Wanted: Dead feels like a victim of its own lineage, a game bound too closely to its past simply for the sake of it. Marketing around the shooter fighting game hybrid made sure to remind potential players that studio Soleil features former Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden developers, perhaps setting unreasonable expectations for fans of those titles interested in this new IP.
That’s because while fun, Wanted: Dead is nowhere near as fluid, polished, or mechanically complex as its forebears. However, Soleil’s action-shooter packs enough heart to make it worth a look. There are some good things here.
There’s no sense in attempting to understand Wanted: Dead. The basic setup is that you play as Hannah Stone, the leader of a specialized police squad known as Zombie Unit. Based in Hong Kong, you’re tasked with uncovering a conspiracy involving the wicked Dauer Corporation.
From there, Wanted: Dead’s narrative is haphazard and unevenly paced. Stakes rarely seem high, and cinematics often don’t explain critical information about the world you’re in. Rather, many feel tailor-made to confuse you, and the lore entries do little to expand your understanding of what’s happening.
The game, too, constantly jostles between introducing new characters and reiterating plot threads, tossing around puerile humor and switching art styles (like in its random anime cutscenes).
For all intents and purposes, Wanted: Dead is a beautiful mess. While none of its narrative beats will stick with you, there’s an undeniable charm to its presentation and gameplay interactions. Its often stilted performances, dated animations, and seemingly random dialogue are oddly enthralling. You never know what the game will pull out of its endless pockets.
This spontaneity extends to its minigames, with new diversions introduced after every major story mission, making it difficult to put the controller down out of sheer curiosity. They’re made all the more enticing because Wanted: Dead doesn’t simply bring up these minigames in tutorial prompts without context — Soleil works them into its cinematics no matter how awkwardly they’re slotted into the main story.
After their initial introduction, you can engage with any of the distractions within Wanted: Dead’s police headquarters, which acts as a hangout spot between story missions. Activities include a claw game, karaoke, a pixel art side-scrolling shooter, and a rhythm minigame where you scarf down ramen. There’s even a jukebox that includes a selection of 80’s pop and rap, with the music unabashedly ringing throughout the entire station.
I spent far longer than I’d like to admit listening to Stefanie Joosten’s rendition of songs like She Works Hard For The Money while soaking in the stilted and sometimes hilarious NPC dialogue. Wanted: Dead’s infectious energy is the glue that holds the experience together, picking up the slack from its basic combat and mission design.
Wanted: Dead’s levels are comprised of largely empty and linear hallways that look much more set dressing than lived in. It feels like a PlayStation 2-era title in that sense, equally backed by basic combat that wouldn’t feel out of place before the likes of Bayonetta, and later entries in the Devil May Cry series, improved the genre for the better.
As an action-shooter hybrid, Wanted Dead‘s core shooting mechanics feel solid enough. However, ammo scarcity means that mid to long-range engagements are typically reserved for specific situations. Close-quarters combat makes up the meat of a standard Wanted: Dead mission.
Hannah can dish out three basic melee combos, with her moveset augmented by additional abilities via a skill tree. For example, you’ll eventually be able to perform follow-up attacks after executing parries or handgun counters, or one that lets you parry normally unblockable attacks.
Even with a fully maxed-out skill tree, Hannah’s move set feels much more limited than you might expect, which seems to be an intentional choice. Wanted: Dead isn’t a fast-paced action game with extensive combos, precision inputs, and high-level mechanics like Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden. Rather, it is a more methodical, tactical experience.
The strategy comes from understanding how to manage encounters filled with ranged and melee enemies. Clearing a room of foes becomes less about style and more about efficiency, with the only real flair coming from brutal finishing strikes. These form the backbone of higher-level play, replenishing your health while giving you a breather. This incentivizes keeping track of each enemy’s status, so you don’t miss an opportune moment.
Despite finishing strikes making up a large portion of the combat loop, these animations never get old. While you’ll see a few animations repeat, there’s a surprising amount of variety to them. Even by the final mission on my second playthrough, I found myself genuinely excited every time I performed a finisher because of the sheer creativity and brutality on display.
And that brutality is keenly felt at all times. Even on normal, the lowest difficulty setting, Wanted: Dead is a challenging game. Almost from the outset, it constantly tests you, forcing you to make use of every tool at your disposal, including guns, grenades, parries, gun counters, standard combos, and finishing strikes. A few miscalculations can mean the difference between life and death.
Wanted: Dead Review — The Bottom Line
Screenshot by GameSkinny
- Oozing with charm.
- Combat is fine in short bursts, helped by exciting finishers.
- Difficulty constantly tests players’ use of gameplay systems.
- So many random minigames.
- The story makes no sense.
- Not much depth or fluidity to melee combat.
- Basic mission and level design add to the monotony.
- Performance issues on PS5.
Wanted: Dead feels like a B-grade relic of a bygone era, released about 20 years too late. Combat can offer a satisfying rhythm once you understand it, but it’s also too basic to be truly exciting. The story is charming if nonsensical, but its stiltedness also leads to plenty of intentionally and unintentionally funny moments. Missions typically only task you with moving forward in uninspired environments, but the action — and trying to stay alive — means you may not notice.
The significance of the police headquarters can’t be understated, either. Being able to spend as much time as you want playing various minigames before returning to the story eases some of the monotony inherent to its repetitive design. At the end of the day, Wanted Dead doesn’t have the best design or the deepest gameplay, but it sure has an undeniable charm. And it can certainly be fun.
[Note: 110 Industries provided the copy of Wanted: Dead used for this review. Featured image via 110 Industries.]