An Honest Review: Wanted: Dead (A misunderstood game)

Video review on YouTube
Audio MP3

This is my honest review on Wanted: Dead. People’s reception to Wanted: Dead has been mixed and for good reason, the game is flawed in many ways. I’m going to start by listing all the things I personally found to be irritating and frustrating and even down right weird before moving on to the things I did enjoy. I would also like you to keep in mind that because of these flaws, they also create some unintended goofy charm as you read this review.

Let’s start with what I think are not necessarily deal breakers but things people may want to know about before going into the game. I’ve had multiple people who dropped by my stream ask me when this game came out and let’s just say they were surprised when I told them it had come out recently and not a decade ago.

Wanted Dead Review - Bland Level Design
The graphics aren’t what I’d call bad but it does definitely feel bland and lifeless.

The main reason people assumed the game was much older than it was, was the appearance of the game. The level design in Wanted: Dead is very limited in terms of decoration and polish. The levels are pretty sparse and often times are just corridors and feel very empty and devoid of life. The graphics look muddy, with both the lighting and level of detail being a bit lower than what I’m accustomed to.

The enemy design is very limited as well with the same small set of models, each the same behavioral patterns and animations. The game definitely looks and feels much older than it is. Now, normally, graphics aren’t the biggest deal for me as long as the game is fun but well get to the “fun” part in a bit. For now, the game looks incredibly limited and the visuals feel very repetitive.

Sadly, the graphical design of Wanted: Dead isn’t the only repetitive and limited aspect of the game. The sound design is very one dimensional as well. The voice lines and sound effects are extremely repetitive. Get used to hearing the same death scream and one liners over and over again. They haunt me in my dreams.

Wanted: Dead Review - Atrocious Voice Acting
If this picture could speak a million words, I’d prefer it didn’t. The voice acting is definitely subpar.

In addition to the lackluster audio, the voice acting is pretty atrocious. I don’t know why developers do this but if you want to have an English dub in games, you need to get native English speakers. The voice acting seems to be pretty terrible, not because the voice actors themselves are inexperienced. It’s just that English clearly isn’t their main spoken language. When you have people who are not comfortable speaking in a language, the voice acting suffers a great deal because they do not know the subtle nuances in delivery that convey emotion in that language.

When you have non native speakers speaking a language, it creates a feeling of something unnatural that is present in all of the voice acting. An undercurrent of uncanniness if you will. A better solution would have been just to use the Japanese voice track, if the game had one available to begin with, or to have the voice actors speak in their native tongue and use subtitles.

The game is set in a sort of cyberpunk Taiwan so it would have been fitting, as well of kind neat, to hear characters speaking in different languages but being able to understand each other. I know subtitles aren’t the preferred choice for everyone, but I think most people would prefer having a good voice track with subtitles over a terrible dub.

Now, all of this would have been excusable for me, and I’m speaking for myself here because I have a high tolerance to mediocrity, if it wasn’t for the terrible mixing of the audio. Now this is a deal breaker for me. For cut scenes, I could not hear the spoken dialogue over the back ground music and sound effects. The spoken dialogue always, always, needs to be the most audible thing in the game. It felt incredibly frustrating to have the in game spoken dialogue be audible but as soon as the cut scenes hit, no one is comprehensible. There’s no excuse for this. Even the most mediocre content creator making videos on YouTube usually has a better audio mix than this game does. Imagine successfully clearing a level you were struggling with, the cut scene comes in as a reward, but you can’t hear anything properly. It’s so incredibly frustrating because it destroys the weight of the cut scene and instead of feeling like you made progress, it just brings your attention to the flaws of the game.

Now let’s return our focus to the graphical portion of the game. Personally speaking, I’m not a stickler for the visual quality of the game as long as it doesn’t deter you from the game play. It’s definitely a bonus if there is some coherent and noticeable intentionality behind the consistency of the visual design because that shows some conscious effort was made. And I know that not every developer may have the budget or experience required to make the game look and feel incredible so I’m usually more forgiving in this one area as long as the game is fun to play. So is the game quote unquote fun? Well… Yes and no.

