Founded by a former Team Ninja producer, Soleil’s titles have been the source of some rather hidden gems in 2022. Valkyrie Elysium was an action-adventure title that many glossed over, which was a shame as it was an enjoyable title both visually and gameplay-wise. Wanted: Dead is not at all like their previous title, opting for a more “boots on the ground” slasher-shooting game based on realism and violence than mythology and magic.
Before I begin this review, I’d like to thank the publisher 110 Industries for letting us play Wanted: Dead before release so we can share our thoughts on this interesting title right on launch day. I’ll also like to mention one big takeaway I got from this game. Imagine a show like Brooklyn 99 mixed with the quirkiness of a Suda51 title and that’s the best way I can describe Wanted: Dead. I know this game is going to be heavily misunderstood so here are my thoughts on this experience after over 3 hours of gameplay in more or less one sitting.
Now, I must say that Wanted: Dead is a game that revels in not taking itself seriously—At all. Thwarted a conspiracy and caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage? Let’s go out for ramen afterward! Prevent an uprising at a local park, crash a police helicopter, and cause your prime suspect to escape? No problem, let’s just sing karaoke it’s no big deal.
Much like Hi-Fi Rush, Wanted: Dead is a game centered around its humor. The humor shown here is adult-oriented but also very pop culture heavy. An example of this is the loading screen that directly references Supa Hot Fire. I think this loading screen will tell a player all they need to know about this game.
Wanted: Dead’s gameplay is what I like to call the “hybrid shooter” genre, in which the ability to use melee weapons, magic, or any other form of combat is just as important as its gunplay. Bright Memory Infinite is an example of a game that takes this formula, utilizing first-person shooting and swordplay at the same time. Wanted: Dead’s gameplay features traditional 3rd-person shooting mechanics, including cover fire and an over-the-shoulder aim camera. The aim assist is generous, which is perfect for controller users as Wanted: Dead’s gameplay benefits from using a controller on a PC.
While shooting with the rifle is as simple as pressing L2/LT to Aim and R2/RT to shoot, close-range combat turns into a different style of gameplay altogether. The camera shifts from behind the back to an angle that tracks Stone and the enemy she is fighting. Other enemies may also have melee weapons to engage with Stone in a duel. She replaces her rifle in favor of her katana and handgun, joining the likes of Rubi from WET and Reiko from Oneechanbara. I will say that the lack of a manual target lock-on severely harms this game's ability to keep track of what's going on. The auto lock-on does a fairly decent job but it's too common to get hit by something off-screen and not know what exactly killed you until it's too late.
Stone can use her sword to block attacks, parrying them with a well-timed block and knocking her enemies off balance. She can alternate between her katana and her handgun, using the latter to close the distance, start combos, and interrupt her opponent’s unblockable attack with a well-placed shot. As Stone slashes away, she will dismember her opponent, greatly limiting what they can do until they fall into a hapless bloody heap. Wanted: Dead doesn’t shy away from its Ninja Gaiden roots in violence at all. This also segues to what I feel is the best part of Wanted: Dead—its weapon customization. Before each mission and during checkpoints, the player can add and remove parts of Stone’s firearms, her rifle, and her handgun.
There are many different stats including accuracy, recoil management, stopping power, range, reload speed, and damage that are all affected by whatever accessory is equipped. These are also identified via percentages, giving players a rough idea of how to build their weapons. What’s cool about this system is that it also works with the handgun as well. I mentioned it briefly for close-quarter combat but the handgun can potentially be the strongest weapon in your arsenal for close-range combat.
For example, if the player swaps out their parts to increase the stopping power of their handgun, the player can interrupt and momentarily stun the enemy in-between attacks. An immobile enemy is a sitting duck, taking away most of the busywork from the more eager enemies with knives. If the player wishes to use the sidearm as an emergency firearm rather than a combo tool, then they can swap out parts that would increase their range and damage output. The handgun has infinite ammo, which would make it a perfect jack of all trades rivaling that of the Halo handgun if players are savvy enough with their customization.
Likewise, the player can adjust the rifle to have low accuracy but have enough damage to four-shot enemies like it was Call of Duty. To make the recoil manageable, the player can change the firing rate from full auto to semi-automatic, which eliminates the necessity of recoil and accuracy management. It’s a very basic customization system and the player can also learn skills, but the fact that it’s there makes Wanted: Dead a surprisingly in-depth game.
