Wanted: Dead review: Fatal errors

Wanted: Dead comes from the makers of Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive, but does that pedigree shine through in this gritty grindhouse action-shooter?

Image via Soleil

I, like many, would love to have a game like Ninja Gaiden or Wet again. More on the latter end, it would be cool if a game could capture that intense combination of gunplay and melee combat alongside a gritty sort of grindhouse flick premise that Wet delivered so well. Wanted: Dead from developers Soleil seems to chase this style, but falls short a little too often. While this game features staff that have worked on the likes of Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden, as well as Travis Strikes Back: No More Heroes and Devil’s Third, the sheer amount of tech issues and conflicting design elements make it hard to recommend over those other titles.

Zombie Squad in the big city

Wanted: Dead takes place in a future cyberpunk dystopia where synthetic humanoid androids are a reality and their use in everything from menial labor to war makes them a hot button issue. Players take on the role of Hannah Stone: A mercenary imprisoned for war crimes. She’s brought out of prison to head up a special police squad in Hong Kong known as Zombie Squad. Essentially, when things are at their worst, Zombie Squad is called in for its expertise in dealing with threats with extreme prejudice (usually at the high cost of casualties and property damage).

Stone herself is not a bad character. She’s got a lot of baggage right up front from a bad childhood the game explores and having seen a lot of terrible things in her time as both a soldier and a cop. She also looks cool and is stylish as heck, utilizing a combination of assault rifle and handgun for medium to long-range combat and a katana for close-range engagement. One of her fellow officers, Cortez, is deaf and mute and communicates through sign language, alongside just being an awesome brute that assists you in battle. I also enjoyed the perky weapons maintenance officer, Gunsmith, and her multitude of cats. Wanted: Dead has some pretty cute cat tech.

Wanted: Dead screenshot of Stone with her katana
Source: Soleil

Herzog and Doc are Stone’s other squaddies, but they’re less cool. Herzog is an outright lecherous creep that jumps between talking about his love of ramen, the times his cellmates committed suicide in prison, and unwanted advances against women while Doc is a grizzled veteran officer who mostly spends his time complaining about everything including the rest of the squad. Their banter is mostly annoying, disjointed, and out of place, including things like joking about fornication with sisters while you’re cutting up and shooting down massive groups of enemy combatants. It makes for a lot of weird attempts at bringing lightheartedness to grim situations.

The world at large is decently crafted. The levels have players fighting their way through corporate headquarters, local parks, and factories full of interesting visuals and décor of Soleil’s take on the future. It’s also got an unusually good soundtrack that features a solid mix of tunes. I was surprised to see Nena’s 99 Red Balloons here amid some of the minigames, which I’ll get to later. There’s even segments of the game which cut away from its regular 3D to anime scenes which are well-drawn and fairly gorgeous. The cutaways between cutscenes and gameplay is usually jerky and not good, but at least when these scenes are running, they’re decent. Wanted: Dead is neat from both a visual and musical point of view if you can get past the poorly executed and disjointed dialogue.


Wanted: Dead screenshot of combat with shotgun
Source: Soleil

 In terms of gameplay, Wanted: Dead is mostly an action shooter. Playing as Stone usually with some or all of the Zombie Squad in tow, players will work their way through crime scenes, usually fighting off multitudes of terrorists, mercenaries, or other combatants on their way to a boss. Here’s where the game goes from potentially fun to ridiculously frustrating. For the most part, Stone feels strong. You have an assault rifle for long-range combat, but Stone also has a handgun and katana for engaging enemies at close range. Cut and shoot an enemy up enough and Stone can generally do an over-the-top finisher in which she stylishly finishes cutting them to ribbons and blowing their brains out with her handgun. You can also unlock new combat abilities and perks for Stone by spending points on various Offense, Defense, and Utility skill trees as you advance through the game.