Wanted: Dead Review - Old school gameplay
The game play is actually pretty enjoyable but definitely aiming for that old school hack and slash nostalgia that newer gamers may not understand.

The game play is actually very similar to the visual and sound design of the game. It feels very old school. The game is reminiscent of the classic hack and slash titles of yore such as Ninja Gaiden, from which pedigree the developers of Wanted: Dead come from. Everything from the empty levels, the repetitive and bland enemies, the one dimensional sound effects, and the uncanny cut scenes create a feeling of nostalgia. It seems to be very intentional in design but there’s one major problem. People might not get it.

It doesn’t matter how “fun” a game is if people can’t discover the fun. You need to make the barrier to entry to the fun as low as possible in the very beginning of the game. I’m not saying make the game easy. I’m saying give a tiny glimpse of the potential at the start. The reason being? Most gamers quit a game within the first thirty minutes if they lose interest thanks to the modern age of short attention spans and the focus on immediate gratification. And when I say short attention span, I am not joking. People think a one minute Tiktok is too long. The problem isn’t as much as with game design as it is more with what gamers are looking for in a game nowadays. That is why “games as a service” and I absolutely hate this term and philosophy, is what will ruin games in the long run but that will be a topic for another day.

Going back to the game play, I actually do find it very enjoyable but also frustrating due to the learning curve and not so obvious depth and design in the mechanics. It requires an investment of time and attention that most players may not want to commit, and understandably so. I actually think that new game plus is the best way to play the game but we’ll get to that in a bit. Let me explain the obtuseness of the game design by outlining my journey on understanding Wanted: Dead.

When I first started playing, I thought you were just supposed to run around and attack everyone with the sword. The gun play seemed very weak and I was always running out of ammo. I didn’t even bother to use grenades because they always seemed ineffective and never killed anyone. Especially those darned ninjas, they would just roll over them unharmed. Usually in other games, grenades killed most regular enemies on impact but this was not the case in Wanted: Dead. And thus the start of my problems, instead of looking at how the mechanics worked in Wanted: Dead, I just projected how I thought the mechanics should work based on my experiences in other games.

Wanted: Dead Review - Fighting Ninjas
The ninjas are the most difficult enemies in the game and teaches you to master melee combat, especially when you have to fight more than one.

And for the most part, running around and using the sword worked for most of the game. I was able to get by because the game was generous and the foot soldiers were very easy to dispatch by spamming sword attacks. I was soon met with a wall of frustration however, nay it felt more like I was tossed off a never ending cliff, when I encountered the last section of the game. You are tasked with escaping the police station and thus ensues what is probably the most difficult portion of the game. You have incredibly long sections of what feels like never ending waves of ninjas mixed with foot soldiers and even the annoying shield guys and big chonky machine gunners. This is where, as gamers would put it, “you need to get good”. The problem was, I spent most of the game just running around not being good, waving my sword with the same amount of awkward grace as Mr Bean.

This incredibly long and painful section towards the end, and there’s more than one, is where my understanding of the game deepened a little bit by force because I would die over and over again if I didn’t approach the situation correctly. I could not afford to take damage because of the sheer number of enemies and limited healing. I had to use every ability and all of my arsenal at my disposal and this is where you see the design of the game open up. The game isn’t a simple hack and slash, you need to actually use your guns and grenades. You need to use your grenades to whittle down the health of grouped up foot soldiers and then finish them off with head shots with your guns while being behind cover.

