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Wanted: Dead Review (PS5) – A Polarized Action Romp That Leans Into Its Oddities

Wanted: Dead Review (PS5) – Some of my favorite games are ones that fall into niche followings. Knowing what I know now, Wanted: Dead will likely end up supported by a niche following.

This comes down to its weird and absurd choices throughout. Weird and absurd work a great deal of the time in this game, but the points when they don’t work bring down the whole package.

Wanted: Dead Review (PS5) – A Polarized Action Romp That Leans Into Its Oddities

You step into the sneakers of Lieutenant Hannah Stone, one of several prisoners held in China. She, among a band of circumstantially similar allies, accepts the offer to join a task force called the Zombie Unit as part of a rehabilitation program to eventually rejoin society.

They must use their skills in weaponry and combat to defeat enemies of the Chinese government whenever the government calls on them.

Shortly after you start the game, you get thrown into your first mission. There, you learn how to utilize your sword and gun to dispatch enemies. The game offers a tiny tutorial at the beginning, but it pales in comparison to what you learn in the first mission.

Wanted: Dead gives you the basic tools, and then it leaves you to iron out the nuances.

This sits in the same vein as the previous works this team of developers did before this. Considering this team collectively made Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive, this title holds a lot of potential.

This fact is deceptive, though, especially at the beginning of the game. Initial combos limit you to only certain strings of attacks and flexibility, leaving the early gametime feeling somewhat simplistic and a bit stiff.

Thankfully, as you progress, you earn experience points to improve Stone’s skills. The more points you put into her skill tree, the more flexible combat feels. Even better still, combat feels more and more like a Ninja Gaiden/shooter hybrid.

Shoot and Swing

With different guns and weapons at your disposal, there is no way you can’t have a literal and figurative blast playing this game most of the time. Considering you get your hands on chain saws, shotguns, and explosive sniper rifles, the game gives you plenty of fun options along the way.

Equally so, Wanted: Dead sparingly dishes out ammunition. You cannot just blind fire and hope to win. You either pick your shots or you start winging your blade. Thankfully, all automatic weapons let you toggle full auto and semi-auto, making it easier to manage your ammo.

The game gives you a couple ways to stay alive. After you take damage, there’s a small window of time where your health bar shows the amount of damage you took. Only then can you regenerate your health through attacks.

This creates an interesting risk-reward to how you fight. You can either stay in the fray and try to maintain your health or retreat if the situation overwhelms you.

Finishers make this game feel just great. You see several of them more commonly, but different scenarios and different enemy types all have their own Finisher animations. All you have to do is stagger them to pull off a Finisher.

Staying Alive

Parrying contributes greatly to staggering opponents. Pulling off a parry by timing the block button not only looks AND feels cool but also gives you an extra half second to assess the situation: either shift focus elsewhere or chain into a combo.

The window is small, but executing a parry grants you a lot of freedom and control over combat. The timing of that window feels weird sometimes, though. At times, I hit the parry button early and it works, other times I hit it right before and it works.

I didn’t test extensively on this, but timing the parry doesn’t always feel the same for all types of attacks. Some seem more forgiving than others. Thankfully, one point in the skill tree triples the parry window length, mitigating this issue for most of your playthrough.

Moving on, not all attacks are blockable (not without skill points anyway). If you see an incoming red attack, you cannot block them. There, you hit Triangle to counter with your handgun. Every time you pull this off, it feels like a desperate act that works in your favor and always feels gratifying.

All in all, though, Wanted: Dead comes across more like an arcade-like game rather than a deeply refined shooter or fighter. Considering the odd choices and simplistic systems at play here, this approach proves beneficial to the final product.

As a complete aside: I absolutely love how most of the enemies in Wanted: Dead look like caricatures of celebrities. Well played.

Zerg Zerg Zerg

Assessing the battlefield on the fly gets tricky just because of how close the camera sits behind Stone. The camera defaults to a cinematic angle once you start swinging, and looking around proves tricky. With attacks fixed to the face buttons, you can’t easily continue an attack chain while panning the camera.

To boot, enemy AI lacks much of any sophistication. They do try to flank sometimes, but they also just rush sometimes or sit in random cover. Enemies rarely work together, and when they do, it’s more circumstances than planned.

This honestly plays well into the way the game funnels everything into making combat more entertaining than challenging.

Still, the simplistic AI shows itself frequently, especially since your allies share the same level of intelligence. You can even trick some enemies to just stand where they are if you don’t push forward too aggressively.

