The film version of Wanted blended its hip graphic novel roots with a slick presentation and outlandish, bombastic special effects to become a box office hit, despite being less-than-true to the original comic book storyline. The frantic pace of both the film and comic’s action and their over-the-top characters seem a perfect fit for the video game medium, especially when it was announced that Pete Wanat, the movie-game wunderkind behind The Chronicles of Riddick, would be lending a production credit. Eye-candy effects like curving bullets and super-human acrobatics also seem destined for virtual glory, but can Wanted: Weapons of Fate stay true to its diverse source materials, or is this one assassination mission better left in the dossier?
Despite taking many visual cues from the movie of the same name released last year – including programming characters in the likeness of their actor counterparts – ‘Weapons of Fate’ takes an equal look at both the film and the comic that inspired it. At least, that’s what the back of the box says. You won’t find demons made entirely of excrement or inter-dimensional hero on villain action as you would in the Top Cow graphic novel, but Weapons of Fate does dip its toes into several plot arcs only available in page form. Acting as an immediate sequel to the film, the story begins around five hours after the movie’s climactic scene.
We continue following Wesley (the latest in a line of super-powered assassins) as he attempts to take out the various international chapters of the Fraternity – an organization that took Wesley under its wing only to betray him and his father – in his quest to avenge his father’s death and determine the fate of his mother, whose horrific murder frequently haunts his dreams. We get brief glimpses of his previous life of cubicle tedium and personal inadequacy before being plucked to greatness by the Fraternity, but the plot quickly takes focus on newer events in the timeline.
The plot of the game revolves both Wesley’s present-day quest and flashbacks of the assassination work of his father, Cross, both father and son being playable during their respective levels. Both men are eventually pushed to seek the death of the Immortal, the supposed leader of the Fraternity and a high powered assassin with ties to Wesley’s mother’s death. The story is full of the sardonic wit and frenetic style seen in previous iterations of the universe, with self-referential quips and winks to the audience played out almost too frequently. Weapons of Fate has a strong personality, Wesley’s cynical riffs manage to survive the voice actor’s bland delivery and decently entertain.
That’s not to say everyone will like this self-aware, strong personality. Voice acting ranges from tolerable to the absolute pits of terrible, many of the game’s narrative set-pieces lost to their flow-breaking deliveries. While both film and comic book Wesley shares video game Wesley’s sardonic attitude and abrasive man-to-man interactions, the game’s inexcusably short length and haphazard presentation fail to drum up any redeeming qualities for the character, leaving the player stuck with consistent inner-monologues from a one-note personality. Anyone not desperate enough for lukewarm retreads of comic book attitude won’t find enough here to merit anything more than a discounted rental.
Weapons of Fate is far from noteworthy once things slow down enough to take things in, but luckily the game moves steadily enough during action sequences that the mudded textures and shoddy facial animation are missed. The game’s sleek costume work and frenetic camera work during cutscenes also do well to hide the game’s flaws, locations and in-battle animations drawing enough attention once the player regains control.
Despite relying heavily on the film’s realization of the comic’s look, the only returning actor is Thomas Kretschmann, reprising Cross, none of the other actors from the film lending their voices (unsurprising for most, inexcusable for James McAvoy, whose Wesley is performed by a subpar voice actor proxy.) Settings and characters touched on in the film are drafted seemingly pixel by pixel from the theatrical release, with areas unexplored on the silver screen taking an equal cue from the comics and their actual counterparts in real life. The iconic assassin’s suit returns to be playable in several scenes, for the half-baked fan service that that is worth.
‘Wanted’ comes equipped with most of the usual trappings of the shooter, although it seeks to manipulate almost every aspect of the genre to take advantage of the unique look and feel of the source material. The cover system, for instance, allows for quick shuttling from cover-object to cover-object when pressing a button prompted on screen. Wesley and Cross can shuttle in multiple directions depending on the layout of the level, and the change is made quick and sharply in-game when prompted. Players can also use cover as a sort of stealth routine: maneuvering quickly around cover to flank an enemy in the middle of the level and cap him from behind. If attached to a cover-object with an enemy on the other side, players can also prompt a quick kill, with their character reaching over or around the cover-object from a brutal stabbing.
It all mixes well and when it works, it gives the game a constant adrenaline rush that really gives the impression of super-powered badassery. It’s a simple mechanic that most players will get under their belt halfway through the tutorial, and it would be the game’s saving grace if it didn’t seek to destroy its own flow at every turn. Run-and-gun shootouts are laid out in short bursts across each level between the player and waves of Fraternity grunts, and are sporadically interrupted with a turret section or other gameplay shift. In expert executions, this would add variety and depth to the gameplay. In Weapons of Fate, it serves as the game’s own worst enemy.
Like Max Payne before it, Wanted gets some of its kicks from reaction (bullet) time segments of time-slowing. Players can fill up a bullet-gauge at the top-right corner of the screen with kills, and when full activate it to slow down time to allow for various high-class, epic maneuvers. This effect can be tied for more efficiency with cover-object shuttling, allowing for the player to start and end at a point of relative safety in between killing enemies. Certain moments in the story, like Wesley bursting into a Fraternity wing in a surprise attack, are also tied to brief, but enjoyable, gameplay sections of on-rail shooting. The game will slow down enemies and move the player on a pre-determined path, essentially lining up enemies for the stylish slaughter.
The bullet curving effect essential to the Fate universe also makes an appearance, again activated by filling the bullet-gauge. When prompted, the player controls a curved line locked onto a specific target, which they can manipulate with the analog stick in order to find the appropriate angle. When red, the bullet fired will automatically miss, however, if manipulated to a white shade, the bullet fired will automatically score a hit, and more often than not, a kill. Occasionally the screen will follow the bullet for a cinematic kill, which results in no bullet-gauge depletion. This and the other bullet-gauge maneuvers have a double-edged sword effect on the game, furthering it’s badass feeling of power but so readily available and easily over-used that it depletes most of the game’s challenge. Those that want to keep the game interesting could just avoid using said devices, but the lack of balance with these mechanics is a real detriment to the game’s credibility beyond the realm of a cheap licensed title.
Enough cannot be said for the game’s anemic length, sadly, as skilled players will fly through the title in 3-4 hours, the disc offering not enough replay value to the single-player, and featuring no multiplayer to speak of. Unless you are enough of a fan to want every extra costume, there is not much here to go beyond an afternoon of effort.
It seems that Wanted: Weapons of Fate is intent on keeping itself from being too cool of a release. For every new twist on the shooter formula it introduces, it curves a bullet into it’s foot by unevenly breaking the gameplay flow with turret sections or giving the player far too much power against an army of middling AI. While it’s faults quickly pile up and never stop the game from achieving its dreams of slightly-above-mediocrity, what brief and splendid pleasure can be had with the game’s smooth cover mechanics and over-powered super-moves merits a quick rental, especially if you have access to the one-day variety. It’s definitely not a compliment when we say that this could be the one game released this generation that’s more fun to watch someone play, than it is to pick up the controller yourself.
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Genre: Third Person-Shooter
Publisher:Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment
Rating:M for Mature
Release Date:March 17, 2009
Platforms:Microsoft Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Microsoft Windows (Steam)