'Wanted: Dead' Review: Janky Police Force

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Action games are my forte - I always mark my calendar down whenever a new over-the-top melee-heavy and firearm-wielding-focused game gets announced. The Devil May Cry's, Ninja Gaiden's, and Bayonetta's of the world bring me so much joy. Speaking of Ninja Gaiden, my curiosity and excitement peaked when the announcement of a wholly original title developed by that franchise's former developers hit my timeline. The new studio in question is Soleil and the newest bombastic hack 'n slasher it has created is called Wanted: Dead. Sadly, my hopes and dreams of getting to enjoy a wild mashup of Ninja Gaiden and Stranglehold were quickly dashed as I realized I was playing something more akin to Devil's Third. With all that being said, let's get into the rest of my Wanted: Dead review.

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'Wanted: Dead' Review

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As someone that enjoys unorthodox action games developed by Japanese developers, I figured I'd like most of what Wanted: Dead has to offer. But from the very first cutscenes, my gut told me that this wasn't going to shape up to be as great as I envisioned it would be. You're introduced to a newly freed woman whose combat acumen is highly valued - she's soon given three backup members and embarks upon several explosive missions that test her and her allies' will. As soon as those characters open up their mouths to speak, your ears are treated to some unconvincing voice acting that sounds like the developers used each actor's audition takes. The underwhelming graphics don't help matters much, either - everything I locked eyes with made me think I was playing a long-lost release that I somehow missed during the PS3/Xbox 350/Wii era. The visual presentation is further let down by troubling glitches, such as the environment loading up in parts when you restart a mission, dropped frames at random intervals, and enemies clipping through & getting stuck in various obstacles.

The word "janky" comes to mind as I think back on the central gameplay mechanics Wanted: Dead is all about. Entering the heat of battle starts out on a decently fun note - the main heroine's combination of vicious katana swings and quick blasts from a handgun during the first stage almost convinced me that this game was going to be a real treat. But things fall apart in a hurry as constant red flags sprung up during the rest of my playthrough. A disheartening feeling of repetition sets in as you encounter foes that feel like bullet sponges and unstoppable androids - you'll repeatedly land the same unexciting melee & gun combos on them and question yourself as to why they're taking so much damage. I quickly grew annoyed as my teammates' gunfire was never enough to actually kill anyone and my sword slash combos took way too long to take down a single enemy. The fact that you only have access to one main melee weapon throughout the entirety of the game maximizes that feeling of immense boredom since you're stuck with the same lame combos and combatants that soak up your insignificant hits.

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The only times you'll derive any sort of fun from the game's frenetic combat scenarios is when you get to pull off super gory finishes. Whenever an enemy flashes, you can hack off whatever limbs they happen to have left and gun them down in the most brutal ways possible. There are a ton of finisher animations available in Wanted: Dead, which is one of the few aspects of the game that I have no problem applauding. I have to deliver another bit of praise upon the bullet time special that lets you stun a few foes with your handgun and pull off back-to-back finishers on whoever's weak enough to be eliminated. Once you're forced to go back to beating up the same old enemies with boring melee combat, the high you were on before will dissipate in a matter of seconds. The awful checkpoint system makes matters even worse - you'll grow more and more frustrated as you restart from the very beginning of overly long fights and are forced to stick & move with only a measly amount of heals & grenades to aid you.

When it's time to pick up your gun and fire away, another bout of disappointment will wash over you. Even with all the attachments you can place onto each ranged weapon, all of them still feel unwieldy and weak. Foes armed with melee weapons run full speed at you as you pepper them with shotgun blasts and machine gun fire and remain unscathed as they still land a powerful melee attack on you. After a while, I just relied on my dashes and running knee strikes to get the job done as using the gun themselves is a waste of time. I was left dumbfounded by head-on grenade launcher strikes simply pushing enemies back instead of blowing them to smithereens. Meanwhile, the character you're playing fails at letting you live out your extreme power fantasy as three successful blows can decimate her life bar.

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The upgrades you unlock just don't do a good enough job of increasing the fun factor in Wanted: Dead. All you're provided with are more boring katana strikes, access to different grenade types (which are also hella ineffective), and buddy assists from your fellow officers (which the game does a horrible job of explaining when it comes to actually activating them). Unlocking the ability to pull off instant finishers on enemies with severed limbs made each battle a little less troublesome, but my overall feeling of apathy during each battle never wavered. The boss encounters provide even more moments of unrelenting weariness - your blows barely do any damage, your guns quickly lose ammo & sometimes never reload automatically, and sometimes you'll even have to deal with random enemy fodder as you're trying to focus on your main nemesis. Add in glitches such as the music completely dropping out and you have a further recipe for disaster. Each boss fight is a battle of attrition instead of being a true test of player skill - you'll see the Game Over screen more times than you can count as you're downed by yet another boss that treats your attacks like nothing more than annoying plastic bat strikes.

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At this point, you get the gist of my Wanted: Dead review - the game is simply not good. There are a few shining moments here and there that make you wish it were featured in a much better game, though. The minigames, for instance - jamming out to a rhythm minigame during ramen eating sessions, making passionate attempts at picking up extra goodies from the claw machine, and enjoying some retro shoot 'em up action in Space Runaway are far more pleasurable than everything else the game has to offer. Plus there are even some genuinely funny moments between the police force members you interact with in between missions, which points to the outlandish nature of Wanted: Dead's storytelling. The inclusion of classic pop tunes and anime interludes is also worth commending. But as soon as you're thrown back into another fight where you feel like you're a weakling whose offense is meaningless, you'll want to just go play the standalone version of Space Runway instead.

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