Wanted Meter

A staple of the Wide Open Sandbox genre. Related in some ways to the Karma Meter, a Wanted Meter represents how much of the local authority's - legal, criminal or otherwise - ire you've drawn. Typically, the higher it goes the more serious the response is.

If the law just keeps coming no matter how many officers you kill and the only way to get them to cool down is to run, you have I Fought the Law and the Law Won.


  • Red Dead Redemption is a unique example, in that it inverts the idea of law enforcement forgetting about you if you hide behind a wall for a minute. When you are caught doing a crime, your "bounty", expressed as a monetary value, goes up and stays with you until you pay it off. Even if you shoot or escape all your immediate pursuers, as long as your bounty is above $0, you will have to deal with occasional encounters with posses of bounty hunters, groups of police, and even squads of US Marshals if your bounty gets high enough.
  • Grand Theft Auto is the Ur-Example, along with the games that followed it. One star had a single cop chasing you; six stars was the Army. Laying low could cool it down, as could dodging into a Pay 'n' Spray and having the car's colors and license plates changed.
    • Grand Theft Auto IV changed up the system a bit. The progressive levels of law enforcement stayed, but rather than being omni-present, they created a radius on the map. If you were within that radius, you had to get out. Every time you were spotted, the radius centered on you. Once you managed to escape it, you had to stay out of sight until it shrunk into nothing. Each level of law enforcement brings a larger radius.
    • Red Dead Redemption shakes it up even more. The radius from GTA IV returns, but there is a finite amount of police officers so you can choose to either run away or kill them all. The advantage of running away is it doesn't increase your bounty like killing a few dozen cops does. The individual wanted levels are replaced by an ongoing bounty. Different crimes have different costs associated with them and the more crimes you do the higher the bounty gets. The higher the bounty is the harder the law (and bounty hunters) will come after you. Simply escaping or killing all of the cops doesn't erase your bounty. You have to either pay it off yourself, turn yourself in, or do a job for the law. The overall effect is a more dynamic and realistic system than in either GTA.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines had two Wanted Meters. One represented the Masquerade, the secrecy of the vampire world. Violating The Masquerade caused vampire hunters equipped with stakes and torches to come after you. If you lost all your masquerade points, you were executed by the sheriff. The other was a typical Wanted Meter that represented the police.
  • Bully had this. In addition to the usual crimes, hitting anything not a teenage boy (girls, little kids, adults, prefects) would instantly max out the meter and prompt some of the law enforcement to spawn Behind the Black. If the meter was more than 2/3 full, officials who caught you would skip the usual Smashing Survival and instantly bust you; a good incentive to confine your violence to fellow delinquents... unless you wanted 100% Completion, which required you to serve a certain number of detentions to earn an outfit.
  • Destroy All Humans! had four stages to its meter. The last stage drew the MIB, Majestic — which was especially dangerous because their presence wrecked your Holobob, making you a sitting duck.
  • Postal 2 had a wanted meter, but the degree of Wantedness didn't have any secondary effect other than how long it took for the meter to "cool down" and things to go back to normal. Authority figures do get tougher later in the game (SWAT teams and soldiers instead of cops), but that's only due to plot progression.
  • Mafia had a 3-stage wanted meter. For traffic violations, the cops would try to ticket you. For major crimes (fleeing from the police, general mayhem) the cops would try to arrest you. For assault/murder (killing civilians, killing cops, firing a gun) the cops would try to shoot you to death. It also worked so that only the cop seeing you commit the crime would follow you, if either a beat cop or in a car. If you commited a crime in a car and exited it (or the opposite) without the cop seeing you, the police would get confused and you could escape. For major crimes like resisting arrest or firing on cops, they would often try to get to a gamewell that made the whole force go after you (otherwise it was just nearby policemen), which would die down as you laid low.
    • The sequel, Mafia II, added a fourth stage, represented by a machine gun with four stars. At this level, road blocks are set up, and multiple police officers armed with high-end machine guns swarm you in droves. Fortunately it's easy to turtle up with a long-range rifle, and you get an achievement for surviving this level for ten minutes.
  • Judge Dredd: Dredd vs. Death had a Law Meter, which went up as you enforced the law (arresting perps) and went down as you broke it (killing civilians and unarmed perps). When the Law Meter hit zero, you failed the game; it became impossible to finish the level, and SJS Judges would constantly spawn in and attack you until you died.