Stone earns experience points every time she defeats an enemy. However, the amount of points she earns depends on how she defeats an enemy, with headshots marginally worth more than regular kills, yet the surplus of points adds up. Your unit isn’t just for decoration, but each member has their own unique traits once unlocked in the skill tree. One of your members, Cortez, can grab an enemy from behind, leaving them vulnerable for a finishing blow. Herzog, the sniper, has a chance to secure one-shot kills. As mentioned earlier, the Doc can revive Stone and at some point can even give her an adrenaline boost that works the same as “bullet time” in other modes.
At first, I was confused about how Stone’s adrenaline worked. I assumed it was a temporary buff to her attacks much like a rage or a hype mode. When Stone’s adrenaline meter is full, she fires a heavy volley of bullets at enemies in front of her. Think Miss Fortune’s ult from League of Legends though not as dramatic. The real benefit of using adrenaline is to clear a room, as most normal enemies are left stunned. This can set the player up for a chain of finishing blows, taking down the sturdier enemies in one sitting.
While each level varies from a business headquarters to the park, and the streets, the enemy variety is left unchanged save for a few special baddies. There are two main enemy types—the gunners and the melee weapon users. While the gunners can shred Stone’s health if she’s not using cover, they are the weakest to dispatch. The melee users are built for CQC, meaning that they have nearly double the health as their gunman counterparts. Bullets are effectively useless to this enemy type as the time-to-kill is too high. It’s far simpler to fight fire with fire and use your own melee weapons.
Even down to its achievements, Wanted: Dead is very self-aware of its various references, some of which I mentioned. It’s always great to see a game reference other games either in its achievements or in-game itself, with Grid Legends serving the same niche for other racing games. The graphics are amazing not so much in a visual aspect, but in the “create wanton destruction” kind of way. Almost everything can be destroyed as you unload magazines into your enemies. In places with security, lobbing a grenade will activate the sprinklers upon explosion which I felt was a nice touch.
However, do remember this is a creation developed by former Team Ninja members, specifically those who had worked on Dead Or Alive 4, Ninja Gaiden, and Ninja Gaiden 2. The former matters here in this case because while Dead Or Alive 4 was arguably the best in the series, it had by far the most difficult boss in a 3D fighting game. One that I will love to dig into when the time comes to talk about the game. What I’m getting at here is that Wanted: Dead is a game where you’re expected to die. A lot. It will be frustrating and it will be hair-pulling, but it’s a sweet kind of pain.
Until you invest enough points to fortify your defenses, Stone is a human who happens to have a mechanical arm. She isn’t a super ninja like Ryu Hayabusa—Stone dies fairly quickly if you aren’t careful and sometimes there’s nothing you can do about it. As useful as Doc’s skill is, it’s, unfortunately, a “one life per run” skill. When you die the first time, there’s a cutscene where Doc revives you with a needle shot. Getting killed a second time will result in a game over and will send you all the way back to the last checkpoint. If Doc is not within the vicinity and Stone loses all of her health, it will also result in a Game Over.
The checkpoints are also the only way the player can customize their weapon loadout and each checkpoint adds something new to customize your guns. However, checkpoints are few and far in-between and you’ll often find yourself fighting tough enemies at the end of each wave as a “test of your reflexes.” Early on, you’ll come across a special type of enemy known as the NINJA (no relation to Metal Gear, I think.) They are easily the most difficult melee enemy—-they’re durable, hit harder, have unique attack animations that are hard to get the timing down, has physical projectiles, and are difficult to stagger.
In the first level, the first time the enemy is introduced would be the moment that the player would replay this scene over and over again. Later on, not only do you fight a wave of melee enemies (easily dispatched by a conveniently placed chainsaw), but you also face off against another NINJA. When you think you’re safe, you have to fight one more wave of enemies, a mix of ranged and melee. If the player gets a “game over” which is more than likely during this gauntlet, they would have to start from the very beginning of this sequence. Wanted: Dead is certainly not a game the player can button mash and expect consistent results.
That’s what makes Wanted: Dead a modern “B-Movie” game in my eyes. It has its self-aware difficult moments (including a hidden difficulty aptly named “Japanese Hard”) but there are also many references to current events. The beginning highlights several major wars in history, painting a bleak universe that mirror’s our own. It then cuts to the 4-person squadron, a motley crew of individuals.
