Wanted: Dead

Wanted: Dead

Wanted: Dead is a gory and challenging action game with fast-paced, unforgiving combat. You take the role of Hannah Stone, a lieutenant of the Hong Kong police task force. Together with her three other lawless teammates comprising the Zombie Unit – an elite police squad – she is tasked to uncover a corporate conspiracy involving one of the major producers of synthetic humanoids on the market. The game is split into five lengthy combat levels of multiple stages, each of them representing one individual mission of the task force, bringing them one step closer to a major reveal.

The combat is a mix of third person shooter and slasher, with Lt. Stone and her team making their way through hordes of enemies. Baddies are primarily dispatched using katana and pistol combos, which routinely comes with a loss of limbs on their end, and there are some twenty-odd finisher attacks (which don’t quite approach the Mortal Kombat gore level). The window for parrying enemy attacks is very tight and once you’re hit, it’s very difficult to prevent further hits. After getting hurt, there is a short window to recover some of the lost health by dishing out more damage. There is a skill tree in which you progress at a pleasant pace, but only because the game is rather short.

The combat has a number of janky aspects to it. Oftentimes when you are fighting enemies up close, the too-close camera position makes it hard to see enemies to your sides and behind you. Compared to other parry-reliant titles this is unnecessarily bothersome. Further harming your spatial awareness are two other issues: your teammates are too difficult to distinguish from enemies in the heat of battle, especially on dark levels, and it is too hard to keep track of which enemies are still alive and thus dangers you have to be aware of. Since you can partially dismember many of your opponents without fully incapacitating them, just seeing gore isn’t a clear indicator. The only clear ways to know is a tiny visual indicator showing XP gain, and the very repetitive death scream you hear from most of the enemy types. With a less close camera, icons for teammates, and perhaps outlines for living enemies, you could be spared some deaths that are frustrating only because the game does not provide you enough clarity.

Other glitchy or just unpolished bits that are less of a bother are that snap-aiming on enemies sprinting at you often just doesn’t work and instead puts your crosshair several body widths to the side, and that weapons you intended to leave on the ground for later or were using when you got downed like to despawn. Notably, the powerful chainsaw is just gone from the game if you die holding it, and it can feel more efficient to die a second final time to retry from the last checkpoint to get it back.

The systems design of Wanted: Dead regularly bites off much more than it should be trying to chew. There’s a cover system that doesn’t make all that much sense in this game, as you have to constantly keep moving and attacking. Shooting in general is not very effective, with an enemy requiring many bullets to kill, and many of the available weapons suffer both from a lack of accuracy and a lack of available ammunition. Besides a weapon slot for guns you take from enemies or the environment, you have an assault rifle that you can customize at checkpoints, min-/maxing its stats using the gradually increasing amount of available parts. None of these mechanics really had to be in the game.

While her teammates are close by in most of the fights, the player can’t control them, and they typically do not kill too many enemies on their own. Only Doc has the less cosmetic purpose of providing the player one revive per checkpoint. The only other healing is through injecting stimpacks that some stronger enemies can drop on the lower difficulty modes.

You can’t talk about Wanted: Dead without touching on how it’s both way too little game for the $40 asking price, yet in other areas there’s inexplicably much content. There are only five missions for a eight to ten hour duration, which goes down to around four hours for an experienced player on a lower difficulty level. At the same time, it has as many wacky minigames as you would expect in a Yakuza title. A collectible might just play a lengthy character backstory flashback. Shortly after the first mission, a memory is played out as an anime. There even are several minutes-long live-action cooking videos!

This discrepancy leads to the matter of who should and who shouldn’t be recommended the game:

Fans of the weird, wacky, and zany (and jank)

There are so many largely-intentional idiosyncrasies in Wanted: Dead. This starts with the main character being a war criminal released from prison, pressed into police service, but with a wholesome work environment and an active dating life. The game can’t even decide if she’s a police detective or lieutenant – the terms are just used interchangeably. Despite her English/American last name of Stone, she is supposedly Swiss, and speaks with a thick German accent (this admittedly is addressed by the end of the game). Meanwhile, her Russian teammate Doc has the least Russian voice ever.

There’s a full shoot ’em up created by Japanese developer PiXEL that is also available as a separate free Steam download. Characters have cybernetic implants, there are parody soft drink companies, and random references to our pop culture that don’t exactly make sense in a post-nuclear-war future. So many intentionally goofy things made it into this release, in a way it’s truly “art for art’s sake”.

Difficulty masochists with a tolerance for janky games

The game’s Easy mode was initially hidden behind a cheat code and only unlocked for everyone a year after the release. The Steam comment section of that patch is chock-full of complaints that there shouldn’t be an easy mode to begin with, and complaining about other beginner-focused QoL improvements of adding an extra checkpoint and a health bar to the first difficult mini-boss.

If you value challenge more than polish, this title might just be what you’re looking for. An adequate new game plus lets you hone your skills over and over.

Casual gamers

Wanted: Dead is very much aimed at hardcore players, who don’t get frustrated from repeatedly dying and repeating a fight as often as needed. The enemies are tough as nails and the damage received can feel massive, even when playing on Normal difficulty mode. The recently-unlocked Easy mode is far less challenging, but does not feel like the intended gameplay experience.

Achievement hunters

Getting all the achievements not only requires completing the game on the three non-easy difficulty modes, but also flawlessly hitting some 800 key presses in a rhythm mini game. Unless you mastered several Dark Souls titles, this is unlikely to be a game you can get all the achievements in.

Fortunately, collectible and achievement progress accumulate across your different save games, so it’s not necessary to find all items in the same run, or to complete tasks like performing 100 handgun counters to unblockable attacks on the same save.


Wanted: Dead is recommendable to players belonging to two particular niches: the “git gud” difficulty fanatics will be pleased that the game is quite hard on Normal mode, after which there’s Hard and the appropriately-named Japanese Hard. 1980s B-movie connoisseurs. The other group will appreciate the game for being Japanese Weird, from the retro-cyber-futuristic world building all the way to the many intentionally odd and unfortunately-janky parts of the game.

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