Review / Wanted: Weapons of Fate (Xbox 360)

Whether you wanted it or not, you knew it was coming.  Any action movie based on graphic novel and starring Angelina Jolie simply had to be made into a videogame. But for better or worse, it’s how the business operates.

The story of Wanted: Weapons of Fate picks up 5 hours after the movie ended, with Wesley returning to his father’s house in search of answers.  Instead of discovering something enlightening about his origins, he finds assassins from the Paris branch of the Fraternity, and plenty of shooting and double crossing follows.  During the game, Wesley learns about his parents, the price they had to pay just for giving birth to him, and how fickle weapons of fate can really be.  There’s quite a bit of back story, which is established in levels where the player takes on the role of Cross, Wesley’s father. Cross moves and shoots exactly like Wesley, except that instead of the 9mm Wesley traditionally carries, Cross is packing two machine pistols capable of dealing out some serious damage.  I could tell you more about what happens, but there’s very little interesting going on with the writing.  Fabricated, unnecessary bosses get in Wesley’s way along with hordes of unnamed henchmen.  And by the end, he’s still the badass he was at the beginning. I know you’re not playing Wanted for the storyline, but it’s a shame that the plot is as cliched as it is.

Like the graphic novel, Wesley the character is arrogant, foul mouthed, and full of machismo. Grin, Wanted‘s developer, saw fit to include as many crude remarks from Wesley as they could throughout the game, and for the most part it’s relatively charming.  The attitude gets a little old after a while, and some of his more sexual comments come off as awkward seeing as they are addressed to a blocky, lame female boss.

Bending bullets is pretty fun and the controls are intuitive.  Once you build up enough adrenaline to pull off a special power (killing an enemy is enough), just pop out of cover and hold the right bumper. This pulls up a red arc that tracks from your gun to an enemy. With the left stick, you can manipulate the angle so that the bullet will actually hit the target instead of a wall or another object. When it turns white, you’re locked on. Release the right bumper and the bullet is off, hopefully taking out an enemy who foolishly still believes that bullets have to travel in a straight line. This mechanic works well, and if you are good enough to pull off a head shot, you are rewarded with a slow motion sequence of your bullet entering the enemy’s skull. Pretty cool. If you hit them with the bent bullet but don’t kill them, he stumbles out of cover, holding their back, where you can finish him off. Only thing is that the bad guy does the EXACT same animation every time you fail to get a head shot–the first of many examples of Wanted‘s shallow gameplay. What might have been an entertaining mechanic turns into a bit of a gimmick.

Before the game was released, Grin spoke volumes about how smoothly Wesley moves from cover to cover, and how the ‘fluid-cover’ system diverges from clunkier games like Gears of War.  Wesley does move well, but he only has about four different maneuvers. They sure are flashy ways of moving in and out of cover, but sliding on your knees and somersaulting over crates happens so often that after the first level I was bored.  There just isn’t enough variation.

Back in March, Grin released a demo of a level that took place in a jetliner.  In it, the player works his way through the cargo hold, up through the seating sections, and eventually to the cockpit. It’s a dynamic level, and when I played through it, I found myself furiously curving bullets around corners, beating up bad guys, and pushing service carts up the aisle as movable cover. It was a nice demo, and the level (which was the second in the game) was pretty satisfying to play through.  Too bad those movable service carts that added so much style to the jetliner are strewn throughout EVERY other level.  Worse, most of the levels were designed exactly like the airplane, with narrow, linear corridors that force a player to stop, hide behind cover, take out unintelligent enemies one by one, and tortuously move on. It didn’t matter whether we were in Chicago, Paris, or thousands of feet in the air.  Even the boss fights are entirely based on a single ability of Wesley’s, and felt more like a tutorial than something that was supposed to be challenging.

Yes, Wanted gives you the power to curve bullets, slow down time, and occasionally shoot 5 bullets in a curving trajectory so that they explode on impact. But because the player is constantly put in the same situations these tools lose their luster. There was also something about the 5 bullet exploding trick that put me off. It is fun to use, but I couldn’t help but wonder why it worked, or if there was something special about the bullets Cross was using. I know that the ability was an attempt by Grin to add spice to the game, but because of the lack of explanation (presumably we would have seen the movie and watched Wesley figure out how to bend bullets), it comes off as disparate.

Grin’s title tries to mix up the gameplay in a couple of awkward ways.  Twice it lets you man a turret, three times it lets you have a sniper rifle, and half a dozen times it sets up quicktime sequences where the player only has control of where Wesley is shooting.  The turret parts are tedious, repetitive, and really hard unless you tilt the turret skyward.  The sniping sections are boring as well, with one enemy at a time running into the room ducking behind cover, and shooting at you.  You couldn’t move, bend bullets or put down the rifle in favor of your sidearm. It’s another one of those disparate yawn moments.

Thankfully, the quicktime sequences work well, and offer an intensity of combat that the game is otherwise sorely lacking. In each instance, a pre-rendered cutscene shows Wesley run into a room, diving over a table, and then for a couple seconds, you are in control of where he shoots.  If you get the baddies and shoot their incoming bullets (ala Time Crisis), you see Wesley continue his rampage, and move to the next quicktime section where you get another couple seconds to wreak some carnage.  These moments offer an intensity that a Wanted game should have, and remind the player how good a game like this might have been.

However, Wanted is not a good videogame, and has taken a good amount of flak since its release. A lot of that criticism has been in regards to its short length (I beat it in 3.5 hours), but I don’t think that’s the real problem.  A short, intense game would be worth my time and effort, and I’d probably be willing to play it again if there was something that would change my second time around (The unlockable characters are nothing more than skins).  But Wanted offers repetitive levels, gimmicky powers, no multi-player, and little reason to finish.  In fact, I didn’t want the game to be any longer. I didn’t need another brownish looking corridor, and there was nothing enticing about another overtly pattern based boss fight. And while Wanted was capable of fun moments, it never really held my attention, or offered something so exciting that I needed to keep playing. Rent it if you like, but I’m sure you’ll find it as forgettable as most critics found the movie.

+  Quicktime sequences work well enough
+  Bullet curving is occasionally satisfying
+  Visuals are decent and consistent

– Repetitive gameplay with limited replayability
– Uninventive and boring level design
– Bad story infused with awkward moments