Initial release date: February 14, 2023
Platforms: PlayStation 5, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft Windows
Genres: Shooter game, Fighting game, Adventure game, Hack and slash
"Review Copy Provided By Soleil"
When I heard that Soleil was going to be making a game that utilized their pedigree in gaming from their past works such as Dead or Alive, Ninja Gaiden, and Devil’s Third, I was immediately on board with what they were making. From the trailers and sneak peeks that I got to see of Wanted: Dead, I was immediately excited and couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. You see, gaming in the modern era is very formulaic with little to no innovations with developers either sticking to a winning formula or remaking a game from the decades past. Experimentation is not a common thing in today’s gaming landscape save for the indie-devs and the few times AAA companies allow their devs to make something original (Hi-Fi- Rush I’m looking at you), so for me I was all in on something new that would disrupt the genre again. And here we are with Wanted: Dead from Soleil. Does it live up to the pedigree of the studios previous works and blaze a new trail, or does it stumble out the gate and land with only the hardcore of gamers that miss the 2000’s era of gaming? Let’s find out!
Wanted: Dead is set in a cyberpunk dystopian 2022 in the shoes of Hannah Stone who is a formular war criminal turned police officer and head of Hong Kong’s Zombie Squad comprised of ex-cons serving life sentences. Hannah and the Zombie Squad are tasked with stopping any threats deemed too dangerous for normal police work and are therefore given freedom to eliminate whatever threat appears, Hannah and company will have to come to terms with their new roles as well as the dangerous bullet laden future that awaits and ultimately wants them…..dead.
The gameplay of Wanted: Dead is essentially a third-person action hack-n-slash with cover-based third-person shooter mixed in it. You’ll run into mostly empty arenas and fight wave after wave of enemy before you can proceed further which is a gameplay formula that was at it’s peak in the late 2000’s. The best way to describe this game is Devil’s Third 2 or Devil’s Third Remake, which is accurate when you consider that the team at Soleil also made Devil’s Third and some of the Ninja Gaiden games. As someone who is used to this genre of gaming, after some trial and error, I got my bearings with the combat loop that you find yourself in. Hannah has access to a Katana, pistol, and various semi-automatic rifles. With the katana, Hannah is able to do a multitude of sword combos that she’s able to intermix with her pistol which can help guard break enemies who end up blocking too much. You can also just fire off rounds of the pistol by pressing the Y button on the controller which will automatically aim at the closet enemy near Hannah.
The third-person shooter part of the game plays similar to Gears of War with you being able to run up to objects in the environment and get into cover. From there you can do blind fire as well as ADS or Aim Down Sights and shoot from an over the shoulder perspective which you would think would be good dealing with enemies, until you realize that the gunplay for the most part is entirely ineffective for the majority of enemies that are nothing more than bullet sponges. You will constantly run out of ammo and will need to rely on the katana to dish out the pain although that also comes with its disadvantages. The prime culprit is the fact that once Hannah is in a sword swing animation, you are fully committed to seeing that animation play out and if you want to dodge or parry, then you are SOL and will be taking damage.
Borrowing the parry mechanic from Ninja Gaiden and Devil’s Third, Hannah is able to parry an incoming attack right before it lands by pressing block which will open up the enemy to being punished. If you see the enemy glimmer red, then immediately press Y to fire your pistol of which will parry the unblockable attack and leave the enemy open for either a meaty combo or if they get into a stunned state and are flashing white, then you can press Y and B together and grab the enemy and do one of numerous brutal executions.
You’ll need to find a good flow between the sword and gun combat, as I find it is best to soften up the enemies with a few pistol shots followed by some sword swings, and if you get the opportunity to parry an incoming attack or counter an unblocking heavy attack, then do as it will allow you to mow down the increasingly difficult enemies. The other guns I find to not be worth the time as even if you line up a headshot, enemies will soak up bullets. That’s not to say don’t ever use the other guns as there are moments when you will be pinned down by gun fire, and trying to rush up on the enemy Rambo style will get you quickly killed, so use the cover mechanic and try to shoot the explosive barrels in the environment and take out some enemies with the gun.
There is a gauge that builds up as you hit enemies that once filled will allow you to activate bullet time which will slowdown time and have Hannah fire off a bunch of shots that will put most enemies in a stunned state and allow you to do a chain of instant kills if enough enemies are in proximity and when used on bosses and sub-bosses, then Hannah will inflict tons of damage on them.
