Wanted: Dead - Outdated But Not Irredeemable
Wanted: Dead is perhaps one of the harder games I have ever had to review. Not hard as in difficulty to complete, no I mean hard to actually review and critique. There is a lot in this game that is both outdated and plain bad, but it feels like most of it was intentional on behalf of the developers. There is a very clear feeling that the studio behind Wanted: Dead had the desire to make a very particular type of experience, one that hasn’t been around since the days of the PS2 and in doing so they have brought back a whole pile of antiquated mechanics and outdated ideas in the process. The question then becomes not if this is a bad game, but is there a market for a game that “feels” as old as this does? Is it akin to a B-movie cult classic or is it, in fact, just a dodgy title to avoid? Let me see if I can navigate that line of thought.
Let’s get the setup out of the way first. Wanted: Dead is a third-person action title that mixes melee combat and cover-based gunplay while breaking things up with a range of minigames and story beats. It is set in a futuristic world where the police force has been privatised and is essentially a mercenary army. You play one such mercenary, out to get to the bottom of a strange group of attacks on the city you are patrolling. It is a cliched and tired story that steals from a range of much more accomplished sci/fi tales like Bladerunner, Robocop and even The Fifth Element. There is even the oldest of action movie cliches, the angry and constantly yelling African-American Police captain. In borrowing elements, the game simply comes off as a knockoff lacking in imagination and any sense of individual identity.
As far as the presentation goes, there are some major issues here that can’t go unmentioned. The first is the writing and voice acting. The dialogue is just abysmal, with some of the worst lines I think I have ever heard in a video game. What makes that writing even worse is that it is delivered by monotone and seemingly uninterested voice actors who have managed to suck any emotion or interest out of the lines they were given. To add a little distasteful cherry on top of all of this, the game is chock full of the type of skeezy sexist chauvinistic garbage that I thought was forever gone in the world of video games. Gracious cleavage shots, inappropriate touching and lewd behaviour abound with one character in particular so toxic I wanted to stick a katana into him myself, despite the fact he was a fellow police officer.
Speaking of Katanas, well the combat is where this game is at its best. The developers have put together a combat system that mixes 3rd person cover-based gunplay with melee combat in a satisfying way. It does feel a little simple at times and the camera can get annoying (another of those PS2 throwbacks I guess) but for the most part, combat is a challenging and engaging experience that leaves you with a satisfied smile at the end of each level. The player has a range of special moves and finishers that spice things up and their primary and secondary weapons are customisable and upgradeable to suit a preferred playstyle. The game is also quite challenging, with normal difficulty sure to put even the most seasoned action gamer to the test and with no way to change the difficulty level except for restarting, players are going to feel the need to keep battling forward.
The range of minigames included, while often feeling odd and shoehorned into the game, are actually a nice diversion. There is a very cool horizontal SHUMP to test your skills at, a couple of crane machines that grant skill points if you are successful and a range of rhythm-based games that take the form of things like Karaoke or a Ramen eating competition. If you have ever played a Yakuza game, well you know what to expect with the minigames that Wanted: Dead offers. Honestly, they do feel like a strange inclusion in a game such as this but there is no doubt that they add to a sense of quirky appeal, something that it feels like the developers were intentionally aiming for.
From a design standpoint, levels range from interesting enough to bland and drab and all are linear to a fault. There is no deviation from the main path, no real point to exploration. Things are occasionally broken up with some wider, arena-like map sections, but for the most part, it is linear corridor after linear corridor. Graphically the game is also quite unimpressive, with muddy textures and a general lack of detail prevailing throughout. Looks aren’t everything though and the developers have managed to get this running smoothly with no framerate drops and only the occasional texture pop-in after the game loads.
With Wanted: Dead we are left with a game that feels undeniably dated, but intentionally so. This leads to the dilemma of this review. Is it a bad game or is it what the developer intended and therefore a success? In my eyes, it is actually both. There is no doubt that some of the components presented here are outdated and should never be seen in games again, especially its depiction of inappropriate behaviour towards female characters. At the same time, there is a lot about this game, especially the combat, that scratches a particular itch that hasn’t been scratched since the PS vs XBOX wars first kicked off. There is going to absolutely be a group of people that get a kick out of this game, those hankering for the simplicity and visceral thrills offered by action games of yesteryear are well-serviced here. For the most part though, especially in the eyes of current-gen gamers, I think Wanted: Dead probably doesn’t offer enough to suit modern tastes in a meaningful way.