To take care of the pesky ninjas, you can use a charge attack to easily dismember the brown ninjas and use a finisher to make quick work of them. The grey and white ninjas are more difficult to deal with and you won’t have enough ammo to shoot all of them and grenades simply don’t work against them. So now you have to use your sword attacks and more importantly, be able to parry. Everything comes together now and every mechanic and ability starts to make sense. It just took time to get to this point because the design of the game, even on normal mode, was easy enough where you could get away with playing the game suboptimally. Unfortunately this is not the case in the later levels.

This is, in my opinion, a failing in both equal parts due to the design of the game and the patience of the person playing the game. The game’s deceptive lack of difficulty in the beginning doesn’t give you much opportunity let alone the necessity of trying out different strategies until you hit the later levels. You can even get by just by mag dumping the ninjas because you only encounter a few and they’re spread out early in the game. When you hit the later levels it will seem like a sudden increase in difficulty that was very much unexpected. And it’s very understandable that a player may not want to invest the time and effort into a game that may not be enjoyable to them. I understand it doesn’t make sense for every game, which is a hobby and something most people do for fun, to require a massive effort before it can be enjoyable. So whether or not you the reader will enjoy Wanted: Dead boils down to two essential things, are you willing to invest a little bit of time and effort into learning the game, and do you find hack and slash types of games to be enjoyable.

Wanted: Dead Review - Grenade Spamming
In addition to parrying, learning how to use grenades is also essential. It becomes easier in new game plus mode.

I do say a little bit of time because it doesn’t take much to get a basic grasp of the mechanics. It took me roughly fifteen hours to complete the game on normal difficulty and during that time, I found certain mechanics, such as parrying, to be more accessible than in others games such as Dark Souls. The window to dodge and parry felt much larger than other games and the responsiveness of the controls felt very quick. This actually makes for a very fast and fluid combat style once you throw in guard canceling, which again, will probably only take a few minutes of practice to get a basic grasp of. It will, however, take a bit more practice to be able to use it to seamlessly transition into other moves.

The common complaint is that the controls and combat feel repetitive, sluggish, and relies too heavily on parries and it actually does until you learn some neat hidden mechanics that aren’t as obvious such as guard cancelling. New game plus Japanese Hard mode speed runs showcase the advanced combat techniques and how fast and fluid the combat truly is.

The hidden depth of the combat isn’t necessarily a defense of the game, I’m just pointing out what Wanted: Dead has to offer for those sitting on the fence. Even with the depth and nuance to the combat, some people may just not like this type of game and that’s completely fair. Video games are just like food, you have to eat what you find tasty. It doesn’t matter how much other people rave about a dish if it tastes like crap to you. And that’s what I hope to accomplish here, not telling you why I think the game is good or bad but hopefully being transparent enough about the game to help you decide whether you will like it or not because that is the most important thing a review can do. No one cares what I think and no one should.

Moving on, I really do think there is a lot of intentionality behind almost every facet of the game, even those that seem lackluster. For example, going back to the blandness and repetitive and seemingly simple design of the enemies and levels, this does two things. Number one, create a sense of nostalgia, and number two, help keep the focus on the combat. If we take a look at Ninja Gaiden, the level design feels pretty similar. You see a lot of intentionally empty levels and simple geometry. But you do see detail in some unexpected areas such as the blood physics on the sword and characters. It’s a nice touch that may go unnoticed.

Wanted: Dead Review - Collectables
Collectables are very easy to find in Wanted: Dead, they are surrounded by a shining beacon of purple light.

Now some people may say this could be a coincidence and that I’m reading too much into something that isn’t really there and it could be but I’ll point out some other things that feel too intentional in the design to be coincidence. Keeping the theme of simplicity in order to focus on the combat, we see Wanted:Dead does not have a lot of collectables in the levels themselves. If there are collectables in the levels, they are surrounded by a bright and shining beacon of purple light that is almost unmissable. Combine this with the fact that most levels are very linear and have almost no diverging paths. It keeps the focus of the player on the combat at hand.

