Wanted: Dead Review – A modern cult classic in the making

Gare – Tuesday, February 14, 2023 3:00 PM
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If a few months or years ago you told me I’d one day be playing a game that’s essentially a mix of John Wick, Metal Gear Rising, Yakuza and Deadly Premonition, I would’ve probably looked at you all funny, but here we are. What’s even more incredible is that the above combination, despite how outrageous it may sound, actually works perfectly. Indeed, if you’ve read the title of this review, you know I’m talking about Wanted: Dead, an absolute wild ride of a third-person shooter/hack & slash hybrid that proudly wears its goofiness on its sleeve and is not ashamed to be itself, nor does it take itself too seriously. And I kind of love it for that.

Meet the Zombie Unit

Giving players a brief glimpse into the tumultuous, action-packed life of an elite Hong Kong police squad nicknamed the Zombie Unit, Wanted: Dead wastes absolutely no time and immediately hits you across the face with its wacky world-building and zany cast of main characters. From a Swiss policewoman with a funky accent to a cat-obsessed gunsmith, the game introduces you to a lineup of unique squad members that each come with their own quirks and engage in interactions that often reminded me of titles like God Hand or the aforementioned Deadly Premonition. If your idea of unwinding after a mission that had you blowing up three dozen killer androids involves singing karaoke to the tunes of 99 Luftballons or trying your luck at the local crane game to get your hands on various action figures based on the main cast… well, then you’ve come to the right place. Or you could just go play the side-scrolling sci-fi shooter minigame that feels like something out of a SNES’ heyday – because yes, that’s a thing, too.

Honestly, there’s just something endlessly goofy and unashamedly “video game-y” about Wanted: Dead, and every minute I spent with it kept bringing me back to the golden era of the PlayStation 2 – so when I noticed that the game is indeed being advertised as “a love letter to the sixth generation of consoles”, you can probably imagine how NOT surprised I was. Also, did I mention there are anime cutscenes as well? Because of course there are anime cutscenes. Bless this weird, wonderful game.

She’s a maniac

Its general quirkiness and lovable jank aside, Wanted: Dead brings plenty to the table in terms of its gameplay as well. Designed to offer a hardcore challenge in the vein of Ninja Gaiden and similar titles, this is a game that does not pull any punches with its difficulty – enemies are deadly and relentless, with even a single poorly-timed parry being able to spell your doom and force you back to the last checkpoint. Thankfully, you do have access to a limited number of healing items that are automatically replenished at every checkpoint, and one of your squadmates has the ability to revive you once, but that’s about it. The rest is up to you – and boy will your reflexes be tested.

During the campaign, you take control of protagonist Hannah Stone, a gun-toting, katana-wielding force of nature whose unique skills let you pick your playstyle, whether that’s moving from cover to cover and shooting enemies from a safe distance, or charging straight at baddies with sword in hand, ready to slice them to a million fleshy bits. To be honest, the game sort of expects you to switch between the two styles on the fly – land a few hits with your sword, interrupt otherwise undodgeable attacks with a well-placed pistol shot, then swiftly slide behind cover for a bit of assault rifle action. You get the idea. What I’m trying to say is that combat in Wanted: Dead is a chaotic mess, but it’s an enjoyable, well-designed mess, and I do absolutely say that as a compliment – Hannah moves from enemy to enemy with lightning swiftness, parrying blades left and right, and is even capable of unleashing a series of flashy insta-kill moves against multiple opponents once her adrenaline gauge has been filled. It’s not an easy thing to master, partially because the controls can feel a little awkward and needlessly convoluted at first; plus, like I’ve implied above, one wrong move can easily rob you of a good chunk of your HP bar, so you do need to be careful and time those dodges and parries well. However, once you finally get the hang of the controls and the combat system in general, clearing out an entire room of soldiers with the precision and deadliness of a female John Wick will not only come as second nature, but will also feel unbelievably satisfying. The game manages to strike a tight balance between looking at cool animations play out and a sense of “I’m controlling the character and making all this cool stuff happen by myself” – I do fully realize it may be a bit of a clichéd expression, but Wanted: Dead really does make you feel like an unstoppable action hero.

Modern nostalgia

In case the general tone of this review hasn’t already made it abundantly clear, I absolutely adore Wanted: Dead – it oozes light-hearted fun from its every pore, and the passion that no doubt went into its creation is more than palpable. Yes, it’s rough around the edges. Yes, it’s got some jank. The controls may put people off and the main character’s voice acting might not be everyone’s cup of tea. For some, the game might be a bit too unhinged or its difficulty too unforgiving. But if you embrace its high-octane combat, its general silliness and the fact that it plays and feels like a long-lost classic from the PlayStation 2’s library, you’re going to have an amazingly good time with it.

Wanted: Dead is out now on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S.

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