From the creators of Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive comes Wanted: Dead — a throwback to the PS2-era of tough-as-nails melee-heavy single-player action games, but with a mixture of gunplay thrown in for good measure. The time has come to see if this hybrid of genres has done something fresh and exciting, or if it carries too much of that era’s faults to be worth your time and money.
Karaoke, ramen, and lots of cats
Wanted: Dead takes place in a slightly futuristic Hong Kong, and players take control of Lieutenant Hannah Stone, a hard-boiled cop/former war criminal. She is a member of the so-called Zombie Unit of the Hong Kong police force, headed by Captain Albert Simmons.
Despite seemingly taking place in the near future, Wanted: Dead features a ton of callbacks to the ‘80s, particularly in its police station hub area. There’s a jukebox that plays licensed songs ripped straight from the era, a claw machine to earn collectibles, and even a fully-working arcade machine that includes a seven-level 16-bit style shoot-em-up/bullet hell game called Space Runaway. There are also mini-games for eating ramen and singing karaoke, with plenty of options for cooling off after a particularly tough battle. The station is also littered with cats due to the gunsmith’s obsession with felines, adding to the game’s Yakuza-like wackiness.
Crushingly hard at times
Soleil previous work on hard-as-nails games translates to Wanted: Dead, which is similarly tough. There are only two difficulty levels available at first, Normal and Hard, with a third “Japanese Hard” difficulty unlockable once the game is cleared.
Wanted: Dead relies on quick reflexes, and even on the Normal difficulty level it is quick to punish poor performance, leaving little room for error. Even the game’s checkpoints are excruciatingly spaced out, resulting in frustrating repeats of sections if you are killed.
To be brutally honest, some will not be able to finish Wanted: Dead without either cheesing some glitch or simply having someone else play. While such a difficulty level is refreshing to see, at the same time this can render the game inaccessible to anyone who isn’t as good at this type of game. When even Elden Ring offers crutches in the form of spirits that can be summoned, it’s too bad some players will be unable to fully experience Wanted: Dead’s delightfully entertaining story.
While Wanted: Dead calls itself a slasher-shooter, it’s mostly a slasher. Ammunition is quite limited, and most enemies take several hits to defeat. At the same time, gun-toting enemies are typically weak to melee attacks, thus encouraging using that style of combat more frequently than emptying clips.
There’s a good reason for this, though: swordplay is thoroughly satisfying. Slicing and dicing enemies into pieces is visceral, and also unexpectedly gratuitous – though, perhaps not so much when you consider the game comes from the creators of Ninja Gaiden. Timeframes for blocking are pretty tight at the start, though an unlockable ability does increase the reaction window a bit.
Upgrades help a little
There are a number of unlockable abilities spread across three different branches – offensive, defensive, and utility. Each enemy defeated and checkpoint reached awards skill points (SP) which can be spent at any time. Whether it’s adding an extra move to a sword combo, unlocking the ability to throw grenades, or being able to carry more stimpaks to recover health, each ability is much-needed.
Initial unlocks are cheap, but the lowest-tier upgrades are quite expensive and careful thought must be given as to which ability will most benefit the player, or in other words whatever aspect of the game is currently giving the most grief.
Visually, Wanted: Dead is fine, but not a powerhouse by any means. Unreal Engine 4 is used here, which helps to keep the frame rate high most of the time. There are brief moments of slowdown in seemingly random areas, but overall things are consistently smooth to allow you to focus on combat.
As the game is linear, load times are quick, with a funny loading screen that shows the crew re-enacting a popular GIF. One amusing aspect of Wanted: Dead’s cutscenes involves seamless transitions from in-game scenery to full-motion anime cutscenes. It’s a great effect that I for one would’ve loved to see even more use of throughout the story.
Wanted: Dead Review: The final verdict
Wanted: Dead is a completely offline experience. There are no microtransactions or multiplayer modes to be found. Due to the difficulty level, it may take some players 20 hours to complete, while others might struggle more and take twice that amount of time if they can ever indeed finish it. The disconnected nature of Wanted: Dead is a welcome feature in this age of always-connected games, that’s for sure.
Wanted: Dead is going to annoy a lot of players. It’s also going to please plenty more. Soleil has made a game that leans heavily into its PS2-era inspirations, and that includes an unforgiving difficulty level. Without any real way to make things easier, some players may never see the ending of an otherwise enjoyable campaign, outside of watching a streamer perhaps. For those who can manage to hone their skills, however, the time put into Wanted: Dead will be worth it because this slasher-shooter offers so much visceral joy when things go your way that it makes all the painful death worth it.