Wanted Dead's 2022 has retro-tech and a cyberpunk anime aesthetic

By Lee Brady,

Wanted Dead's developers 110 Industries looked to anime like Ghost in the Shell and sci-fi of the 1980s and the 1990s to help pin down an aesthetic that sets its version of 2022 apart from other cyberpunk games.

As if Wanted Dead inheriting the legacy of Ninja Gaiden wasn't enough, the developers at 110 Industries decided to set its hack-and-slash action in the cyberpunk aesthetic and genre of fiction. The decision to do so happened just a few years before that exact aesthetic and genre would be dominated in gaming by 2020's Cyberpunk 2077. That said, Wanted Dead clearly stands apart from CD Projekt Red's expensive foray into the genre, and speaking to the game's creative director Sergei Kolobashkin at Gamescom 2022, we learned Wanted Dead's influence pulls deeper from a "cassettepunk" aesthetic and a deep love for anime from the 80s and 90s.

Wanted Dead CassettepunkWanted Dead even has anime sections in the game.

Wanted Dead and re-imagining a cassettepunk 2022

Kolobashkin and the team at 110 Industries started working on the core concept of Wanted Dead back in 2018 — a time, Kolobashkin is quick to add, before the cyberpunk genre was all that big a term in the modern video gamer's lexicon. He says: "In 2018, there were barely any cyberpunk games out there. I was like, “wouldn't it be cool?” Because whenever we are working on games at 110 Industries, it always starts with the one question — is this thing missing on my shelf? So okay, this is not a game we have played in quite some time."

That very summer of 2018, Cyberpunk 2077 would make its big E3 trailer debut after years of light conceptual videos and teases, catching mainstream attention like few games ever had before. In the same year that 110 Industries found itself searching for a shelf to fill, suddenly the cyberpunk shelf the team had landed on looked a lot less empty. We presumed the arrival of Cyberpunk 2077 in the public consciousness would have knocked the team off-course, but when we talked about it with Kolobashkin, that did not seem to be the case.

"Oh, man, we had a lot of fun making the concept for the game because we looked at what was happening in the genre. And we were like, how do we make sure [Wanted Dead is] different? How do we make sure it's not like a bunch of other games that came out in the same genre? And what happened is that we looked back at the sci-fi from the late 80s, and early 90s, and basically looked at the cassettepunk and how they saw the future in movies back then, in comic books, anime; whatever."

The various branches of futuristic aesthetics tend to get a little confusing (and confused), but consider Cassettepunk closer to the retro-futurism on display in Alien (think Alien Isolation if it helps) than the more Blade Runner and Neuromancer inspired future of Cyberpunk 2077. There are still plenty of wires, CRT monitors, and analogue electronics around, though the most consistent difference is that the world is usually grounded by the absence of a networked world or even any sort of internet connectivity at all.

Wanted Dead CassettepunkMost like Alien, Wanted Dead has a big beautiful cat in it.

"Then we were like, okay, now let's ground it in reality, and then let's ground it in reality some more — and this is where we landed the look for Wanted Dead," Kolobashkin continued. "Although — the game takes place in the year 2022, and funny enough, the technology that they have in the world of Wanted Dead is way behind our current tech. So VHS is still a format. The internet is either basic or non-existent. No smartphones and stuff like that.

"At the same time, the police cars, the characters are driving are Masseratis from the 90s went — when these came out, design-wise they looked futuristic for 1992. And that was the idea. This is why we made these design choices: to make sure that it's retro-futuristic, but not in an Orwellian way."

Wanted Dead CassettepunkWanted Dead is cyberpunk enough to keep the neon, which is good.

Cassettepunk is such a specific aesthetic that we couldn't help but pry into what precise influences Kolobashkin considered when plotting Wanted Dead's look: "I'm a huge fan of Japanese cyberpunk from, say, the mid-80s — Dominion Tank Police, Ghost in the Shell, Patlabor, just to name a few. I was like, okay, let's look at their sensibility and let's see what we can borrow, but at the same time make sure that it doesn't feel like a copycat so that nobody can really say that 'oh, Wanted Dead is a Ghost in the Shell wannabe.'

"No, it's not. Did we borrow certain aspects? Absolutely. Because I mean, you cannot find a creator today in the genre that was not influenced by Ghost in the Shell, Robocop, or whatever. So yeah, obviously, we're looking at the reference material. But it's like with all homework — you write it with your own hand."

Wanted Dead CassettepunkThat's definitely a different hand.

Frankly, the idea that anyone today would turn their nose up at a "Ghost in the Shell wannabe" seems like madness to us. We're overjoyed to see more games daring to try a wider range of aesthetic influences, and if the game continues to build on the impression we had of it in our Wanted Dead preview, we'll be well served by the title come its February 2023 release date. For more impressions on upcoming sci-fi games, check out our hands-on preview of the upcoming System Shock remake.
Lee Brady
Written by Lee Brady
Lee is a Staff Writer specialising in all things PlayStation. He loves talking about classic PS1 and PS2 games on PS Plus, picking apart the game design of new PlayStation Studios releases, and trying to explain his love for Sonic, Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts. He can also speak Japanese — albiet poorly.