Wanted: Dead is a hybrid slasher/shooter action game developed by Soleil and published by 110 Industries. Soleil is a company comprised of many former Team Ninja developers who worked on the first two Ninja Gaidens and the first four Dead or Alive games. Despite Wanted: Dead being marketed as by the creators of those two series, Wanted: Dead is more in line with one of their previous games, Devil’s Third, with its hybrid nature. In many ways, it’s superior, but this game is targeted at a very specific demographic. If you don’t have a liking towards the old-school NES hard style of play, Wanted: Dead is simply not for you.
Wanted: Dead is available on Steam, Epic Games Store, PS4/PS5, and Xbox One/Xbox Series X|S for $59.99.
Story – Old School Simplicity
Wanted: Dead’s story is utilized in a very old-school fashion in that it very much takes a back seat to everything else. You play as Hannah Stone, a prisoner released to take charge of the Zombie Squad. Hannah is the only character to get a lot of backstory and an actual character arc. She’s likable and entertaining in a way like early Arnold Schwarzenegger with her charming yet poorly delivered dialogue. She definitely gives off some Tommy Wiseau vibes. Whenever Hannah spoke, it was always entertaining the whole way through.
The entire unit of characters isn’t all that memorable and deep. The most entertaining of the side characters is the angry police captain whose straight out of an 80s action B-movie. Stefanie Joosten, who was Quiet in Metal Gear Solid V, plays the Gunsmith, and she’s fun but doesn’t get much to do. Most of her screen time is in the unlockable cooking video segments, which came out before the game did. The story and characters have a very small amount of meat to them, but in a title like this, the gameplay is where the actual course meal’s at.
Gameplay – NES Hard
The hybrid slasher/shooter gameplay is very much an expansion and revision of what was seen in Devil’s Third. The major improvement here is the heightened focus and importance of melee combat. In Devil’s Third, you could rely on firearms for pretty much the whole game. In the second half, with how the levels were designed, there was little reason to break out a melee weapon. If you try to rely on firearms to kill enemies in Wanted: Dead, you will be punished.
Firearms in Wanted: Dead is very much a secondary option, as with the game’s challenge, you’ll have to learn to fight all these enemies close-up. This is great because running away and shooting from afar is very much the lower-skill pathway. Fighting up close and personal is harder, takes more skill, and what the game should guide you towards. This game is NES hard, not only because of its challenge but due to its checkpoint system. Certain sections are very long, and dying could send you back over 10 minutes. Because of the game’s short length, this helps the experience last longer in a similar way to the old-school 8-bit games of yesteryear.
People who are more down with the old school shouldn’t have a problem with this, but I can see more modern players going nuts. If you hate that old-school checkpoint system where you must replay large sections over again, stay far away. The actual checkpoint system is well used in forcing the player to learn the game.
For example, near the end, there’s a big miniboss gauntlet where you must fight 5 White Ninjas and 2 Black Ninjas. Due to how the section is designed and the sparse ammo, you must learn how to fight these baddies head-on. You can’t simply blast all of them until they’re dead like you might have done before. Until you learn how to fight them effectively with melee combat, you simply won’t get past this part.
The core combat system itself is a lot of fun but not that complex. Thankfully the various enemy types do a lot of the heavy lifting in making sure the game doesn’t get repetitive. When looking at the finishing animations, it might not look that satisfying, but when playing, it feels great to do. The various bosses are fun for what they are, even though they tend to be over pretty quick. Another improvement is that the one-hit kill moves aren’t nearly as cheap as Devil’s Third, and are pretty well-telegraphed.
There are two downsides to combat. The biggest one is the lack of any other melee weapon. This is a big downside, as the katana only has three basic combos. After a while, you’ll discover which combo is the best and use that as your primary melee attack for the rest of the game. Having more weapons to play with would be great for freshening things up, as it can get stale doing the same moves.
Another issue that’s not as big is the restricted movement. There’s no jump button in Wanted: Dead, so there’s no verticality to the combat. In Devil’s Third, you could climb on top of various places to get a high-ground advantage, and that’s, unfortunately, missing here.
Besides combat, Wanted: Dead has several minigames to play in the downtime between missions. This is a great thing because certain players will be a bit drained after going through these tough, long levels. All of the minigames are solid. The crane game is the best of its type, even better than how the Yakuza titles handle it. The claw physics is pretty close to real life in how weak they are, and you can kick the machine. That feature alone makes this minigame a standout.
Then there’s two rhythm minigames with Ramen and Karaoke. I’m really bad at rhythm games, so I didn’t get much mileage out of them. If you love those types of games, though, there are a lot of songs you can play in Ramen. On the other hand, Karaoke only features one song, which is a bit of a bummer. The best minigame and the one with the most content is Space Runaway. It’s a classic arcade scrolling shooter that plays great but is also fittingly difficult for its genre. For most, Space Runaway will be a bit too much to handle, but if you’re a big fan of these types of games, it’s rather rich in content with seven total levels.
The last note about the gameplay is the ridiculously short length of only five total levels. That is just way too low of an amount for a $60 price tag. Perhaps if you were eager to replay the game right away on harder settings, then it might sweeten the deal, but honestly, normal mode is difficult enough that I think most people will be pooped out after beating it once. I don’t think most will jump back in, at least not right away.
Graphics & Sound – A Mixed Bag
In terms of the overall presentation, Wanted: Dead is a bit all over the place. The graphics are pretty good in both character models and environments. Cutscenes can suffer from the Serious Sam 4 syndrome, in that textures don’t load in right away and only appear after a quick second. Besides that, they’re solid, but the performance is another matter.
On launch, Wanted: Dead had very noticeable stuttering in many locations, particularly in the Police Headquarters, the hub area. The Karaoke minigame stuttered so badly it was virtually unplayable. Even in combat, sometimes the game can freak out and stutter like crazy. A patch has since been released that tightened up the performance in a lot of areas, but it still stutters in a few places. Most of the time, the game is stable, but these stutters stick out like a sore thumb.
For the sound quality, Wanted: Dead has both good and bad elements. The actual soundtrack is absolutely fantastic, with both its original music and licensed tracks. It actually has a positive effect on gameplay because it just hypes you up when doing the action. The bad aspect is the repeated enemy sounds. After playing the game for a while, you do get sick of the repeated enemy screams whenever you kill someone. It definitely will bother certain people more than others, but it is still an issue.
Wanted: Dead was reviewed on Xbox Series X.
This game is gold and it gives me the old great reminder of Devil’s Third vibes
This game is gold!