When Ninja Gaiden‘s Xbox reboot first released, it was a breath of fresh air. It had an interesting narrative, climatic conclusion, notable bosses, a revolutionary feel, and was no stranger to difficulty. While Ninja Gaiden inspired later classics like Devil May Cry, or Shinobi, it never caught on in the same way as Demon’s Souls. With some of these team members working on a new project, Wanted: Dead, players hope it achieves the same highs. With a fascinating marketing campaign, hit music, and experienced developers behind it, is this a title you’ll want, or is it dead on arrival?
Wanted: Dead tries to tell a couple different stories with varying levels of success. There is an android that is questioning what it means to be human, some kind of mystery with the main character, Hannah Stone, plus something being off with the police force. These stories all come together, though the end result isn’t that great.
Flashbacks Have a Nice Animated Cutscene
Unless you explore the world, find/read every collectible, and are extremely engaged in all the details, the narrative isn’t going to make a lot of sense. It also builds to a conclusion that is, if nothing else, an interesting place to end the adventure on. But, before you can worry about the destination, you need to complete the journey.
In a lot of ways Wanted: Dead reminds me of Metal Gear Rising, and the more recent Sifu. Almost immediately it feels like you’re missing something obvious, a curious feeling as I anticipated this issue and completed the optional tutorial before hand. Even on the lowest difficulty, normal, enemies feel shockingly resilient. It takes five rifle headsets, 10 bodyshots, or three slashes, give/take whatever damage the AI is doing, to kill the initial set of enemies. In the next room you run into your first melee enemy, who is so beefy it took like 13 slashes to kill him. This is a curious amount, as this is the lowest expectation in Wanted: Dead.
Naturally, there are some tricks. You’re better off just rushing the initial set of enemies, melee enemies are dominated by parrying their attacks, but it honestly feels like Wanted: Dead is balanced around having certain skills unlocked. Even without defensive, or offensive stat increases, certain skills have a substantial impact on the experience. Perhaps the best example of what I mean is the defensive skill Guard Strength Increase.
This skill allows you to guard against an additional enemy attack before your guard breaks. While not revolutionary, it’s game changing because of three simple facts. Without it your guard breaks after a single strike, almost every melee attack in Wanted: Dead involves two or more strikes, and taking a hit often results in losing a substantial portion of your health.
This brings me back to my point about balance. After the initial wave of like six shooters, the very first melee enemy you encounter will use combos with two or more hits. It’s incredibly unsatisfying getting to this enemy, missing the parry, but getting the guard, having them immediately break your guard, take two slashes you’re not expecting and now, even on the lowest difficulty, you’ve lost 75 percent of your health 10 minutes into the experience. Now, it isn’t as dire as it sounds. Most sections have a revive, or you can use two of your three Stimpacks to recover, though it still leaves you in a bad spot. This also isn’t a particularly special enemy, as there are sections later in the level where you might fight like 10 before reaching the next checkpoint.
Once you unlock everything, and get the fundamentals down, Wanted: Dead walks the line between fantastic slasher, and frustrating trash. The reason for this comes down to approach, and quirks.
When you’re in the zone fighting reasonable enemies, Wanted: Dead is a blast. You can parry an attack, follow up by slicing their legs off, and finish them off by doing one of the fantastic finishing moves. Best of all, finishing one enemy will result in finishing them all. Once one dies you’ll run over to the next one, kill them in a climatic way, followed by repeating the process until every enemy in that state is dead. It’s also deeply rewarding knocking an enemies shield away before cutting their arm off, or creating an opening to punish some fool that dares to attack you.
Where this approach fails is poor design. There are sections where you’re going to take damage unless you know exactly what to do, which is rarely a beloved design choice. Some are better than others, like I should get punished for rushing into a room with a hail of gunfire; whereas you probably shouldn’t hide a grenade launcher enemy in a place that almost guarantees you’ll miss them, and then either die, or lose like 50 percent of your health because you didn’t scan every single floor of a building in the background.
Reminds me of PVP…
Given Wanted: Dead is designed to be a hard game, certain quirks create an incredibly negative experience. Some of them are so bad it leaves an unfortunate sense that the developers expected more from you than themselves. I ran into sections where enemies were shooting me through a wall, getting hit with a flame grenade in the wrong spot will create a stun loop killing you, some places have extremely bad camera angles, with some being much worse than this.
One of my favorite examples is the grenade launcher. This is an extremely powerful weapon that can one hit a wide variety of enemies. However, there are certain enemies that are seemingly immune to this weapon’s damage. Like there are these large enemies with a chain gun that I’m relatively certain these grenades will go right through. I’ve legitimately shot them with 12 of them, enough to destroy the Metal Gear-esque robot boss, without it making a noticeable impact to his health. If that isn’t enough, there is a glitch that, in my opinion, makes the gun unusable.
Check that Blast Range
While I don’t know all the conditions, dead bodies trigger the grenade to explode. These, even with all the defensive skills on normal, will remove roughly 60 percent of your health. This makes using them a massive risk, so much so I would wager I lost more engagements from unexpected explosions than I won with it.
Wanted: Dead is filled with elements like this that bring down the whole experience. How many people want to explore a world where tight hallways have terrible camera angles, grenade launchers are more of a liability, cheap enemy locations (one spot had three different sets of enemies spawn behind me), frequent extremely powerful enemies, capped off with weird quirks (due to how ammo works, sometimes you need to reload to gain the ability to pick up ammo)?
Unfortunately, this isn’t even all of the problems present in Wanted: Dead. Outside of combat, there are optional mini-games that have a lot of potential. Karaoke singing 99 Luftballons, which is a great song, or eating ramen as rhythm mini-games are an interesting idea. As a fan of the genre, it’s always great to see, but making use of at least 10 inputs is more than a lot of actual rhythm games use. By contrast, Rhythm Sprout has three inputs and is still plenty difficult.
There are also a lot of performance issues. There were several sections where I would drop frames, even on PlayStation 5, making things somewhat difficult to overcome. Thankfully, I can’t think of a time it negatively impacted combat, though there is absolutely the potential for it. I also experienced a shockingly high number of crashes. I would realistically believe it happened 20 times before writing this review, a massive increase from my usual zero to two.
Another surprising shortcoming are the optional training missions. Personally, I was expecting something like Metal Gear Rising‘s VR missions, where you learn the fundamentals in a challenging way. Instead, there are four missions that are almost hilariously bad. Take the first training mission. You just need to defeat four melee enemies. They’re not particularly strong, I can kill them all with about half my rifle clip, a odd contrast to some enemies being able to withstand a good 60 bullets without stopping. That said, these are better than nothing. Being able to parry certain enemies, or handle specific situations is useful, it’s just a shame this feature is so under utilized.
Even if I have a lot of negative things to say about Wanted: Dead, I did enjoy the animated cutscenes. There are only like five of these events, though they’re extremely well done. I also enjoy some of the inclusivity found here. This is not something I typically highlight, or for that matter notice, though seeing a character communicate with sign language, along with voice talent having a wide array of accents is nice to see/hear.
Wanted: Dead Review Verdict
Wanted: Dead: In its current state I don't think I could recommend Wanted: Dead. Even on the lowest difficulty you feel weak, there are a sizable number of errors/glitches, several sections have notable negatives, with the end result being good, but not great. While I still had fun, and certainly see the potential, it has a long way to go if Wanted: Dead wants to attract anyone besides the most hardcore players out there. – Grant