Is this Devil’s Third successor dead accurate, or is it just dead on arrival? Find out in our Wanted: Dead review.
Like that episode of Pokémon featuring Porygon, Nintendo wants everyone to forget that Devil’s Third ever existed. This infamous Wii U game attempted to combine third person shooting with the swordplay that characterised the Ninja Gaiden series. Why am I bringing up this critical and commercial failure? It turns out the studio that gave birth to Devil’s Third, Valhalla Games Studio, had a sister company called Soleil.
Mention Devil’s Third to Nintendo and you’ll probably end up looking like this.
Not only did Soleil acquire the assets of Valhalla, but has recently created a spiritual successor of sorts. Enter Wanted: Dead, the latest attempt from ex-Team Ninja employees to make a game like Ninja Gaiden but with guns. Is this the game that every man wants to be gifted on Valentine’s Day? Or is it simply dead-on arrival? Read ahead and find out.
Wanted: Dead Review – Story
Wanted: Dead takes place in an alternative version of modern-day Hong Kong, where fashion and music from the 1980s are now in vogue for some reason. Amongst this bending of the space time continuum lies an ex-prisoner-turned cop called Hannah Stone, who fights crime by moonlight and sings karaoke by daytime. The game features a tonne of cutscenes that are lengthy yet berthed of any substance. There are however some genuinely funny scenes that put a smile on my face.
But when the game attempts to tell a serious story, the flat acting and robotic animations doesn’t do the narrative any favours. Not to mention, the glaring use of low quality, BIK files to present parts of the game’s story. These stick out like a sore thumb when compared to the real time cutscenes running in 4K. For those that are curious, the shower scenes are rendered in real-time. I’m sure David Cage will be pleased by this news.
Wanted: Dead Review – Gameplay
Thankfully the gameplay makes up for the spotty story telling, with white knuckle action delivered straight to your address with extra blood. Like Devil’s Third, Wanted Dead tries to mesh swashbuckling with pew pew action. Think Ninja Gaiden meets Vanquish and you’re on the right track. The biggest problem with Devil’s Third was the poor balancing that meant almost every scenario favoured guns over swords, which wasn’t great given the guns had the impact of a cashew. Fortunately, the tables have been turned with Wanted Dead, as the sword is by far the most useful item in your arsenal.
Slicing and dicing enemies is super satisfying with blood flowing like cheap red wine. Hannah doesn’t feel as light as Ryu in Ninja Gaiden and controls like someone whose diet consists purely of Four ‘N Twenty Meat pies. But the frantic nature of the fights with enemies coming from every corner is enough to keep the blood flowing. Unfortunately, the firearms in this game don’t have the same impact as the sword.
The massive dead zone and poor feedback makes using any ballistic weapon a real chore. But except for a few hard-to-reach targets, you can take down the entire opposition with your trusty sword and forget the guns exist. To the game’s credit, this is probably the most action-focused action game I’ve played in a long time. No quick time events or forced walking sequences. Pure, unadulterated carnage from start to finish.
Hannah is joined by three other members in the appropriately named zombie squad. Doc stays true to his namesake by offering the ability to revive the player after their health is fully depleted, but you’re only good for one revival between each checkpoint. Cortex can stagger enemies, allowing Hannah to take them down with a finishing strike. The final person in your crew is Herzog, who will occasionally take out foot soldiers with a single bullet to the head.
In between each mission, you’ll find yourself at the police station where you can talk to NPCs and play various minigames. Your fellow co-workers have the personality of mud that pales in comparison to the character building exhibited in the likes of Astral Chain. The minigames also feel undercooked, with a ramen and karaoke minigame that both play like a poor man’s Taiko Drum Master.
There’s also a Skill Tester where you unlock additional goodies and figurines. I do appreciate the figurines showing up on Hannah’s desk as you acquire each one. It’s little details like this that I enjoy seeing in video games. Rounding off the mini games is a vertical shooter called Space Runaway, which I couldn’t play since the game wouldn’t stop shaking. I don’t know if this is an intentional design or a bug with the PC build of the game.
Completing the game will take around 8-10 hours. You can play through the game again on a harder difficulty or mess around with any minigames you’ve unlocked. You can rewatch any cutscenes on the memories page, including multiple episodes of a cooking show parody called Vivienne’s Late-Night Chow, which are generally funny and look like something ripped out of Robocop.
Wanted: Dead Review – Visuals and Performance
Like many modern games, Wanted: Dead is powered by Unreal Engine 4. While the texture work and geometry detail is solid enough, the sloppy animation and flat lighting are a notch against the presentation. As for which version I played, I opted to play through the game on my PC equipped with a Ryzen 3700X and Nivida RTX 3070. My first impressions of the PC port were quite positive. Loading times were almost non-existent when using an NVME drive and HDR is on the table for once. Both FSR and DLSS upscaling algorithms are included.
But like many Unreal Engine 4 games, Wanted: Dead doesn’t perform a pre-compilation of shaders on the main menu. In other words, the shader compilation happens during gameplay, a process that causes a drop in framerate and affects the fluidity of the game. But even with the shaders compiled, performance will randomly drop like a stone regardless of the visual quality or upscaling technique being employed. The game also crashed on multiple occasions and a bug caused the skill tree to disappear, forcing me to start the game again from scratch.
Wanted Dead: Review – Soundtrack
It’s obvious that most of the game’s budget went towards producing the game’s terrific soundtrack. The developers of this game somehow managed to secure legendary music producer, Giorgio Moroder. Best known for his work in films like Midnight Express, Flashdance and Scarface. The soundtrack is peppered with iconic 80s songs such as 99 Luftballoons and Manic. But there’s also a great selection of original songs sung by various guest singers and a fantastic score composed by Keiichi Sugiyama. Even if you don’t plan on playing the game, I insist that you check out the soundtrack on Spotify. It’s that good.
Wanted: Dead is at its finest when you’re slicing enemies like onions while rocking to the game’s brilliant soundtrack. The writing is woeful at best, but it still managed to get a few chuckles out of me. But everything else in this game feels underdeveloped and could have used a few extra hours in the oven.
However, despite its many warts, I can still picture Wanted: Dead developing a cult following amongst a small group of weirdos that miss the era of middle-ground games that were commonplace during the days of the PS2. Games with a clear beginning, middle and end without the chaff that plagues modern, open world games. If that sounds appealing to you, I think you might get a kick out of Wanted: Dead. Although I would avoid the PC version like the plague as it’s not currently fit for service.
So, why should you play Wanted Dead?
- You’re a gore hound that enjoys hack ‘n slash game
- Love silly games that don’t take themselves seriously
- If you think the 1980s was the best time period for music
- A fan of PS2-era, middleground games with a clear beginning, middle and end
But why shouldn’t you play Wanted Dead?
- Can’t stand voice acting that sounds like it was supplied by a group of expats
- Don’t care for B-grade cinema or cheesy dialogue
- Hate PC ports with frequently stutters due to shader compilation
- Have zero tolerance for mediocre shooting mechanics with a massive deadzone
A review code on PC was kindly provided by the publisher for the purpose of our Wanted: Dead review. If you enjoyed this review, be sure to join the conversation on the official Qualbert Discord or check out more of our reviews!