Wanted: Dead is a third-person action game from Soleil Ltd, a team composed of some Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive alumni that’s equal parts shooter and melee combat.
You take control of Hannah Stone, a disgraced ex-military operative put at the head of an experimental Hong Kong police strike force nicknamed “The Zombie Unit.” Hannah and her team of unhinged war criminals have a reputation of causing excessive destruction and casualties in the line of duty. There are readily apparent homages to cop-centric action movies of the ‘80s and ‘90s, complete with screaming police chief and the looming threat of everybody being fired if they can’t rein it in.
The overarching plot concerning a corrupt corporation’s private military force, a synthetic human uprising, or why a team of convicted terrorists are now police officers in Hong Kong is a scattershot of pure nonsense. Your squad’s attempts to piece together the unifying threads of these situations never make it past shouting “It’s all connected somehow!” and fail to connect anything to anything else before credits roll. At the same time, Stone will sometimes inexplicably pass out and recall her past, which plays out in full-on anime cutscenes, or you’ll witness an awkward philosophical debate between your squadmates, or just watch Stone shower, several different times.
I started to care less about how much sense the story made and became intrigued by what could possibly happen in it next. The game’s tone is downright weird, on several occasions an audible “What!?” was the only reaction I could muster to things like minigames where you collect figures of the characters from a claw machine, attempt to get high scores in a bullet hell arcade cabinet, and sing karaoke or eat ramen in one of the worst rhythm games I’ve ever experienced.
The absurdity and variety of activities is ultimately a nice buffer between sections of fast-paced combat, which sew together third-person gunplay and sword-swinging action incredibly well. Stone has a main assault weapon and can pick up a variety of secondary weapons from enemies like SMGs or grenade launchers. But firing her pistol has a dedicated button, and at medium-to-close ranges, she can stun enemies and close the distance to swing her sword. Pistol shots can be mixed into sword combos and can counter unblockable melee attacks to keep enemies off balance, and once weakened you can initiate flashy finishing moves on them.
Stone’s sword attacks stay fairly basic throughout the game, but a skill tree will open up additional conditions to allow her to start a finisher, like on a parry or pistol counter, and any weakened enemies in Stone’s line of sight when she initiates a finisher will get taken down automatically. A charged special ability allows her to weaken almost any enemy near her position, which if used right results in pure cathartic murder as Stone lays waste to an entire room. Understanding the power of her chained finishers is key to overcoming the substantial amount of enemies thrown at you in each level.
Zombie Unit takes waves of enemies head on as they push through a variety of locales like a gaudy corporate office, upscale nightclub, or the neon-lit streets of Hong Kong. Many of the baddies are reused regularly, but there are special types thrown into the mix to get you to slow down and deal with them accordingly. Several varieties of ninja will test your ability to parry, and heavy armor-clad gunners will punish you greatly for staying out in the open. The couple of boss encounters are fun one-offs but can reveal a lot of the blemishes in the game’s mechanics, like blocks failing to register, camera struggles, or the lack of a proper lock-on.
Wanted: Dead contains a fair share of annoyances, like the AI running straight past you in order to take up flank positions to your rear or incredibly long and difficult gauntlets of combat having a single checkpoint at their start. Its voice actors also hilariously slip out of their fake accents on a routine basis, but there’s no denying I had a blast the whole way through.
Its vibe is one of irreverent joy exemplified by its eclectic licensed soundtrack and commitment to just being blatantly bizarre. The chaotic mash-up at the core of Wanted: Dead is like a game you remember falling in love with as a kid that’s still just as good to play today. The game is out February 14 for $59.99 on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X | S.
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