I’m down for gratuitous and ridiculously stylized violence (and don’t get me wrong, Wanted: Dead has that in spades), but I’m less into random and ridiculous difficulty spikes or janky failure of the mechanics. Even in the first level, you eventually come across a cyborg ninja that could be considered a “mid-boss” of sorts. It’s far and above harder than everything else you’ve fought up to that point and it killed me off in just a couple hits multiple times. I tried to stun it with sword strikes and handgun shots, but it would only sometimes get stunned and other times just swing through my attacks. That includes a special “Adrenaline Shot” which is supposed to stagger surrounding enemies for a kill. It was a frustrating encounter to say the least and even when I killed the ninja, I often felt like I lucked out.

Wanted: Dead screenshot of August boss battle
Source: Soleil

Wanted: Dead is full of arguably unfair and difficulty-spiking encounters like this. Later in that same level came a spider tank that was easy to deal with at first with grenade launcher-carrying soldiers handing me the implement to defeat it. However, in the second phase of that fight, the tank runs around a lot, making it ridiculously hard to hit with a grenade as it pelts you with cannon fire. Getting run over by it is also nearly a one-hit death. It was obnoxious and only one of the first missions, which I’ll add crashed the game three times before I was able to complete the level.

It also felt like the mechanics stifled any feeling of enjoyment I might have been experiencing at many other parts of the game. As mentioned, the Adrenaline Shot is supposed to be your ace in the hole. When it works right, Stone will shoot every enemy near her, staggering them and setting them up for finishers as she jumps between foes killing them off. Unfortunately, it just as commonly messed up. One time I finished eight surrounding enemies with the move. Another time, Stone didn’t even take the first shot because she got pushed out of the shooting animation after I activated it. I still lost all of the Adrenaline for the shot.

Wanted: Dead karaoke screenshot
Source: Soleil

There was a large variety of occurrences in Wanted: Dead between regular combat, special encounters, and boss fights where I went from feeling strong and being in the zone to insta-dead because any number of technical issues or sudden difficulty spikes occurred that threw off my rhythm.

Wanted: Dead is also full of minigames that feature this same issue. There’s a claw machine game and arcade game that aren’t so bad, but then there’s rhythm minigames like karaoke and ramen eating. It’s here that Wanted: Dead once again reveals it has no chill. These games are ridiculously difficult right out of the gate with no build up from easier instances to harder ones. You’re having to hit multi-button inputs in time to the beat in rapid-fire sequences right from the start, and that sucks any kind of charm these otherwise silly and out of place asides might bring out.

Lay low

Wanted: Dead screenshot of Game Over
Source: Soleil

There’s an action game underneath all of Wanted: Dead’s problems that is not half bad, especially if you liked games like No More Heroes, Devil’s Third, and Wet. It’s ridiculous in its context and action. Unfortunately, for everything good I could say about this game, there was at least one or two things keeping me from enjoying it. Between cringe-worthy dialogue, game crashes, clashing moods, random and ridiculously difficult moments, and broken mechanics, Wanted: Dead takes a lot of effort just to play, let alone enjoy. Here’s hoping they can smooth out some of the technical issues after launch, but even then, this might be a title only the truly dedicated will tolerate for long.

This review is based on a digital PC copy supplied by the publisher. Wanted: Dead comes out on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S on February 14, 2023.

Senior News Editor

TJ Denzer is a player and writer with a passion for games that has dominated a lifetime. He found his way to the Shacknews roster in late 2019 and has worked his way to Senior News Editor since. Between news coverage, he also aides notably in livestream projects like the indie game-focused Indie-licious, the Shacknews Stimulus Games, and the Shacknews Dump. You can reach him at tj.denzer@shacknews.com and also find him on Twitter @JohnnyChugs.

Review for
Wanted: Dead
  • When combat works, it feels intensely satisfying
  • Cute cat tech
  • Stone, Cortez, and Gunsmith are cool
  • The animated cutscenes are gorgeously done
  • Surprisingly good soundtrack
  • Frequent crashing
  • Some of the characters are obnoxious
  • Extreme difficulty spikes even on Normal difficulty
  • Glitches can kill you as much as enemies
  • Minigames are ridiculously hard right from the start
  • Dialogue and minigames often clash with the story and context
  • Transition between cutscenes and gameplay is often rough
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