Remember when big AAA franchises had more than one entry per console generation? A time when gameplay and UI’s weren’t polished to the nth degree? Games were a bit more rough and ready but arguably more enjoyable compared to the live-service-always-online-updates-every-two-weeks-with-time-limited-events-free-to-play-battle-pass-season-pass we seem to have nowadays? I certainly do, and it seems the developers of Wanted: Dead obviously do too.
Wanted: Dead is a love letter back to those days, as well as the sixth generation of games consoles. We’re talking the original Xbox, Nintendo GameCube, Sega Dreamcast and the inimitable PlayStation 2. The days where peripherals included wieldable guitars, bongo drums, fishing rods and even virtual memory units. If you were crazy enough to think about it, chances are no one would reject your idea and stick it in a video game.
Wanted: Dead doesn’t come with any peripherals, which is just as well really. Although I’m sure this hyper-violent action game would love to have you swinging a chainsaw around your living room.
In an alternate reality Hong Kong, you play as Lieutenant Hannah Stone and head up the unaffectionately named Zombie Unit. This band of ex-war criminals have a nasty habit of leaving crime scenes with no survivors, and you are about to find out why.
Stone is armed with a pistol, an automatic rifle, a katana and still has room for another gun that you can pick-up. The rifle is more for picking enemies off at a distance with the cover-based mechanic. The pistol and katana are for more up close and personal and make a formidable combo. Much of Wanted: Dead’s combat can be punishing; you are regularly swarmed by enemies that themselves can employ ranged or melee attacks. It pays well to not stay behind the same bit of cover for too long as you can be attacked from behind at almost any moment.
Utilising the pistol and katana together makes for some satisfying combat. The pistol does minimal damage but is primarily used to repel melee attacks or for chaining your own combos together. The bulk of your damage will be done with the katana, judging from the vast amounts of blood pouring out of your enemies. If it wasn’t immediately apparent, the team at Soleil and 110 Industries had previously worked on Ninja Gaiden, which goes some way to explaining the high difficulty as well.
Wanted: Dead plays very much like the games you remember from back in the day, almost unashamedly so at times. The levels are linear, and you must progress through them bit-by-bit until you reach the next checkpoint. Here, your health stimpaks and ammo are replenished to the max. Fail to reach the next checkpoint though and you will need to start back at the previous one. It feels delightful to return to those risk/reward kind of days, before the likes of regenerative health and a general lack of penalisation for dying.
Struggle repeatedly at the same bit and you will receive a prompt to allow you to drop the difficulty to one called ‘Neko-chan’. A quick search in Google will tell you it roughly translates to cute cat, but it does make things significantly easier. And adorns some cat ears atop Stone’s head for the rest of the game. You are stuck like that however, there is no way to then increase the difficulty. I was just grateful for a bit of an easier time though.
Wanted: Dead may only have five ‘levels’ so to speak, but these are lengthy, linear, and very well varied. You are thrust into the first one with very little knowledge of what is going on, and that is pretty much the case from that point on. It is unapologetic in its throwback to the games many of us were probably too young to be playing back in the day, but that all adds to the enjoyment.
And then at the end of each level is a boss that feels very much ripped from the annals of Metal Gear Solid. They are unique, have barely any introduction, but taken down they must be. The first boss is a massive spider tank like thing that in its second form will fly around the arena and charge into you frequently. And this is the first boss; things only get more dangerous from then on.
Sometimes unfortunately, the danger comes from the performance of Wanted: Dead more than the enemies themselves. Several times I have not been able to progress to the next bit in the level. Whether that be from the barrier not letting me through for some reason, or the final enemy stuck behind a wall where I cannot kill him to be able to move on, these are frustrating. There are also times I have been kicked to the Xbox dashboard; one time during the very last cutscene. Along with these and the occasional frame rate drops, let’s hope these issues can be fixed with a simple day one patch.
But it isn’t all work and no play for this Zombie Unit, there is ample opportunity for some downtime. Despite them having the week from hell, this group know how to have a good time. When off-mission, Wanted: Dead throws plenty of minigames your way. As soon as you return to the office you can try your luck at the crane game, even going so far as kicking it repeatedly for some extra goodies. Or practice up at the shooting gallery. Each moment of downtime introduces a new minigame for you to try, whether that be eating ramen as quickly as possible, doing a spot of karaoke, or even trying the arcade shmup Space Runaway. After trying these once, their respective item will appear in the police HQ games room for you to play whenever you like. And much like the main game, these can be tricky.
If that wasn’t enough, then in-between the in-between downtime sections are where Wanted: Dead really does just do whatever the hell it wants. There are short anime cutscenes that give a glimpse into Stone’s life before the police. These look absolutely stunning as well.
And then there are the cookery shows. Yes, you read that correctly. Presented by Vivienne Niemantsverdriet in her days before being the police gunsmith, these real-life video shorts prove that Wanted: Dead is living in its own world. Voiced by Stefanie Joosten – who was also the lead cinematic director for the game, created the cooking videos and helped provide some songs for the soundtrack – these videos can be found in the crane game. Story-wise they don’t provide anything meaningful; they just exist without reason. And are all the better for it.
Wanted: Dead doesn’t give a damn what you think. It throws ideas at you left, right and centre, with reckless abandon. Luckily, most of them stick to form this weird and wonderful video game. Just when you think you’ve finished second guessing Wanted: Dead, it throws something new at you just for the hell of it. The combat is hugely satisfying, and even on the lowest difficulty can provide a decent challenge in the later levels. Which is just as well because you will spend a long-time hacking, slashing and shooting away at thousands of enemies. It makes the moments in between all the more enjoyable by offering something completely different to the blood-drenched world that you leave behind.
If you ever grew up playing those mature rated games that your parents turned a blind eye to, Wanted: Dead should be seen as the perfect throwback.
Hack and slash your way through Hong Kong in Wanted: Dead on the Xbox Store