Developer Soleil Ltd might not be a household name for a lot of people, but it’s a team with people who previously worked in games like Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive for Team Ninja. Publisher 110 Industries SA has been running a stellar PR campaign for Wanted: Dead over recent months, and we finally got to go hands on with the PlayStation 5 version for this review.
This wasn’t the first time we went hands on with the game either – we previously saw the game in action during Gamescom last summer, where it was our first appointment on the very last day of the show. That might seem like something random to mention, but wow – what an early morning awakening that was. Wanted: Dead is a throwback to the kind of ultra-violent games we rarely see anymore. With a mix of melee, gunplay and dismemberment, it’s certainly not one for nuance and subtlety.
Set in a near-future version Hong Kong, you play as Lieutenant Hannah Stone, a war criminal turned cop played by Stefanie Joosten. There’s a retro-futuristic quality to this version of Hong Kong, which can be seen through some of the (working!) arcade games you’ll come across and one of our favorite features – a jukebox with songs that nearly all have an 80s vibe to them.
But while those are elements you can casually enjoy in Wanted: Dead, the actual gameplay is quite challenging, even on the ‘normal’ difficulty level. With challenging fights and an unforgiving checkpoint system, this is a game that might frustrate those just looking to unwind with a violent game without bringing elite skill levels to the table – this is a game that would benefit from an easy mode so all players can enjoy the game’s entertaining narrative.
Combat is a mix of shooting and melee combat, though you’ll mostly rely on acrobatics and slashing movies due to limited ammo and a nice combat flow as you weave your way through a scene – a few bullets merely being a way to keep the chain going or give yourself a bit of a breather. And while some might prefer the third person shooter gameplay that you were perhaps expecting based on some of the screenshots, the swordplay is actually a blast – especially if you have a strong stomach for gratuitous violence as this often involves a ton of blood and body parts getting severed.
An unlock system lets you gain access to additional abilities that are divided among three distinct upgrade paths. Offensive upgrades gives you better attacks, but you can also invest in your defensive capabilities or in your mastery of items/consumables. These perks get progressively more expensive as you get further into the game, so you’ll want to choose wisely here.
And while some players will lament the lack of an online mode, we found it refreshing that Wanted: Dead is an old school single player adventure that you can play as if there was no such thing as the internet. And while there’s definitely some retro (80s) flair to the game’s design and to the gameplay style, the game’s visuals run on the Unreal Engine 4 and look and perform quite well – with some eye-catching visual effects. It doesn’t have the visual wow-factor that games like Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive had upon release, but it does give what is essentially a PS2-era style game a modern look.
We had an absolute blast with Wanted: Dead, but also see that it’s going to be a bit of a divisive/niche title on account of its tone, harsh difficulty levels and lack of modern gameplay mechanics. For the right target audience, this is one you won’t want to miss out on.