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Wanted: Dead Review

Wanted: Dead review

We were genuinely excited about Wanted: Dead.

On paper, it’s the John Wick game we’ve always wanted, combining both gun and swordplay with style. And with its developer, Soleil, having staff that have previously worked on games such as Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive, we were optimistic they could pull it off. The end result, though, has left us frustrated. Wanted: Dead could have been truly great. But instead, anything good about it is soured by numerous troublesome issues.

Following a week in the life of Lt. Hannah Stone, member of an elite Hong Kong police squad called Zombie Unit, Wanted: Dead finds you going from one bad situation to another. First you disobey orders and head straight into the headquarters of a corporation being raided, coming under heavy fire and ultimately being scolded for your hard work. And things just go downhill from there. Ultimately, you’ll face off against armed guards, androids, heavily armoured troops, flashy ninjas, and an assortment of bosses that keep you on your toes.

Equipped and skilled with a katana, Wanted: Dead may give you the option of hanging back and picking off enemies with your guns, but it’s rarely the best course of action. Slashing enemies to pieces is not only more fun, but if you play your cards right you can perform a finisher that not only looks cool, but also possibly restores some health. Finishers can be chained, too, if there are multiple enemies in a near-death state. Using your Bullet Time technique which becomes available when you have a full adrenaline gauge is a good way to achieve that.

Ultimately though, to succeed in Wanted: Dead, you need to know when to shoot and when to slash. Some enemies, like those in heavy armour, are lethal up close, so you’re best holding back and trying to wear them down with your armour-piercing rounds. And when it comes to ninjas, while you can shoot them, their agility means taking them on with your sword is the better option. Let’s not forget your trusty pistol, either. Its stopping power is great for creating openings, and it’s also the best way to deal with enemy attacks that flash red, allowing you to counter them and then unleash your own assault.

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The problem is, Wanted: Dead often feels too chaotic for its own good. As some enemies rush you, forcing you to engage them in close-range swordplay, others will shoot at you from behind cover. And even if you do manage to perform a snazzy finisher to recover some health, chances are you’ll come off worse for wear. Thankfully you have a limited supply of stimpacks to allow you to recover some health on command, but you can only really rely on them being replenished when you reach a checkpoint. If your medic is fighting alongside you, he’ll revive you once per checkpoint, too. These checkpoints are inconsistent, though. Sometimes you might have to battle through a few room of simple enemies to reach one. Other times, you’ll have to survive multiple challenging encounters that will really test your patience.

Related: The Best Single-Player Games on PS5

There’s a fine line between between being difficult but fun, and difficult and frustrating. The games of FromSoftware manage to typically land on the fun side because they feel fair, but here, it too often feels like the odds are stacked against you. It’s easy to run out of ammo with no way to replenish it, and then come up against a heavily-armoured foe that’s a nightmare to take down with just a sword. Or you might battle your way through multiple tough encounters, then enter a new area expecting to find a checkpoint only to find two or more ninjas waiting for you instead. If you haven’t got any stimpacks left, death could be inevitable, as even on normal difficulty they can kill you with one combo if you’re not on top form. Then it’s back to the last checkpoint you go.

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An easy mode is available, but it’s not unlocked by default at the start of the game. If you die too many times, a prompt is supposed to ask you if you want to switch to easy mode – known as Neko-Chan mode, which places cat ears on your head – but the prompt never happened for us, even when purposefully dying multiple times. We’re assuming this is something that will be patched into the PS5 version at launch. If you’re thinking of playing Wanted: Dead and fear it may frustrate you, then, you’d be wise to enter the cheat code that enables easy mode from the outset.

As if the messy and often unbalanced gameplay of Wanted: Dead wasn’t troublesome enough, on PS5 you’ve also got poor performance to deal with. Stutters are one thing, but there are times in later stages where it almost becomes a slideshow, with performance coming to a crawl as you do battle. It makes performing parries almost impossible, and can easily lead to your death. This is a game that really needs some polish in other areas as well. Take one of its many mini-games, the crane grabber, where prizes glitch about and its easier to win them by kicking the machine than actually playing.

It’s a shame, because you get the feeling that Wanted: Dead could be a bloody good game with some tweaks here and there and a little bit of polish. And indeed, it could get a hell of a lot better after a patch or two. When the combat is working as intended, you really do feel like a badass, using your guns and swords to move between one enemy and another, taking them to pieces in glorious fashion. In addition, upgrades, acquired via spending points across three skill trees, feel impactful, and there’s even a gun customisation system that’s enjoyable to get to grips with.

If you’re not put off by its grave challenge that all too often feels unfair and its general rough-around-the-edges nature, you might have a good time with Wanted: Dead. Most, though, are likely to become disheartened and infuriated by it. It tries to do something new with the genre and we applaud it for that, but the execution isn’t quite there. We love its characters and its quirkiness, and even its mechanics, but they’re in a game that at the moment only sporadically feels fun to play. Hopefully Soleil can make some post-launch changes that point it further in the right direction.

Wanted: Dead Review – GameSpew’s Score

This review of Wanted: Dead is based on the PS5 version, with a code provided by the game’s publisher. It’s available on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and PC.

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Editor in Chief // An avid gamer since discovering the wonders of the Acorn Electron in the '80s, Rich has nearly played more games than he's had hot dinners. Not one to put all his eggs in one basket, Rich is happy to play games of all genres, but he particularly enjoys racing games and anything that's full of non-stop action, especially if it includes a good dose of humour, horror or crudeness!