Wanted: Dead was a game flying under radar, and I didn’t understand why. The trailers looked fun, and they even released a super cool anime to go with it. On top of that the game was also made by Soleil, who also created Valkyrie Elysium, one of the most underrated games of this generation. So what could go wrong?
A lot, apparently.
Valkyrie Elysium is honestly one of my favorite games at this point. It lacks a little content, sure, but the combat system is simply amazing. Being able to “button mash” in a way that creates fluent chaotic combos and big finishing moves, is just perfect for me. In terms of games like this I prefer chaos. I want to jump into big fights and shred enemies. I don’t want to roll around and dodge non-stop like you do in Dark Souls.
So when I heard the same developers created an action/shooting game, I figured they’d bring that same energy to this modern style shooting game. I was dead wrong. For some reason all the fluidity Valkyrie had is completely gone. There are still some core mechanics, which ultimately work rather well, but the game is much slower-paced and more strategic. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I just need to tone myself down from button smashing and pay a little closer attention, right? Wrong…
Developed By: Soleil
Platforms: PlayStation 5, PC, Xbox
Genre: Action Slasher
Release Date: February, 14 2023
Wanted: Dead is honestly one of the most frustrating games I ever played. It’s frustration from disappointment because I tried so hard to like the game, I really did, but also because I played the game for several hours and barely made it past the first stage. Yes, several hours go by, I basically earned every single fighting trophy, I upgraded half half my skill tree, and I’m still sitting here on the first level, dying to random encounters. When I finally made it through, the game improved slightly, but still had spikes of random difficulty that weren’t necessary.
The biggest issue I have is that your main character doesn’t feel like a “superhero.” Most games will give your character some sort of perks to make the game fun. WET, one of my all time favorite games, had bullet time. Dying Light gave you the ability to scale and traverse the city however you wanted. God of War literally makes you a god…and so on.
Wanted: Dead, however, makes you the weakest character on the playing field. I mean you get a gun that runs out of ammo before you even clear a third of the field, or a katana which is very fun to use but nearly impossible to get in range of enemies. You can defend yourself from other sword wielding enemies, but your block is often broken or beaten in some way. If the enemy has a gun? Sorry about ya.
Which sucks because the “slash” part of the game is actually really cool. Stone, the main character you play as, has really neat animation and playstyle when fighting with the sword. You can run up and slash off an arm which makes characters drop guns. You have really neat finishing moves, with brilliant animations to show the impact. And you can even combine the sword with guns to create thrilling combos. It’s extremely satisfying in every way when you finally get to areas to use this, mostly because the sword has impact. Any hit on either you or the enemy leads to blood splatter, missing limbs, or just powerful actions all together.
The enemies basically boil down to three encounters, minus some boss battles. There are basically grunts that just run as far away as possible from you, then turn and shoot at you constantly. Then sword wielding ones that do the opposite and will sprint clear across the map to get to you. And then mini-bosses which required a little more attention as their strikes are much more powerful, and swift, but they also take a ton more effort to take down.
My major issues boil down to three things. One the shooting enemies never have gaps to approach them. They are shooting non stop, almost never reloading, and constantly throwing grenades. Honestly I don’t know how many times I heard my teammate yell “GRENADE!!!” in just 10 minutes of playing…. But it’s an imbalance between you and the enemies. They are bullet sponges with random weak spots. Sometimes it’s a headshot, other times it’s “ouch” and they duck behind cover. You can aim at them all day and they never pop up till you look away. Even with the sword I was slashing away on enemies and sometimes it’s an instant arm cut off, other times it’s 5 or 6 hits and nothing. Meanwhile one missed block and you lose basically all your health to one slash, or don’t shoot at the enemies and their bursts do a ton of damage. Did I mention there’s no way for you to deflect bullets? The mini-bosses are the most frustrating because they don’t follow any of the rules you just learned, and can block your gun shots with a sword. And again, you can’t.
Second, you get swarmed way too easily. These guys shooting you run away, then keep shooting you, meanwhile sword wielding ones want to get in your face and fight. Before long you have 5 or 6 guys all around you, and there’s no way to defend yourself against the shooting. There’s also no type of free flow combat at all. If you try to dodge out of the way, an enemy can stand in your way and there’s no way to get around it. There’s no swift way to switch between enemies, so if you attack one then another will attack behind you and you can’t switch to block them. The only way to really free flow between enemies is to charge your perk up and press the two analog sticks down, which leads to a focus attack. Or if you do a take down sometimes that can lead to taking down several enemies at once as you bounce between characters, which is extremely thrilling but so freaking rare. Basically once a move is committed to, you’re stuck doing it until the animation ends. So if you press to slash, but don’t quite hit the enemy, they will just shoot you until you’re able to move again. Enemies have the same issue as well, once they attack, they will hit you. I saw one enemy go into attack animation up stairs and from inside a building, I ran a good 15 seconds the other direction and put up a block, still got hit….Enemies also have swift fast combos that are nearly impossible to break, so you kind of just need to suffer losing 90 percent of your health if it lands.
