2022 was an absolute rollercoaster of a ride when it came to video games, with the likes of Gran Turismo 7 and Horizon Forbidden West having turned out smash hits as we expected. And at the same time, games like Stray and Sifu have also turned out to be surprise hits alongside a healthy dose of disappointing releases to go along with them too. Such is the nature of the medium, but all of that is behind us now – and 2023 is looking like it will be packed with releases from the very get-go.
Many of you might have heard about Wanted: Dead, the latest game from developer Soleil. And this upcoming game certainly looks like it could be a great time, and if things go right – it just might be one of the biggest surprises of this year, and there are a few reasons as to why this is the case. Soleil is best known for its work on Valkyrie Elysium, but the team also contains developers with credits on Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive – and those influences are pretty evident in this upcoming release. Wanted: Dead looks like a natural evolution of the best parts of these games, and the team is utilizing those learnings and setting up a big stage for this ultimate project.
Much like its predecessors, Wanted: Dead has style oozing out from every aspect of the experience. The story is told through beautifully drawn anime sequences, and it revolves around a week in the life of Lt. Hannah Stone. She is a legendary cop with plenty of skills and wits about her, and rightfully belongs to an elite police squad that has been tasked with uncovering a larger conspiracy in the cyberpunk version of Hong Kong. Sure, it’s simplistic – but simple doesn’t necessarily mean bad so we are confident about this tale being an entertaining ride.
And coming over to gameplay, Wanted: Dead looks absolutely gorgeous with slick action pervading every moment of the combat proceedings. True to her descriptions, Lt. Hannah Stone is a brave warrior – and can easily plow through hordes of mercenaries and synths with relative ease. But that power fantasy doesn’t come cheap, and much like Ninja Gaiden – you will need to understand the many nuances of the game and then use those learnings to decimate your enemies.
Wanted: Dead gracefully shifts from a third-person shooter to a melee-based brawler to a hybrid seamlessly. One moment you might be mauling behind a piece of cover, and taking shots at the enemy from afar, and the next you will be stabbing a sword into your enemy’s internals. But regardless of whatever you do, the combat is absolutely vicious – with one of the biggest highlights being the brutal finishers. The developer claims that Wanted: Dead will have over 50 unique finisher moves, which will take into account enemy type and position among other things.
The trailer showcases our player character dancing around huge arenas as she swirls and slashes her swords, chugs grenades, and hops from cover to cover to clear out enemy ambushes – and it all has a really good sense of flow like you would expect from the developer behind Ninja Gaiden. You can spot plenty of neat design tricks that really elevate the playing experience.
For instance, see how the action purposefully jitters for a split second after a successful hit to simulate a sense of impact, and how the action goes into slow motion as you execute brutalist finishers upon your foes. Plenty of screams and direction calls from enemies litter the battlefield as you do the killing – and you can find many more similar blemishes that all add up for a compelling experience.
And then, we should also talk about the writing which also imparts a sense of personality to the experience. You see, the characters in Wanted: Dead seem pretty distinct from one another, and they are charismatic, unlike the super serious mercenaries that are commonplace in such a game. The trailer showcases how the Zombie force consists of a bad-mouthed mercenary, a mute brute, and a serious medic apart from our player character herself. Perfect combination, if you ask me.
Sure, you could write them off as caricatures – but it seems that the developers know about the flawed nature of such simplistic characters and stories and they have the intention to take that know-how and leverage that stereotype to create hilarious situations for the entirety of the experience. In that regard, Wanted: Dead really reminds us of how a game like WET or Saints Row tried to present a story – though both games did fumble with the execution.
And that silly comedy extends over to the gameplay as well, and the trailer showcases the various kinds of minigames that we can expect to partake in during the course of this adventure. We saw a 16-bit bullet hell shooter, a dancing mini-game, and even one of those mini-crane game machines where you have to claw out the reward that you want. I don’t know about you, but a group of top brass mercenaries getting involved in such distractions, more so on an active high-stakes mission, certainly crackles me up – and hopefully, the final release will feature more of such eccentricities.
As you run through levels and cross narrative milestones, Wanted: Dead will dole out new abilities to players on a timely basis. There’s a skill tree that unlocks new abilities that will make your character stronger. And of course, you will also get a sizable assortment of weapons to help you in your adventure ranging from shotguns to SMGs to grenade launchers. Different enemy types will have different weaknesses and strengths, and knowing what to use against who will prove to be of paramount importance in this game.
We could talk about the many impressive aspects of Wanted: Dead for a lot longer, but the biggest drawing factor in the case of this game’s appeal is nostalgia. While it’s not certainly ripping off any one popular franchise from the past, its linear action-packed gameplay does bring back several memories of playing similar games back in the heydays of AA experiences during the sixth and early-seventh console generation. But as game development costs grew and gargantuan open worlds and cutting-edge graphics became standardized, the AA industry failed to keep up. But now it’s getting back up from the slumps, and the last couple of years have given us many wonderful experiences such as the likes of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice which showcase the sheer potential in such middle-market games.
So, players who grew up with such AA games are surely going to be reminded of those glory days with Wanted: Dead – and since the developers know about this, the campy voice acting and stupendous action are conscious decisions on their part to help invoke more feelings of nostalgia with this throwback adventure. We saw how Stray, a rather simple game, managed to win so many hearts with its brilliant execution and nostalgic puzzle-based gameplay last year. So it’s entirely possible that Wanted: Dead also finds itself falling in that bracket as well, and if the final release ends up delivering this well-earned power fantasy that the trailers have been setting up – Soleil’s latest might just be one of the dark horses of the year.
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