Wanted: Dead feels like an AI-generated cross between Hideo Kojima and Quinten Tarantino where each enemy has more blood than the elevator in The Shining.
- Title: Wanted: Dead
- Release Date: February 14, 2023
- Price: $59.99
- Suggested Audience Age: Rated M for Mature by the ESRB
- Availability: PlayStation, Xbox, Steam
- Recommended for fans of: Violent Action, Dismemberment, and Surrealism
Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title.
The first time I can remember getting angry with a video game was when my brother introduced me to Ninja Gaiden II on the NES. I was a massive fan of the Ninja Turtles, so anything Ninja-related had to be good, right?
That stupid game was so brutally hard and unfair that it still sticks out in my mind. When I first heard folks complain about Dark Souls, Ninja Gaiden II was the “hard game” I imagined it to be akin to. It left such a scar on me that I refused to ever try out the modern Ninja Gaiden games because I assumed they’d be too hard, too. While I can’t speak to those games, after spending several hours on the very first encounter of Wanted: Dead, the new title from the Ninja Gaiden team, I can say that it is even harder than I imagined it would be. It’s also way, way weirder.
What is the World?
Wanted: Dead feels like an AI was tasked with creating a Kojima-directed grindhouse cyberpunk movie, and then to create a tie-in video game based on that movie.
The game opens with a series of cutscenes that drop you into a wild, dystopian, pseudo-cyber punk world where you play as a war criminal turned police officer who is on contract by a private company to provide violent security to a closed city. The first mission has you wielding heavy assault weaponry, grenades, and a katana against well-equipped super soldiers so driven that they fight back even as you chop their limbs off in showers of blood.
The second mission is a rhythm game where you eat ramen after one of your coworkers regales you with stories of all of his friends who killed themselves in prison.
The third mission has you putting down an uprising of seemingly sentient synthetic workers who are fighting for their freedom after the corporation that enslaves them filed for bankruptcy.
It’s uh… it’s a lot.
Action in Wanted: Dead comes in two different flavors. The game allows you to approach combat either as a cover-based shooter or as an in-your-face, fast and furious, combo and counter-driven melee game. In both cases, I can’t overstate that first and foremost the action is difficult. Enemies are aggressive, constantly on the move, and able to withstand a shocking amount of damage before they die. You do have the ability to heal yourself with consumable medpacks, and having a doctor in your squad means you’ve always got an extra life on standby. Even with those accommodations, I found myself dying a lot.
In fact, I found myself dying so much that the game asked me if I wanted to enable “Neko-Chan” mode. I didn’t really know what that meant but assumed it was an easy mode option, so I said yes. Then it asked something about staying in Neko mode forever and I was like, “Yeah, I guess?” Well, it turns out that “Neko” means cat, so now my character has cat ears. Always. In gameplay and in cutscenes. My character is wearing cat ears. Pussycat ears. I’m playing in “pussycat” mode.
Even after admitting what a Neko I was, the game is still really difficult. The cover shooting doesn’t feel quite right to me, largely because even headshots don’t put enemies down. For that reason I find myself pushing forward super aggressively. Each time I enter a new combat arena, I charge forward with my katana held high and hack and slash at the first enemy I find. The game encourages you to dodge, block, and counterattack, and you can also whip out a pistol as a quick stopping shot for crowd control. It feels fantastic, and showers the world with so, so much blood.
I am still very early on in Wanted: Dead, but I think it might be the bloodiest piece of media I’ve ever interacted with. Every enemy you dispatch explodes into absolute geysers like gushers packed with firecrackers. Wielding your katana in battle means you are nearly guaranteed to dismember, decapitate, or bisect every single enemy, if not all of the above.
In the second mission you are facing off against synthetic humanoids, but they’ve got just as much blood to bleed as your human foes. It was during this level that I really got into the rhythm of employing finishing moves, which had my character dispatching enemies in all sorts of fun ways. When a wounded enemy pulled a grenade, she stole it, threw it on the ground, and pushed them on top of it. A foe with a pickaxe found it piercing his own skull. She stabbed a guy through the throat, then shot him through the chest, then chopped off his head.
Then, at the end of that mission, the game jumped to a cutscene where the police chief chewed us out for killing so many folks. My character had the gall to say “hey maybe as cops we shouldn’t be doing this”. Then she went to karaoke to sing 99 Luftballons, triggering another rhythm minigame.
I’m so conflicted about Wanted: Dead. The core gameplay loop is extremely satisfying, even if it’s so bloody that it makes me a bit squeamish. On the other hand, it’s so punishing (even on the easy mode) that I’m progressing through the game painfully slowly. I suppose it’s a testament to the gameplay loop that I’m even willing to keep pushing forward.
Then there’s the story. It’s so bizarre and strange that it borders on unnerving. It’s surreal, and I don’t know if it realizes that or if it even matters if it realizes it.
When I finally got through the first level after literal hours of trying, it was when I was up late unable to sleep one night. That means that I got to the suicidal-prisoners-ramen-rhythm game while I was sleep deprived, and honestly the next day I thought I had dreamed it.
This game is wild, but it’s wild in a way that is sort of clicking with me. I want to play more to see where it goes, but because of how strange it is, rather than how good it is. So how do I score a game like that? Well, it’s kind of terrible and very confusing and I’m also super intrigued and having a blast, so I guess that’s pretty okay.
Geek to Geek Rating: 4 out of 5
Here are a few things I neglected to mention above that further illustrate how weird this game is:
- The gunsmith you work with is a cute, peppy, anime trope of a girl with 12 cats.
- That gunsmith was apparently the host of a cooking show before she joined the force, and you can watch that show online.
- Your character changes out of her military gear to casual clothes between missions, but none of the rest of your crew do.
- The game makes a point of showing your character shower but isn’t really scandalous in its camera angles. Maybe they just needed to explain how all the blood you get soaked with disappears.
- The second level all takes place in a park, so you slaughter sentient, innocent beings created as a slave race on a playground.
- The voice acting is mostly great, except for the main character who has an awesome accent but speaks in a super stiff manner, to the point that I wondered if the voice actor was reading their lines phonetically, without actually understanding what they were saying.
- Loading screens feature the characters from the game reenacting the “sike that’s the wrong number” meme.
- There’s a cutscene where a synthetic being watches a spider while lying in the back of a police truck and listening to your character and one of her team members have a totally inane, friendly ribbing sort of conversation. The spider gets squished by a falling box. This is probably very important and symbolic of something.