Lastly, my issue is the stupid perk system. It wasn’t needed. Once you get enough points to level up some of the basic perks then combat and the flow of the game is so much easier to grasp. It’s still hard and a pain in the ass, but it goes from a broken mess to “okay, you just need some old school skill.” Like why do I need a perk to counter? Or to finish enemies on the ground? Or a perk to heavy attack? Or a perk to have ammo to kill more than one enemy? It’s stupid, just unlock this crap from the get go and give Stone some perks to make you feel more powerful, or at least give alternate ways to defeat enemies. This is the key problem with the game, like I said, Stone feels weak and powerless against enemies. You can parry, or block attacks, but then the enemy attacks 3 times and you lose health. You can’t even defend more than one attack at first, and a majority of enemies attack multiple times. There is no powerful slide, bullet time, or particular perk to swing odds in your favor. And why the fuck can’t I deflect bullets!
It’s a hard game, and to make life harder they took away checkpoints…Honestly the most annoying part of the game was there was no way to focus on an area that was too hard. You can’t just save right before a mini-boss comes out. No, you need to complete 10-15 minutes of the level, die at the mini-boss, then go complete 10-15 minutes of the level again…Which is odd considering their previous game, Valkyrie Elysium, understood this importance very well as you knew something bad was about to happen when a save point popped up.
Wanted: Dead is all about learning character patterns and how to counter them. When you keep dying in an instant to mini bosses, however, it gets old fast. One level basically has nearly an hour with no checkpoint when you play the game on hard, which is where I honestly gave up because I was so mad seeing the failed screen. Also anything you did up to that point totally resets. So if you hit a checkpoint, modify your gun, upgrade perks, then die…. You now need to go reset all of that.
The game is clearly inspired by old action slash titles, like the studios own Ninja Gaiden, but it also has a heavy influence of just being a pure arcade game. The way the characters yell, certain aspects of the UI, and animations of enemies all feel like it’s a game geared to making you lose so you put in another quarter. And until they update it to balance the enemies a little then it’ll continue to just be a frustrating overall experience.
The quirky story and characters
I’ll be honest with you, I tried to pay attention, but without reading about the story online I had no idea what the hell was going on. The writing is atrocious and skips all over the place. The dialogue is basically one liners that have almost nothing to do with each other. It’s a bunch of random “this is cool” ideas jumbled up together. So the best I got is you’re a criminal, the Hong Kong police want you to go into iffy situations, and your crew is also criminals. You learn some random facts about them in the intermission sequences (ones a perve, another did something at medical school, and I don’t care….), but the characters are all mostly dull and boring to me. One character that actually interested me the most was a guy using sign language the whole game, which I found neat, but he was also the most logical character, and yet added very little to most scenes.
That being said the writing is not strong enough to portray what was intended. The game is supposed to be an old school style cyberpunk title. And don’t get me wrong the nods in gameplay and visuals are all there, it’s just weak in terms of storytelling and gets way too cheesy to be taken seriously. Then you have a lot of serious tones mixed with goofy ideas, and it’s just a mess. All the characters try to be tough “cool” cookies, when in reality we needed one to basically break the 4th wall and say “WTF” once in a while.
That brings me to the voice overs, which is honestly the worst voice over work I’ve ever witnessed. I know the game tries to be cheesy, but it honestly would have been better with just written text at this point. The voice overs are so monotone, and it sounds like people are just reading from a script and using one take to finish out the day. Honestly, imagine Alexa voicing an entire game…. I don’t know if it was intentional or what, but it was extremely boring to listen to any of them talk. We also hear our teammates shout the same damn thing every 10 seconds, and my god I get it…. A DAMN GRENADE, YES I KNOW!!!!
But again the game is frustrating because there are hiccups where it’s simply awesome. When the game lets you escape the serious tone and pushes you into the more absurd areas like using a chainsaw, or comboing weak enemies, it’s brilliant. When you get 1-on-1 encounters with sword wielding enemies, it’s brilliant. And the impact of your gun as a parry, or the impact of the sword when it lands, it’s beautiful. And I won’t lie, the old school feeling is done really well, it just doesn’t have the gameplay to support it. These instances are so far and few between, so you get stuck with an extremely frustrating experience that you wish would just break so you could enjoy the better aspects.
Either they need to dive head first into being weird and oddball, or take the serious nature and give it more mechanics to be less arcadey. Instead Wanted : Dead gets stuck in between the two worlds and just fails at them both. The game is challenging, so if you’re interested for that reason it’s worth picking up. If you want some nostalgia of old broken games, also worth picking it up. For full price? Nope. One of Wanted: Dead’s biggest mistakes is it being marketed as a full big budget game, it’s not.