You can carry up to 2 rifles, shotguns, or grenade launchers and can freely swap between them. Some weapons even give you the option to switch the firing rate at the press of a button. You can also use grenades which come in a variety flavors which really come in handy when surrounded by enemies. There is a skill tree system that allows you to gain new abilities such as being able to do follow up attacks after a parry, do a charged up katana swing, extend your basic combos, and even gain additional stat buffs and bonuses. Every defeated enemy gives you experience points that you can use to gain new skills that will help you in battle. At every check point you come across, the gunsmith will send their drone of which will allow you to customize your guns from the stock, barrel, ammo clip, scope, and even the camo skin. Each change that you make will change the stats of your rifle and pistol such as increased or decreased accuracy, recoil, damage and stopping power, ammo, and more. Its best to try and evenly balance out your rifle while with the pistol I find it best to focus on its damage potential and stopping power.
Lastly, when not in missions, you’ll find yourself at the police station with you able to roam around and talk to various officers as well as play various mini games in the louche area.
Graphically, Wanted: Dead is ROUGH looking. It is very much a game with visuals from the Xbox 360/PS3 era that rarely ever looks like a modern era game. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but when you look at the fact that modern games look generations better than that era, it makes this one a hard one to say that it’s a modern game and not just some indie low-budget title especially when you consider that this is a full price game. Hannah and her squad all animate almost robotically and have the most stilted of facial features I’ve seen in years. The amount of detail in the character models and the lip syncing is all indie-rific and that’s all I have to say about it. Environments aren’t anything to write home about either and are mainly open areas with set pieces to take cover behind.
Now, the one area where the game shines is in its anime cutscenes that occasionally play out. I’m not sure what anime studio animated these, but boy do they look good!
The audio is a bit of a mixed bag as it doesn’t have the best audio mixing and balancing with the voiced dialogue randomly going up and down without rhyme or reason and many times will be drowned out with the ambient background noise. I also found that the game doesn’t use music much in some cutscenes and because of this, and the awkward pauses in some dialogue, it makes it very out of place and makes some scenes fell like you’re waiting for something to happen when in reality all that’s happening is a dead pause with no music for the moments that matter.
The voice acting is…….ok? I mean, its not terrible by any means necessary but it also isn’t great either and a lot of lines come across flatly read and the moments that are meant to be important end up coming off comical or flat. If you’ve played Devil’s Third, then you already know to expect not great voice acting and delivery from this developer.
Performance on Steam Deck is fairly solid for the most part with my needing to turn the graphical settings to medium and low and turning FSR on. I was able to get a mostly stable 60FPS that fluctuates down to 50FPS while having a battery life that lasts about 2 hours. On my desktop, I ran the game at max settings and got 120FPS, while on my gaming laptop I was able to get it to run at 1440P at 60FPS. The game also supports ultrawide monitors as I was able to play this on both my 49” ultrawide and my 34” ultrawide monitors.
I did run into some bugs here and there such as graphical glitches where objects get stuck in the player character and enemies, as well as there being random moments of input latency and severe slowdown. Now I did play this on the Steam Deck as well as on my gaming laptop that has an RTX 3060 and gaming desktop that has a RTX 3080ti and I ran into these issues across all three. There were even times when I would have a sliver of health and the game would just play the death animation and strip me of all control of Hanah. I also found the allies that you have in battle with you to be entirely useless as they do next to nothing and seem to just spray bullets that hit nothing as they don’t do anything to your enemies, while the enemies can all hit you from everywhere even behind cover. A.I. in this game as a whole is terrible.
So, with all the Jank and undercooked and half-baked ideas; is Wanted: Dead worth buying? Yes and No. I say no because this game as it is should not be a full priced game with how much jank is in it, however I say yes because I find the jank to be appealing as I am a fan of the developers of this game and miss this genre that has gone on to merely generate God of War 2018 clones. This game was willing to take some risks, reutilize ideas the team had from Devil’s Third and Ninja Gaiden, and make a game that I honestly had a lot of fun with. Is it for everyone? No, but it’s a game that will have me coming back to it over and over. If you’re looking for a game with a game design from a bygone era or if you want to experience what action games used to be like back when developers were allowed to throw in everything and the kitchen sink and make you feel like John Woo meets John Wick, then Wanted: Dead is worth diving into. For all others I recommend waiting on this game to go on sale. I greatly appreciate Soleil and the work they’ve done here and the risks they took and continue to take in games they develop.