There’s the protagonist, our trigger-happy Stone with a replacement arm, the grizzled sniper Herzog, the tactful medic Doc, and the reasonable demolitions expert Cortez who happens to be mute and who also has everyone understand him. I hope that more developers in the future decide to include more characters with disabilities as I felt Cortez was a really neat addition to an already solid cast.
Wanted: Dead’s story finds our police crew in a bit of a rut. Their reputation for causing more damage to the public property despite solving all of their cases threatens the livelihood of everyone on the team. Despite this, the crew goes in guns blazing to take on a terrorist organization, alone. After defeating a spider tank, Stone is reprimanded for once again causing significant damage and she’s told by the police chief that everyone is expecting to get axed.
The woman behind the checkpoints, Gunsmith, reveals herself as the final character in this six-person group. She serves as the navigator, while also providing weapon support as per her name. Taking place over a weeklong period, many events happen that involves the infamous “zombie unit,” slowly unraveling itself as the squad gets into deeper trouble. However, in-between missions the player reports to the police academy both for a briefing as well as catching up with Stone and her squad mates.
The player can explore the police academy and partake in minigames that are worth the player’s while. Doing the training missions and other activities will grant the player skill points. In a game where the difficulty spikes without warning, having a decently leveled Stone will mean the difference between a headache and a reasonable challenge. On her way to meet Gunsmith, Stone begins to lose consciousness and yet another layer of the plot reveals itself. This time, the scene switches to an animation of a mysterious woman with an alt-punk outfit. It then returns to Stone, leaving her and me confused as to what happened.
After meeting with Gunsmith and criticizing Stone (and the player) for their interesting weapon mods, they join for ramen when Herzog joins the women. The dialogue for Wanted: Dead truly embraces the “B-Movie” aesthetic, with pop culture references and very interesting choices of words. I appreciate the body language shown in this scene, as it shows the discomfort of Gunsmith and the annoyance of Stone as Herzog continues his rant.
This is then followed by a ramen-eating rhythm game, where the player must keep the rhythm as they chow down and empty their bowls. As Stone eats more ramen, the rhythm becomes progressively harder. It seemed as if the minigame was endless as I got to my seventh bowl until I grew tired of it. There’s also a shooting range where you can not only challenge Gunsmith for her high score, but it also helps with aiming in Wanted: Dead. I found aiming to be far easier with a mouse in this minigame, which is to be expected for the “point-and-shoot” mechanic, not so much the “run-and-gun while you slice-and-dice” part.
In the scene before this, a conversation between Stone and Gunsmith shows that Stone hasn’t had the best luck in romance. Is any of this integral to the plot at this point in the game? No, but it’s character-building dialogue that you would see in a TV cop comedy or something. I will admit I wasn’t sure what was going on nearly half the time until a one-off reference to an early event would make me say “Ohh, I remember this! Wait, how did that lead to where we are now?”
I mentioned in the beginning that Wanted: Dead does not take itself seriously, and I feel like that’s the biggest charm this game has. It’s unique with its own identity and flavor which is an acquired taste, but it’s as addicting as tonkatsu ramen, save the ramen fanaticism and the crude sex jokes. When Wanted: Dead allows itself to be left unchained by any string of coherent dialogue, it turns into a sketch comedy with a plot. One scene involves Stone and her group quelling a riot. How do they introduce themselves? By firing several rounds from a helicopter like a Modern Warfare 2 killstreak.
Sure the voice acting is rather cheesy and cliche at times, but this was a game I felt was a homage to the mid-late 2000s of 3D action games. Most early PS3 and Xbox 360 action games were a spectacle and most games are too cinematic these days. Even during the PS2 and Gamecube lifespan, most of what generated these games’ charm wasn’t in their desire to be a blockbuster hit. Wanted: Dead is a challenging yet humorous and rewarding title that requires a ton of trial and error to embrace what it has to offer.
It may be very rough around its edges, but pull apart its prickly exterior and you’d get an overly violent, sometimes crude, yet sincere run-and-gun slice-and-dice urban action title. While it may not be the most polished, which often gets confused for how "good" a game is, Wanted: Dead is a lot of fun. If a game is fun, does it matter how "jank" it may be? If the answer to that question is no, then this is the game for you.
Wanted: Dead is now available on Steam, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and the Xbox Series X/S.