From the makers of Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden comes a new hybrid slasher/shooter, Wanted: Dead. This game is what you get when you smash Ninja Gaiden, Yakuza, and Cyberpunk together. You play as Lt. Hannah Stone, a member of an elite Hong Kong police squad, dubbed the ‘Zombie Unit’, while they’re out to uncover a major corporate conspiracy. The game was released back on Valentine’s Day and I was able to get my hands on it, figuratively speaking. There’s a lot of mixed feelings with this one, so let me just break it down for you.
The story of Wanted: Dead will be a familiar one as it follows along with what we’ve seen in a number of games in the last few years. Technological advancements have allowed humanity to augment their realities, whether through body modifications or other forms of tech. But, as per the usual, these scenarios rarely have a good end result. The first mission you embark on is a case of trespassing at the troubled Dauer Synthetics HQ where you’ll come face-to-face with some fairly advanced robotics, even compared to the standard of the game’s setting. This launches the team into an even deeper investigation with some steep consequences for the ‘Zombie Unit’. Early on, the team starts to notice how some pieces of the puzzle just don’t seem right, it reeks of corruption, but nevertheless, the team trudges on.
Overall, the story is fine, nothing overly special. The characters make it more interesting with their banter and back stories. Some may comment on how they don’t like the voice acting, but I disagree. To me, the dialog felt pretty natural instead of scripted, which is harder to explain in further detail, but I liked it. They make a lot of jokes and references from pop culture, like Joaquin Phoenix films and X-Files, too, which adds a nice comedic touch to an otherwise serious tone.
Even though the first mission mainly serves to introduce you to the game before your first real test, you are met with cybernetically enhanced individuals who you will have to put to the sword. However, they won’t go quietly or easily. Here you will have to put your skills of third-person shooting and hack-and-slash combat to use in an elegant yet deadly ballet of blades and bullets. Being able to block, dodge, and parry is a must to master as the enemies you face are unforgiving, dealing decisive blows should you misstep. You are equipped with a katana, an automatic rifle, and a pistol, and you can pick up a fourth weapon from downed enemies, like shotguns, grenade launchers, and even a chainsaw.
Combat is a little challenging to master, particularly the timing of blocks as well as knowing when to evade attacks that can’t be blocked, but learning the different enemy attacks will also help you. Enemies can be anything from a standard rifle-wielding soldier to a massive spider-tank to fast attacking ninjas and more, and each enemy type requires you to adjust your strategy accordingly. While a guy running at you with a dagger may look vulnerable to gunshots, they’re actually wearing bulletproof vests. You’ll have to engage with them in hand-to-hand combat instead. And while the ninjas will come at you with a flurry of strikes from their katanas, many well-placed headshots from your rifle at a safe distance will have them down in next to no time.
It becomes quickly evident that while the story is interesting enough, it isn’t the star of the show. The combat takes center stage as you start to get the hang of taking down each enemy with different combinations of gun and sword attacks. It is particularly fun to see all of the different final blows you are able unleash on a weakened enemy and chain those attacks to the next target. What did wear down on me rather quickly, however, was the boss and sub-boss fights, which were more like I was constantly being bombarded with no chances to recover and with no resources once my ammo ran out. While I was able to look up some tips on how to defeat each fierce opponent, I still struggled for sometimes a few hours in a single fight.
On top of that, some of these tougher fights took place after having wiped out a horde of lesser enemies but with no save point to keep my progress should I be bested. That meant that if I died, I’d have to redo the horde massacre as well as any skill upgrades and weapon modifications all over again. More autosaves after defeating a large group of enemies would have saved me so much time and energy as well as letting me recoup any lost ammo and health packs instead of having to face a boss with virtually nothing left.
Luckily, Lt. Stone rarely has to fight alone in any of these encounters. Fighting alongside Lt. Stone is her trusty band of misfits who fill out the Zombie Unit; Herzog, Cortez, Doc, and the Gunsmith. Herzog is a particularly good shot and an unlockable headshot skill, usable during his buddy assist. Cortez is basically the brawler of the group,able to grab a hold of an enemy to set you up for a special finishing attack. Doc is able to revive you once between save points if your health reaches 0. The Gunsmith is actually a professional cook, named Vivienne, turned weapons expert. She’ll just as quickly whip you up a nice lasagna as she will spew out all of her knowledge about the latest gun technology, as can be seen below.
You can unlock Skills throughout the game to help improve your offense, defense, and utility. You earn Skill Points with every kill that are then redeemed in one of the three skill trees to increase your armor effectiveness, allow you to do special attacks, and more. I typically like to max out my skill trees if I can, but this one is particularly difficult as the amount of Skill Points increases exponentially after the first few skills. Going from needing only 100 Skill Points to suddenly, 600, 1000, and even 3000 Points needed quickly became a challenge.
Every time I died, any Skill Points that had been redeemed had to be reassigned, but the number of opportunities to get more Skill Points is also quite finite. You’re not able to grind for more Skill Points and you can’t leave the combat area to do anything else and then return later. However, this fits in well with how you also need to make sure you are smart with any of your resources during each encounter. You can’t just go in guns blazing and expect to be set. You have to strategize and plan out your attacks, especially if you’ve already gone a few rounds in an area and know what to expect. Maybe put the gun down for a minute and start hacking away instead.
There are other ways to earn Skill Points, however. When you’re not out on a mission, you and your team are back at the Police Headquarters. At HQ you can do training simulations at the gun range to fine tune your combat strategies with different enemy types, talk to your team, find collectible documents scattered around, and meet all 12 of Vivienne’s cats. Completing training and finding collectibles awards Skill Points as well as participating in various leisurely activities.
You can play arcade games and take your shot at a couple claw machines with infinite coins. There are also a couple of rhythm-based mini games you can play, like singing karaoke and… eating ramen? For both of these, much like playing Theaterhythm or Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory, you have a line that shows you the buttons you need to press. However, the button presses don’t correspond with the rhythm at all, and the progression of the button symbols across the line is a little stuttery, making it really difficult to time when to press said button. But, also, what does eating ramen have to do with music? The world may never know.
Wanted: Dead has truly been an experience. Combat takes center stage, though the fun of hacking and slashing away at lesser enemies is soon overshadowed by getting pummeled into oblivion during boss fights. Some aspects of the game could use some ironing out, but, otherwise, it’s a fun enough experience to pass the time and wrack up achievements & trophies.
- General combat is a lot of fun, even if a little repetitive due to frequent deaths
- Lovable cast of characters who have fun banter (including all 12 of Vivienne’s cats)
- Hint: If you kick the claw machines enough, they error out
- Combat during boss fights is exhausting and not fun
- Needs save points right before boss and sub-boss fights
- Rhythm based mini-games are very off beat