By their very nature, video games will always have something to offer. If a title’s core gameplay loop isn’t the best, maybe the storytelling is strong. Perhaps performances are impressive. Mechanics may not mesh well together, but might just be unique and fun to play with in isolation. The soundtrack and/or sound design may hit wonderfully, at least managing to salvage a sense of immersion. For any of the possible shortcomings in a game, there is usually at least one saving grace to make playing worthwhile, at least for a bit. To me, this has always held true. And it is for that reason that Wanted: Dead truly stands out.
It actually manages to break that rule.
Off the bat: Wanted: Dead is not a good game. In fact, it does little to argue against it being a bad one. Everything from sound design to writing to gameplay is, for lack of a more vehement word, abysmal. The issues arise in just the opening cutscene. In it, the core team of Doc, Cortez, Herzog, and player character Hannah Stone sit around a table in a diner. There are snarky wisecracks, overly elaborate orders, and plenty of flirting with the waitress. Or, more accurately, there are attempts at those things.
Wanted: Dead falls flat on its face just in its attempt at humour. All four members of the core team are not so much actual characters as they are hollow vehicles for terrible dialogue. None of the jokes land, in large part due to the writing being horrendously trite. Characters will randomly comment on what just happened in front of them in a snarky tone, then hold for laughter. Even worse is the chance they recycle a joke you’ve heard told better somewhere else. Of course, the writing is not solely to blame for how unbearable this group is. No, a large part of that falls to the voice acting.
Normally, voice actors should not be held accountable for poor dialogue. They ultimately work with what they’re given, and act it out as best they can. There’s an effort to be commended. In Wanted: Dead, that effort is nowhere to be found. The voice actors sound more like they’re reading off a script than anything else, and even that has zero emotion in it. They sound haphazard at best, and utterly disinterested in the material at worst.
The worst part is how completely lacking in self-awareness Wanted: Dead is with its characters. They are terrible to spend time with, yet that is exactly what developer Soleil’s slasher-shooter forces you to do. Between every mission is a forced rhythm minigame, either for eating ramen or singing karaoke. These are nonsensical attempts at personality that are genuinely painful to get through. The singing is off-key, the actual rhythm game has annoying button combos, and the songs are all over the place. Much like the missions that come before them.
In a series of just five major missions, Wanted: Dead impressively manages to do nothing right. Touching on dialogue for the last time, that mess bleeds into gameplay too. The team will drown out the action with constant barks of “Grenade!” or “You good boss?!” or, worst of all, “Reinforcements!”. In the second mission, I heard one of my teammates yell out “reinforcements” no less than seven times in three seconds. We had barely moved one room, with an obvious next wave of enemies on the way, but this person felt the need to let me know. A lot. The only moments of reprieve come from the previously called out grenades, which have a Call of Duty-esque stun effect on all sound. Every time. Regardless of how far away from them you are.
You’ll soon grow used to that grenade sound, though, as explosives are the only ranged fallback after Stone’s guns run out of ammo. Which happens far too often. The ammo count for this self-described shooter is ridiculously low. Stone starts each mission with around three full magazines in her primary weapon, with the ability to pick up enemy weapons as secondaries, plus a pistol with unlimited ammo. The pistol is little help in a shootout, as it can’t be aimed—it’s only really meant to be used as part of your melee combos. Primary and secondaries it is then. Outside of her primary assault rifle, Stone can pick up a submachine gun, shotgun, light machine gun, and grenade launcher from dead enemies. With that much arsenal variety and full ammo refills at every checkpoint, there should be enough bullets to get through, right?
Wrong. So, so wrong. Checkpoint refills are nice, but do little to solve the key problem when checkpoints are so far and few between. The most egregious example comes in the fourth level, Police HQ. About halfway through the level, you enter a training area that is three distinct shootouts long. There is a checkpoint before. There is not one immediately after. With no ammo after just the first of these fights, I was left to fend for myself against hordes of generic-looking fodder blasting machine guns with… my pistol and katana. Some smart dodges and quick use of cover help me get a start. Then, the main problem rears its ugly head.
Wanted: Dead has the worst bullet-sponging I have ever seen.
Enemies practically eat bullets in this mess of a game. Starting with three magazines means nothing when a single enemy can happily take a full thirty bullets to kill—and that’s with headshots. There is not a single level where I was not left haplessly swinging my katana in a room full of gunfire early on. Which, I might add, also takes far too many slashes to kill anything. The result is some of the most egregiously artificial difficulty it has ever been my misfortune to endure. One boss fight even decided to go the cheap route of tossing in regular enemies while the big bad fired a grenade launcher at me. Before I could slash away at the dopes, the boss entered the melee fray, and used homing knee attacks while occasionally peppering me with gunfire. All while I was still trying to slash at each thousand-hit enemy.
Add limited manoeuvrability to these spongey enemies and you get an all around awful time. Multiple times I was forced to face two juggernaut-types in tight spaces with no cover. I was just running around aimlessly, trying to dodge while getting shots—more often just slashes—in where I could. It was dull, unnecessarily difficult, and disengaging to a horrible degree. The entire way through, Wanted: Dead just felt casually disrespectful of my time.
I’d touch on Wanted: Dead’s story, but there’s so little of it to speak of. Events just happen seemingly for the hell of it, and every character is too busy failing to act like a trope to give any feasible reason that they might care about what’s going on. At one point, the team captures and interrogates an enemy android. During this interrogation, the android is still wearing the walkie talkie they were captured with. Their hands are also free. That’s about as much thought is put into the rest of it. After that, the camera cuts to what may be the tenth or so scene of Stone showering. There are also random anime cutscenes which serve… no discernable purpose.
The worst part of all of this is that I was genuinely excited for Wanted: Dead. The trailers looked interesting, and seemed to suggest that even if gameplay wasn’t all there, Soleil’s slasher-shooter would make up for it in personality. Instead, it fails miserably in both of these aspects, and just about every other element surrounding them. The game’s tagline of being “a love letter to the sixth generation of consoles” should not mean it plays like a PlayStation 3 game. Or, decidedly worse. I was repeatedly left crestfallen during my playthrough. This is a poorly executed, downright boring time.
At the very least, I cannot accuse this game of cutting corners. From what I played, it never got anywhere close to the track. And in that, I find the only positive thing I could possibly say here. Wanted: Dead is remarkably unique—it is the first game in a long time that leaves me with absolutely nothing good to say.
Sarim reviewed Wanted: Dead on PlayStation 5 with a code provided by the publisher. Wanted: Dead is also available on PlayStation 4, PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S.