This especially shows up more vividly during boss fights. They follow a general pattern of attack and retreat with their own types of variations. Human-sized enemies generally respond better to your position relative to them, but mechs do not.

With the first mech boss, I got tired of getting run over repeatedly while trying to run away from it. So, I zerged it, which kept it retreating perpetually until it hit an unbreakable obstacle. Long story short: Beating the mech with a sword proved much easier than trying to gun it down.

To the game’s credit, the final boss fight sees you go one on one with another sword user. This forces you to show how well you understand the parry system. With the maxed skill tree, this fight feels the most rewarding.

As long as parrying fits your playstyle, this fight is still just as easy as the other fights. Still, at least this boss doesn’t get glitched by zerging like the other bosses do.

Leaning Into Strange

Several mini games show up throughout, but they all feel random instead of part of the game. A claw machine? Okay, that works. A rhythm game set over eating ramen? Huh.

The game also puts this rhythm game over karaoke, which, as a Yakuza fan, feels like second nature. Unlike the Yakuza series, the rhythm game here lacks refinement.

Timing works just fine, but the icons lack any differentiators apart from the symbols themselves. With how fast the icons move across the screen, I mixed up L2-R2 and Square-Circle, diminishing my scores.

Pairs of icons come up as well, so identifying two buttons at a time demands a great deal more attention. This game mode is simple, but the lack of defined icons brings unnatural difficulty that feels cheap instead of challenging.

Finally, the voice acting compiles a pool of qualified and unqualified performers, mixes them together, and gives them a weird script. For instance, I think Lt. Stone’s accent is German, but I can’t tell for sure. She also comes across rather emotionally muted, even in tense situations.

Enemy grunts sound like sound bytes they took from people on the street for how lackadaisical they come across at times. In stark contrast, the main antagonists all have their own energy that just works so well and comes through with the voice work as well.

The cutscenes take up peculiar chunks of time in ways that don’t always make sense. Sometimes, the game fleshes out a standard interaction between the group, a string of oddities which end up being entertaining albeit mostly random.

For instance, there’s a scene with everyone sitting together at the diner. Lt. Stone literally cusses everyone out, angrily declaring that she doesn’t understand what she did to deserve working with them, before fading to black. When the next scene fades in, they’re all in the rec room at the station singing karaoke.

Most of the transitions like this aren’t nearly this extreme, but story jumps like this occur throughout the entire game. Right around the time you start committing to a scene, the game throws you into a different scene.

Falling On A Grenade

During my first playthrough, I remember wanting to go after the Platinum Trophy. However, about halfway through the game, I managed to complete the entire skill tree and finished the game with almost 100k unused experience.

I figured out why after the credits rolled: Everything reset and my playthrough disappeared. Collectibles and skill progression drop off for additional playthroughs.

After honing my skills and the benefits I earned, I feel gouged. I know I can easily get through hard mode by cheesing the ways I mentioned earlier. I just don’t like the idea of starting over on all fronts. If you go into Wanted: Dead knowing this, you might not feel the same way. Hindsight goes a long way with things like this.

More than ten times throughout Wanted: Dead, the game crashed. This game only lasts about 6 hours, so seeing it frequently brings down progression. Thankfully, this only happened to me after an auto save. A good patch can fix this.

Frankly, checkpoints require you to fight through at least four major fights before they appear again. When you have Doc with you, you get a free death. He’s not with you all the time, though, and those levels prove the hardest in the game.

There’s a Good Time In Wanted: Dead If You Know What You’re Getting Yourself Into

Wanted: Dead is a literal mixed bag: Gameplay funnels everything into an engaging, visceral mixture of melee and gunplay that just works. Then, weird voice work, peculiar mini-games, and bonkers scenarios take up the rest of your time. While the oddities don’t always work, the game commits to them, creating a kind of legitimacy to the lunacy.

None of it is cohesive on a production level, but there’s still a different kind of enjoyment here that doesn’t come from traditional games. The footloose and fancy-free gameplay along with the simplistic leveling system can carry the day. Either way, don’t be surprised if the rest of the game isn’t your cup of tea.

Wanted: Dead is available on PS5 and PS4 on February 14, 2023.

Review code provided kindly by publisher.



The Final Word

If you can buy into what Wanted: Dead is trying to sell, you'll have a good time. Just be ready for fragmented chunks of story, random voice work quality, and quirky concepts. Gameplay can win the day with its gorey, visceral delivery. Just be ready for an over-the-top game that takes itself seriously.