Review – Wanted:Dead (XBSX) | GameHype

Wanted: Dead from Japanese developer Soleil LTD and published by 110 Industries SA grabbed my attention a few months back with something that I hadn’t given much thought to in this digital age we now live, ‘Box Art’. 

The ‘box art’ are leapt out at me and I immediately wanted to know more about the game and much to my delight the fine folks at 110 Industries SA provided a review code for the game. 

narrative of East Vs West war that was all the more unnerving given the current geopolitical climate. Alongside this the reintegration of Hong Kong with China sees the rise of Dauer Synthetics, a huge corporation that provides synthetic workers rise to great power in the country. The game does reveal more about this as you play but I don’t want to spoil too much of the games plot, a plot that you’ll need to beat the game on all difficulties to fully uncover. 

Following this cutscene you’re greeted by the games title screen as it plays some synth-wave with an epic beat and immediately…this game is cool. Whatever your initial impressions of the game, the rule of cool is in full effect throughout all aspects of Wanted: Dead. 

Speaking of cool, who are those cool characters who so intrigued me on the ’box art. Well the games protagonist and player character is Hannah Stone. A lieutenant in the allied forces sentenced to life in prison for violations of military law, including terrorism, murder and (my personal favourite) other crimes of an unorthodox nature. You’ll first meet Hannah Stone (voiced by new comer Fee Marie Zimmermann) in prison as she’s assigned to the Hong Kong police force. 

Stone leads Zombie unit, her squamates are Herzog, he’s a sniper, enjoys Ramen, and as the game put it is an ‘extreme lover of women’, but he comes across as a bit of a sex pest if I’m being honest, like all of the squad, he was in prison prior to his assignment to the Hong Kong police. 

There’s also ‘Doc’, he’s medic and a murderer with an affinity for drugs and wild parties. In the game however he’s rather somber, it’s always the quiet ones. 

The final member of the squad, also called Zombie unit, is Cortez. His wrap sheet reads the same as the other squad members. It’s heavily implied that the ‘crimes’ the squad committed and essentially trumped up charges for actions during the war, the game doesn’t ever state this but it’s certainly something I felt. Cortez uses sign language to communicate with his fellow officers which lead me to assuming that he was deaf, however, he’s in fact mute. I have to say that it’s cool to see way all of zombie unit use sign language and including a differently abled character who’s not only competent but a bad ass is a nice touch from Soleil. 

I’d be remiss to leave out Vivian, aka Gunsmith (voiced by Stefanie Joosten, Quiet from MGS5), she’s the teams gunsmith and seems to have adopted many cats who’re often found wondering the precinct. 

You don’t really get to know any of the cast all that well, everyone apart from Hannah Stone kinda sticks in their lane and their bio is all you really ever know about them. Stone can appear rather one dimensional at the start of the game, ‘oh look a bad ass woman with a sword’ but as you uncover more of the plot and her history she’s anything but. Stone has a complex past full of pain and regret and this is wonderfully demonstrated by Zimmermann’s perfomance. 

Overall the plot of Wanted:Dead could be seen as an amalgamation of some classic sci-fi/cyberpunk tropes, but it’s the complex history of the world and the complicated past of Stone that make the games narrative so much more than a collection of tropes. 

Once you’re given control of Hannah, the fun begins…but the technical issue also arrive. 

Gameplay is fast and frantic, Soleil may be full of Team Ninja veterans but if you ignore the games own mechanics and treat it like “Gaiden game” you’re going to be punished. It’s a mistake I made early on and thought the game was frustratingly difficult. 

If you lose focus the game will punish you, at times  this feels unfair but after an hour or so you start to realise that Soleil haven’t set out to make the game it’s very own and set it apart from what you may expect of them. 

Wanted:Dead has a gameplay all of its own. It’s just as dynamic as any Gaiden game but requires the player be more acutely aware of what’s happening around them. I Will freely admit that at times, I’d fall into button bashing to suddenly see Hahahah falling to floor as I’d failed the notice a synth swinging a sledgehammer or more often than note the cyber-ninja running up behind me. 

Up close combat consists of your Katana and a pistol which you dynamically wild to pull of combos, and again the rule of cool is in full effect. You’ll slash a foe, fire some rounds into their chest and can then finish them off with an incredibly stylish execution. Other than being awesome and looking like Stone could teach John Wick (which clearly inspired the executions) a thing or to, they actually a core gameplay mechanic. As you take damage you can regain small amounts of health by inflicting harm on your foes, but if you pull off an execution all of the recently lost health will return. There are some crowded battles late in the game when this is essential if you want to survive. You can also parry enemy strikes with your sword and counter for some big damage, the game also lets you interrupt come attacks by ‘pistol countering’, it looks cool shouldn’t be underestimated. Stopping a goon from firing a grenade launcher whole your simultaneously fighting a cyber-ninja toe to toe is super satisfying. 

You’ll earn skill points as you dispatch enemies, the more stylish the kill, the more points you’ll earn. Naturally skill points are spent on buying new skills and abilities for Stone, but in a move I absolutely loved, you can spend skill points at any point during a level.

Wanted: Dead also features boss fights, which very in challenge, the second battle being the most difficult by far! In fact, it took several attempts at purchasing different skills pre-fight to eventually find the right combination to take down August. 

Boss fights aside, the games difficulty curve is pretty much consistent, master parrying and make effective use of your ranged weapons and you should survive, make no mistake though, even on normal, this game isn’t a cake walk. Just want until you beat it the first time and give “Japanese Hard Mode” a try. I’m convinced that this is a reference to “European Extreme” from MGS2. 

Gameplay isn’t limited to melee range though, Stone is also packing an assault rifle, you can upgrade it as you play and doing so will affect it’s stats. Having said that however, to be honest, other than accuracy I didn’t really notice the stats have an impact. This assault rifle and other weapons you can loot from fallen enemies are where the third person shooter mechanics come in, it’s not spectacular but taking goons out from range is sometimes required.  

Those technical issues I mentioned are impossible to ignore, visually the game looks dated, while the actual design of the characters is great and the world is intriguing it just looks flat, everything almost looks texture-less. The character model for Gunsmith is modeled to look as much like Joosten as possible but due to games poor visuals, it actually looks like someone wearing a rubber Joosten mask. 

It’s not just the graphics that dampen Wanted: Dead, the level design is repetitive consisting of what are essentially killing arenas  to test your melee skills, connected by a series of corridors for you to deploy the ranged weapons the game offers. What’s more, the frame rate can be stutter wildly, which is frustrating enough as you attempt to parry a katana away from you neck, only for a stutter to throw you off and leave you lying dead on the floor. That frustration pales in comparison to that of its impact on the Wanted: Deads mini games. Two of which are rhythm based, (Karaoke and Ramen eating), one is a classic side scrolling shooter (Space Runway) and lastly the Crane game. The frame rate can make the two rhythm mini games feel unplayable. In fact it’s only sheer stubborn will and also enjoying hearing Joosten and Zimmermann sing 99 Luftballions that let me push through to earn the karaoke based achievement. 

As I’ve mentioned the technical issue can’t help but be noticed but I was able to ignore them for the most part, because, the rule of cool, is simply that. Soleil LTD aren’t a huge studio and I’ve seen games from much bigger AAA studios release with much more egregious issues. What Soleil LTD have released is simply put, cool. Hannah Stone is interesting, her backstory fascinating and the world building and internal world history of Wanted:Dead along with  the brutally stylish combat make Wanted:Dead my sleeper hit of 2023 thus far. 

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