Wanted: Quality Control

HIGH Stunning a group of enemies with a pistol barrage, then pulling off chain executions.

LOW Wanted: Dead‘s performance on XBX is a dumpster fire.

WTF Umm… where’s the rest of the game?

Sometimes things seem too good to be true. A new intellectual property featuring a badass katana- and rifle-wielding police heroine mowing down bad guys by the hundreds on the streets of an alt-present cyberpunk skewing of Hong Kong inspired by Dominion Tank Police and Cyber City Oedo — and it’s developed by members of the team behind Ninja Gaiden and that game with Tina Armstrong and Christie in it?

With that sort of pedigree, do I even really need to play it before giving it a perfect rating? Probably not, but let’s stick it on for five minutes anyway to perform due diligence and… oh dear.

Oh, no. Oh, my word.

It turns out that Wanted: Dead has some… major… problems.

Taking place in third person, Wanted: Dead is a hybrid shooter/slasher actioner where switching between short and long range weapons on the fly is required to succeed. While main character Hannah Stone only carries a katana for close encounters, she has access to a personalized assault rifle and handgun that can be heavily modified between checkpoints, and she’ll use various subweapons in each level — SMGs, shotguns, LMGs, Chainsaws… the usual selections.

The combat system isn’t as complex as something like Ninja Gaiden, but when all’s working as intended it’s satisfying. Hits feel solid and impactful, even if some of the melee enemies soak up just a little too much damage. There’s also a cool execution mechanic where players stun or dismember some poor bugger and then brutalize them with a selection of execution animations, John Wick style. From hip tosses into headshots or ramming them into a wall before slicing their arms off, Stone’s enemies are undoubtedly in for a bad time.

Stone can gain access to new abilities as she progresses through each level using experience points earned from killing enemies, but these skills should all have been available from the beginning since many of them are what make the combat system shine.

Counter-attack follow ups, more generous parry windows, grenades, and a special move involving a series of handgun blasts that stun nearby enemies and open them up for a barrage of executions — it’s immensely gratifying  to see enemies getting chopped to bits in quick succession as a result of a well-timed super. The balance can be slightly questionable in places, though.

Ranged enemies are usually barely able to scratch Hannah, aside from certain unpredictable attacks — for example, any bastard that can whip out an incendiary grenade and toss it without warning. It does ludicrous damage on higher difficulties, can trap players in flames for its entire duration, and if Hannah’s in the middle of an execution when it lands at her feet she’s basically screwed with no way to cancel out and escape.

Hannah’s own tools can also prove unreliable. The grenade launcher’s a gamble in any fight, as the projected arc shown to the player doesn’t appear to be accurate. Firing it from cover or through narrow gaps, even when the reticule shows a clear path, is as likely to lead to her own death as that of the enemy. Similarly, grenade throws don’t necessarily follow the onscreen trajectory that pops up when they’re primed, often bouncing off doorframes and windows en route to their supposed destination.

These moments stick out like a sore thumb, because otherwise the combat feels pretty dang good thanks to a system that encourages parries and evasive actions with just a little assault rifle and explosive carnage tossed in for good measure. The handgun counter mechanic is an inspired addition, allowing for otherwise-lethal attacks to be neutralized (even at range) and the action heats up nicely as the campaign progresses both in enemy variety and unlocked skills. Checkpoints are spread a little thin, often bookended by much tougher encounters which threaten a chunk of repeated gameplay, but it’s not so bad as to be intrusive.

Outside of combat, the story isn’t up to much. Lieutenant Stone and her comrades in the Zombie Squad are a likable bunch of rogues, but the dialogue and writing is odd, to say the least. Characters with seemingly no purpose are introduced and dropped after a single scene, and while I love some of the accents in attendance, the voice acting is stilted and rarely seems to match what’s happening onscreen — things like battle cries being delivered in conversational tones, or enemies languidly calling Hannah weak and ineffectual while a dozen of their friends are lying in a pile of blood and limbs nearby.

It’s also not a spoiler to say that the storyline just stops at a certain point, and the end credits begin to roll with nothing resolved. It’s a bafflingly abrupt ending, bringing the adventure to a screeching halt just as things should be beginning to build to a climax. Blatant sequel baiting, perhaps, but also an immensely unsatisfying way to wrap things up.

The issue that most damages Wanted: Dead, however, is that its technical performance, at least on the Xbox Series X, is absolutely shambolic. Simply walking along a barren corridor where nothing’s happening can lead to framerate meltdowns, and when it slows down in the middle of a swordfight when timing parries and dodges is key to survival… it’s not great. It’s also very inconsistent. An encounter may run at a locked sixty frames per second initially, then turn into a slideshow upon reloading.

It even affects the ramen eating and karaoke minigames. Ever tried to perform well at a rhythm game when the timing cursor is haphazardly jerking all over the place? Trust me, it doesn’t work. And by the by, whoever decided that tying these minigames into the achievements list and making them unskippable during the story should be facing jail time.

These technical woes are enormously harmful to the overall experience, and they’re topped off beautifully by the game hard-crashing to the desktop every other hour or so. I don’t want to belabor the point, but the lack of quality control on display in Wanted: Dead is far, far below modern videogame standards. Even twenty years ago it would raised eyebrows. It’s effectively unfinished. It’s an absolute shame since I actually like the core experience on offer here, but in its current state only the most determined players will be able to persevere long enough to get enjoyment out of it.

In the end, I still enjoyed it enough to put in more than fifty hours in and still want to play more, despite all its problems. When it’s running as intended, it’s clear that this is the kind of game I’d like to see a lot more of — bloody, unpretentious, and gameplay-focused in a manner that’s eminently replayable thanks to strong core combat. That said, the good stuff in Wanted: Dead is buried under a mountain of problems — and when I say buried, I mean buried deep.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Soleil and published by 110 Industries. It is currently available on XBO, XBX/S/PS4/PS5 and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the XBX. Approximately 50 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed on all difficulty levels. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language and Suggestive Themes. The official ESRB description reads as follows: This is a third-person shooter in which players assume the role of a police squad member (Hannah Stone) engaging in combat missions in a futuristic Hong Kong. Players use machine guns, shotguns, explosives, and melee weapons (e.g., swords, chainsaws) to kill enemy soldiers in frenetic combat. Battles are highlighted by realistic gunfire, explosions, and large blood-splatter effects. Several attacks result in the dismemberment and/or decapitation of enemies; other attacks result in enemies sliced in half or exploding into pieces. Players can perform finishing attacks and trigger slow-motion effects (Bullet-time). The game contains references to suggestive material: a sexual joke referencing four testicles; a character depicted with deep cleavage; dialogue stating,; “A good bowl of soup is better than sex”; “There’s more male nudity in your stories than in a Joaquin Phoenix film”; “…[H]ow does it feel going d*wn on your sister?”). The words “f**k” and “sh*t” are heard in the game.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles can be altered and/or resized. Most audio cues when enemies are about to launch a strong attack have an easily-seen visual indicator, though if the player is facing away from them and the camera angle is too close it won’t be viewable before it lands. Because of this, the game is not fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable, though there are several presets to choose from.

Darren Forman
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