While I do like collectables, I also dislike them because they are very distracting and shift the focus from the task at hand to feeling an incredible sense of anxiety from having missed a potential collectable and having to replay the whole game to get all of them. I’m looking at you Alan Wake, those darn thermoses were a pain to collect since I didn’t remember which ones I had already collected so I had to essentially replay the whole game and use a map to double check each and every one. That’s not fun, that’s a disease. It’s my fault, I have the crushing compulsion to 100% every game I play.

Returning to Wanted: Dead, the lack of collectables in levels kept the focus on the game. And since they were obvious and hard to miss thanks to the linear level design, it felt like a nice little bonus as opposed to something more soul crushing. And the game does have more collectables, just not in the levels themselves. You can play two crane games to collect figurines and sound tracks which are then displayed in your office. The game even makes sure you cannot miss the opportunity to play all the mini games and obtain most collectables by making them directly accessible from the main menu. This is quite a convenient quality of life feature. This feels quite intentional because I have seen very few games do this. It lets you focus on playing the game because you can at any time, return to the main menu and play whatever mini game your heart desires. The mini games are quite decent as well.

Wanted: Dead Review - Training Mode Achievements
You can even grind combat achievements in the training room. It’s very convenient!

As a quick aside, even most of the combat related achievements can be grinded using the training mode, which is also accessible from the main menu. For achievement hunters out there, most of the achievements are very simple to obtain although a few a bit grindy. There’s an intentional convenience to everything surrounding the main game play that I can appreciate.

Even the new game plus mode feels very intentional. The true tutorial of the game in my opinion is the entire first play through of the game. You don’t really reach an understanding of the mechanics until you’ve beaten the game at least once because the final section is the most difficult and challenging section and where you learn the most. After that, you’ll be ready to tackle the hard mode, which is definitely much more challenging.

The game also has some mechanics that feel very weird and tongue in cheek but also intentional. For example, you have non player companions on your squad that go with you in most levels. They never die and can actually fight the enemies. Now their damage is absurdly low and infrequent but you can in fact have your teammates help you kill the enemies if you just avoid taking damage for a very long time. This feels like a very tongue in cheek way to implement an easy mode where people having difficulty can simply struggle to stay alive and have their teammates slowly and painstakingly whittle away at the enemies as a punishment for your lack of skill.

It also opens up different ways to approach some combat situations because your companions can actually pull aggression, even the ninjas sometimes, and this will make pulling off charge attacks and combos much easier for those struggling with the game.

Wanted: Dead Review - Anime cutscenes
The game seamlessly transitions from 3D animations to anime. It’s a cool style but never really feels cohesive in plot and theme.

Moving on from the combat of the game, there is also some intentional weirdness in the cut scenes of the game that I can’t quite figure out the purpose for. The cut scenes feel incredibly awkward, not just due to the voice acting, but the framing and the content of the cut scenes as well as the pacing are all off. Let me show you the epitome of the strangeness of the story with this one cut scene near the end of the game. After a boss fight, you kick the boss off a building. It would be natural to presume he died here but he shows up the next cut scene just perfectly fine. What happened? We don’t know, nothing makes sense. It’s kind of a shame the story and presentation lacks coherence because you can see the potential in style it was going for. This game seamlessly blends in 3D game animations with full 2D anime. So the budget clearly wasn’t lacking but man, I have no idea what they were going for here.

Maybe the narrative is kind of a meta statement on the game. Maybe the developer wanted to create this discombobulated narrative delivery to make the player feel like they are potentially misunderstanding the game play. I’m probably reaching here but I do feel that sums up Wanted: Dead very well. It’s a very misunderstood game. The question is though, is it a “good” game? That boils down to you friend. Even if the player fully understood the game, they may still find it not fun.

Anyways, that’ll be it. I hope this review helped you decide if the game was for you or not. If you like this type of review and have a particular game you’d like for me to cover, please feel free to let me know in the comments below! Thank you very much for watching, and as always, I’ll catch you guys next time.

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