Wanted: A Wild Western Adventure boasts a certain quirky, ingratiating charm. It's a good thing, too, since the game suffers from some major problems--juvenile writing, a lame ending, a clunky camera and interface, some ill-conceived puzzles and action sequences, and major bugs, among other things. Still, fans of old-school adventures who can put up with a lot of problems should find the game reasonably entertaining.
Don't worry if you feel a striking sense of déjà vu when playing Wanted. The story is one you've heard a million times before. A rich, evil rancher named Starek has the local town under his thumb. He's paid off the sheriff and bought up most of the local farmsteads, and only a couple of farmers still oppose him. In rides our hero, Fenimore Fillmore, a bumbling, well-meaning cowboy who helps the poor, freedom-loving farmers hold on to their land. Of course, Starek also has a feisty, red-headed niece who's looking for her Prince Charming. Naturally, that would be Fenimore.
Not only is the story one giant cliché, but the characters are also one-dimensional and the dialogue is simple. Most of the time this E-rated game literally seems geared toward 8- to 10-year-olds. You can see that juvenile quality in many of the game's stabs at humor. Much of it consists of predictable pratfalls or a guard at Starek's mansion being mentally slow on the draw.
Fortunately, there's some humor for adults, too, though it's very much hit-and-miss. You'll see visual references to Hamlet and anachronisms like Fenimore swiping a credit card when he makes a purchase at the general store. Every time Fenimore leaves the Sheriff's office, he says, "I really need to go." The Sheriff keeps misinterpreting him and responds with lines like, "I'd get your prostate looked at if I were you." Hinting at Arnold "The Governator" Schwarzenegger, an eccentric inventor lets our hero in on a secret: "Some say that the governor of California is a robot, one that looks like a man." The Sheriff also gets in a thinly veiled and jarringly gratuitous dig at President Bush's invasion of Iraq, wondering aloud how a president could invade a country without evidence to support his actions.
Even if the writing has a lot of flaws, it's refreshing to play a game that tries to focus on plot and character. There's plenty of gameplay to go with the story, too, though it also has a lot of problems. Wanted calls to mind the classic Sierra graphic adventures of the '80s, like the King's Quest series. You wander across cheery, sunny, cartoony landscapes in search of dozens of inventory items that you use to solve straightforward story-based puzzles. There are no Myst-style mind-benders here. For instance, you need to impersonate a drunken doctor to visit Starek's niece, but first you need to clean and dry out a messy coat that will form part of your disguise. So, you'll need to find someone to wash the coat and then gather fuel for a fire, figure out how and where to chop the wood up, and find a way to get the fire started. Later you need to rescue an innocent farmer from jail, which is no easy task when the Sheriff sits right next to the cell, lazing about and eating a burger. Maybe an urgent telegram would get him off his duff and out the door, and maybe the ornery bull out behind the jail could be of use in getting past those thick prison walls.
The puzzles tend to be fairly easy, and they're mostly logical and tie into the gameworld smoothly. Unfortunately, one of the central puzzles of the game is an extended series of "Spicy Sarsaparilla drinking duels" with Starek's henchmen. These enormously tedious rhyming contests make little sense at first and actually require you to lose a number of times to eventually win. An added problem is that you have to pay to play, and there's only so much money to be found in the game. (Our "hero" casually steals cash from people's closets and desks.)
Wanted adds some spice with a few action sequences. There's a fun little shooting gallery event that should appeal to shooter fans by virtue of its familiarity--then again, it will probably seem much too easy to them. You'll more often encounter frustrating or boring sequences, like one in which you have to catch a fish with your bare hands. Worse, there's a woefully implemented and anticlimactic final battle at a farmer's home. This bloodless shootout is erratic to control, horribly paced, and far from dramatic. Imagine a shooter designed by someone who's never played one. Then dumb it down and sanitize it, and you'll get the idea.
In addition to the mostly lame action sequences, Wanted suffers from a clunky camera and an ill-conceived interface. The game tries for a cinematic feel, choosing basic camera angles for you as you move about the screen. You do have limited control over the camera, yet certain default views can obscure as much as they reveal and can even make Fenimore disappear from view entirely behind shrubs or other scenery.
The interface is arguably more of a problem. You use the right mouse button to switch the cursor to perform different actions when you click on something with the left mouse button. For example, you can choose icons for talking to or looking at a bartender before you click on him. The big problem is that the default action is to look at something, which you can usually do just as easily by moving Fenimore near an object. Almost all the time, what you actually want to do is manipulate objects (open a door, pump a well handle, and so on), not get an unnecessary close-up view. This means you'll have to press the right mouse button countless times during the game to get the cursor to do what you really want.
An equally big hassle in the game is the fact that you have to plant carrots, water them, and then wait for them to sprout. You need these to "fuel" your horse as you ride between the game's major locations. There's no obvious or justifiable point to this tedious busywork, other than perhaps to artificially extend the game's length. Yet Wanted is already reasonably long, at 15 hours or so.
Wanted matches these sorts of quaint Mr. Rogers farming activities with cutesy, cartoony 3D graphics. The game makes a few visual references to Sergio Leone's classic spaghetti Westerns by using some extreme close-ups of gunfighters' eyes and their six-shooters, but for the most part the game looks like something from Nickelodeon. Trees are big, bright blobs of green, town streets are always sunny and cheery, and characters sport plastic-looking hair. Wanted features some whimsical animations to fit the overall style, with Fenimore bobbing wildly as he tries to get a railroad handcar moving, for example. Some catchy Old West-style tunes add to the ambience, though real harmonicas and Mexican trumpets and strings would have made a much better impression than the obviously synthesized sounds. Stock sound effects--Counter-Strike fans will recognize a door sound--and weak voice-overs do the game no favors.
Wanted is an odd game: In many ways it's geared toward kids, yet it can require the patience or intellect of an adult. It's hurt by many sloppy or ill-conceived gameplay mechanics, some major bugs (save often near the end), and a lame finale, with the two main characters almost randomly babbling on about an irrelevant issue. On the bright side, Wanted sports a lighthearted presentation that offers a welcome change from all the dark, gritty games out there. It also features puzzles that should appeal to both nostalgic old-school adventure fans and genre neophytes. Wanted is subtitled "A Wild Western Adventure," and while it's hardly wild, it does have its share of fun moments.