a great soundtrack. Sure, it might be challenging, almost frustratingly so at first, but once it clicks it's a genuinely fun and rewarding experience. Don't be surprised if you see this become a regular on "Games done quick" or on 100% Speedrun challenges. I thoroughly expect this to be one of those "But have you played…" word of mouth games in the future that's held up as a genuine classic by a certain underground group of gamers, even if the mainstream might give it a miss. If you fancy a challenge, and want something with a unique style of its own, Wanted Dead might just fit the bill.
Note: A copy of the title was provided for the purposes of the review
FINAL SCORE: 7.5/10
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