I didn’t know that I wanted to be a katana-wielding police officer in a cyberpunk version of Hong Kong who fights a giant spider tank and then eats five bowls of ramen, but that’s what I got with upcoming slasher/shooter Wanted: Dead, and I haven’t been able to put it down. Everything from its bizarre story and tone to its challenging and chaotic combat reminds me of the PS2/OG Xbox era of games from my youth, where experimentation and style was prioritized over polish. And there’s something awesome about that approach that’s captured my attention and kept me smiling ear to ear after over 15 hours with it.
One of the main ways in which Wanted: Dead nails its old school feel is in the high level of difficulty of its fantastic combat. While slashing and shooting my way through armies of enemies, death loomed constantly, as even one mistake could mean instant death for my ninja cop. Even with a squad of up to three NPCs accompanying me, I was usually outnumbered at least ten to one, as enemies shot at me from afar while their friends smacked me with melee weapons in a ruthless attempt to overwhelm me. I was forced to master the timing of my parries, dodges, and counterattacks, and to keep moving in order to avoid my immediate demise. Upgrading my skill tree along the way made things easier, thankfully, as improving my mobility options with the dodgeroll or the sliding blow made me much harder to hit, but even with two skill trees almost completely upgraded it was no walk in the park. Still, it was all worth the trouble when I finally beat a section, triggering numerous kill animations along the way that can only be described as delightfully badass.
In the many cases where I did die, though, I was reloaded back to the previous checkpoint, which, in another old-school touch, sometimes meant a brutal amount of progress lost. Luckily, learning each level and becoming more efficient at massacring my enemies was part of the fun, and I rarely found myself annoyed at having to repeat a section.
When I wasn’t turning faces into potato salad, I spent my down time doing a whole host of bizarre side activities that I still have trouble believing are a part of the same game. I wasted way too much time playing a claw machine, battled it out with my fellow cop in a contest to see who could digest the most ramen, sang karaoke, and even played a fake 1980s arcade game for some reason. These silly distractions weren’t always amazing additions, especially since ramen eating and karaoke are essentially the same minigame, but they went a long way to make me love how unflinchingly goofy it all was.
There’s also a weird amount of charm to its sometimes janky presentation, which features voice acting that’s almost always stilted and character models that look a bit wonky. But then it’ll have perplexingly beautiful moments like how it occasionally seamlessly transitions to anime or even live-action cutscenes as a strange but effective way of telling its story. There’s just something so odd and PS2-era about it that I couldn’t help but love it, even when the dialogue made my eyes do a 180 in their sockets.
I’ve already played through most of Wanted: Dead, and find it hard to believe something so wonderfully old school exists in 2023. I’ll definitely be recommending it to all of my retro-loving friends when it’s released next month. Stay tuned for our full review soon.