Review: Wanted (WANTED!),
Dead or Alive seven-point five.
For being the self-described ?most insignificant asshole of the 21st century? at one time, Wesley Gibson is doing pretty well for himself these days. The character was the focus of last year's hit movie Wanted
, which grossed more than $300 million at the box office and starred Angelina Jolie, who he makes out with very briefly?briefly, but more make out time with her than anyone else reading this can claim. The comic book from which he originated is also getting more widespread attention now than it did during its one-year run in 2003. Finally, today, his virtual self debuts in a video game based on the 2008 movie and, unlike a lot of movie-games out there, it introduces a couple of innovative gameplay elements and a whole lot of cinematic style, making it worth checking out.
The first unique gameplay twist that Wanted: Weapons of Fate
introduces to video games is the movie's signature curved bullet technique. Learning to arc bullets around objects in order to hit out-of-the-way targets was difficult for Wesley in the film. Thankfully, it's not so hard for players. Holding R1 sets up a straight red line from his gun to the enemy closest to the center of the camera, and flicking the right analog stick around bends that line into an arc. The red line turns white as soon as a manageable shot is possible, and releasing R1 causes the bullet to sail from his gun, turn gradually, and hit the enemy despite the fact that he thinks he's so clever for taking cover behind a now useless wall or crate.
The curving bullet technique is an excellent example of how a developer should carry a key element of a movie over to a video game, even though there hasn't been something like this in a previous game. So, already Wanted isn't just a good game, it introduces something brand new to the action genre, which is groundbreaking when you consider all of the movie-games shovelware out there. Coupled with this innovative gunplay is a slow-motion animation that often follows curved bullets close behind and right into the enemy for a gory, but equally pleasing effect. The only thing better is seeing several bullets form that same curve at once and explode upon impact for multiple casualties in later stages.
Adrenaline becomes a big part of the curved bullet process because it limits how many of these special moves can be pulled off. Killing an enemy earns adrenaline, but missing or failing to make the kill with a curved bullet costs one adrenaline bullet icon on the top right of the screen. Those exploding multiple bullets and a new enhanced quick movement ability, which is a Max Payne-like slow motion emergence from cover move, take two bullets to execute. While the game limits the number of special moves that can be pulled off, it's a little too easy to max out your adrenaline bullet icons by approaching an enemy, performing a melee move with the circle button and earning two bullets at a time. Regardless, once curving bullets becomes second nature and you become a pro at arcing shot after shot, you won't feel guilty about using such cheap melee tactics to fill up your adrenaline simply because the effect is so fun to perform. Instead, you'll be thinking, ?Boom Goes the Dynamite!? with every bended bullet.
The second brilliant gameplay idea that Wanted: Weapons of Fate
incorporates is the ability to move 360 degrees while still pressed up against certain objects for cover. The concept of freely walking around rounded surfaces like barrels seems so simple, yet games like Gears of War require constant breaking of cover, moving to the next side of the same object and reapply the cover move to the new side. That's box-like and archaic. The cover movement in Wanted is fluid and much more realistic thanks to this minor detail, which hopefully turns into a trend among action game developers.
The assassin characters in this game are also appropriately faster with more nimble movements; you don't feel the weight of Gears' Marcus Fenix and Dominic Santiago. Instead, pressing forward, left or right plus the X button while behind cover has the character dash and dart to the next cover area and sometimes slide over top of surfaces with slick ninja-like moves in what seems like half the time.
Wanted still feels very reminiscent of Gears of War in the way it moves, despite the rounded cover idea and agility-emphasized cover-to-cover transitions, and that's not the only gameplay rehashing throughout its nine levels. There's by-the-numbers blind fire, been-there-done-that sneaking behind cover until the shielded enemy doesn't detect you're behind his back and, who'da-thunk-it, timed button pressing prompts whenever the same looking enemy charges at you with knives. Hint on that last one: The knife-wielding bad guys all shop at the same store for identical red hoodies and are easily defeated by rapidly pressing the circle button or, in later stages, a random analog direction plus the circle button.
The gameplay also calls out to Time Crisis in two instances. The first event happens in the first level in which the game shifts to rails for a couple of seconds and requires players to shoot enemies and a few locked-on bullets before they hit you. The second Time Crisis take-off occurs throughout the nine levels in which strategically-placed explosive barrels are placed near enemies. Although these scripted events are fun and add much needed variety, they're both grossly obvious and rather dated. The same can be said for Wanted's other attempts at gameplay variety. There are a handful of times your character takes the helm of a machine gun (Call of Duty) or provides cover for a non-playable character by picking up a sniper rifle (Silent Scope). Bosses do supply a little strategic thinking, but it usually involves killing the endless supply of minions that are thrown at you in extremely obvious intervals and increasing your adrenaline to use one of the special moves to defeat the boss.
In addition to less straightforward gameplay, a more flesh-out training mode would've been appreciated considering the cinematic nature of this movie-game. It just throws you into the first training lesson, Wesley repeats the movie line about ?Gotta put a bullet in a body first,? you shoot some bodies hanging from meat hooks and the screen goes dark and throws you into the next training exercise. The process is choppy and doesn't gel well with about four abrupt training lessons back-to-back. Not to make another Call of Duty comparison, but a story-driven training environment would've helped make the opening of the game (which is the most important part) feel like it was thrusting you into a cinematic experience and not a broken tutorial.
The good news is that while the to-the-point training mode is boring, it's over with quickly and the actual levels are interesting to traverse, even if everything's pretty linear. Since the game's story focuses on the French fraternity, high village buildings and cobblestone streets make for excellent level designs. There's also a cubicle-filled office level that, having seen the movie, I was hoping Wesley would return to. I knew that the Office Space-like environment would make for entertaining fire fights and predicted that Wesley Gibson, who reminded me of a more irate Peter Gibbons in the beginning of the film, would have some witty dialogue at the first sight of cubicles.
The best-looking level occurs not on the ground, but in the air aboard a plummeting airplane. As you make your way from one end of the plane to the other, you have to take cover behind the rows of seats and push a drink cart up the isle while using it as cover. Having an everyday object like an airline's drink cart become an interactive form of ducking bullets beats every other form of cover I've seen in a game.
While the level designs have their moments, there's a lack of destructible objects and the environments hardly change despite the impact of bullets and explosives. When a barrel next to a wall explodes and has enough force to kill an enemy, but doesn't show a significant impact on that wall, it's kind of cheap. Also, while I credited the game with ninja-like moves for its characters, they all hold the gun and run the same way: down and with two hands, hobbling along. We've all seen this gun-running posture from James Bond to Jack Bauer, but they're never been permanently stuck running with a gun that way.
The most disappointing thing about Wanted, however, is that it ends after a mere nine levels. There are three difficulty levels, appropriately named Pussy, Assassin, and The Killer, but there are plenty of checkpoints to beat the entire game on the latter two difficulties in one sitting. After that, there's no crazy curved bullet multiplayer or a challenge mode to speak of. It's a shame because I'd love to see how many curved bullet kills I could pull off in a challenge mode. There's unlockable comic book cover art, concept art, developer quotes and video. I like the way in which they're hidden?behind you when you start a level and off to the side requiring you to inspect various nooks?but they're just not enough.