  • Scarface: The World is Yours has a similar wanted meter; there is a cop detection meter which at the halfway point alerted a cop over, and firing a gun will force you to shimmy out of the area before it fills up and Tony's career as a criminal comes to an end. Raising the cop meter too high makes it impossible to launder any cash from the banks. But what you should be careful of is the Gang heat meter, which is gained from killing gangsters (doesn't attract much heat and killing areas filled with gang members) and drug dealers (heavily discouraged). Getting that too high will have gang members attacking you and cutting to your profits. Most of the time you will be dealing with the gang heat meter rather then the Cop Heat meter, as it costs more to stop the gang members than the fuzz.
  • The Godfather does something very similar to Scarface, with separate heat meters for the police and for gangs. The cop meter doesn't come into play much and isn't much of a nuisance unless you rob a bank. The gang meter, on the other hand, is split up in 4 meters specific to each non-Corleone crime family and takes a very long time to cool down. Kill too many gangsters of one particular family in too short a time frame and it starts a gang war with that family, which leads to enemy hit squads spawning all over the place and Corleone businesses being bombed, costing you money. Ending the war and resetting the meter for that gang requires bombing one of their businesses or bribing an FBI agent.
  • The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction features a four-level threat meter. If the meter got full, a strike team would be called in, which eventually came to mean that you would be assaulted by a pair of 30-foot mechs along with some smaller, hulk-sized mechs. If the strike team was defeated, the meter went back to 0.
    • Near the end of the game, "0" means that you're only being chased by Hulk-sized robots and missile-firing helicopters.
  • GUN had a meter that filled as you killed civilians; fill it all the way and the posse appears, triggering a "Showdown". As with the Hulk example, defeating the unfair odds resets the meter completely.
  • Assassins Creed II features a Notoriety System, which increases when you commit public acts like pickpocketing or public assassinations. When the meter is full, guards will more or less attack on sight. It can be lowered by tearing down Wanted posters, bribing Heralds, or killing Officials who offer false testimony to Ezio's crimes.
  • Need for Speed: Most Wanted (both 2005 and 2012) and Carbon have a pursuit heat meter, which goes from 1 (municipal squad cars) to 5 (tactical Corvettes plus (in Most Wanted 2005) Sgt. Cross himself!) or 6 in Most Wanted 2005's final pursuit after defeating Razor (undercover Corvettes and SUVs) and in Most Wanted 2012 (road blocks with armored SWAT trucks). Notably, the heat level didn't apply to the player character, only the car, and could be lowered either by changing the car's looks with a respray or new body kit or simply by using a different car if you owned one.
    • Rivals treated this differently on the Racer side, there's a separate cool down for escaping a chase and instead your heat continues to increase from 1 to 10 and works in conjunction with the multiplier on how many speedpoints are earned meaning that the higher the heat, the more currency you earn through various methods but it also means increased force from the AI Police and being busted means losing all speed points you've earned since leaving a hideout. Not only does having a higher heat mean that it's harder to escape a chase but it can attract the attention of Cop players as busting a Racer rewards more SP the higher their heat level is. Low level cars begin with heat level 1 when leaving a hideout while the high end cars begin with heat level 4 but a level 1 multiplier.
  • Sort-of example from Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, where your game completion status is recorded via a list of Guybrush Threepwood's misdemeanors on an in-game Wanted poster. The authorities don't really treat Guybrush any differently based on his list of crimes, but plastering a photo to the poster will result in another character getting mistaken for him and arrested.
  • The Simpsons: Hit & Run has this when you keep hitting people or obstacles which raises the hit & run meter until the police arrive busting you (charging 50 coins) if you get caught.
  • Although it's not shown at all, Spelunky keeps track of whether the shopkeepers camp at level exits to kill you with a counter that decreases with each level completed and raises by a level or two with each crime. There's also a completely independent flag set if you've ever killed a shopkeeper, which makes all shopkeepers hostile for the rest of the game, even if the other stat falls back to zero.
  • The Hitman series features a suspicion meter, which goes up the more the player's behavior is out of character for his current disguise. At higher levels, even slightly unusual acts will attract attention, and when the meter is at maximum, guards will automatically shoot at the player on sight.
  • Just Cause has a "Heat" meter, which increases if you kill people or blow things up. More and better-equipped cops will chase you at higher Heat levels; at some level or other they will start calling in attack helicopters and battleships. But even at the highest level, hiding for a minute or so will make all the overarmed cops go back to ignoring you.
  • Space Pirates and Zombies has the Bounty Threat Level, which indicates how much the Bounty Hunter faction hates you. Get it maxed out and you'll frequently be assaulted by bounty hunter ships. Oddly, they tend to attack only in small groups, so they're not all that hard to defeat. Also, the hunters will not attack if you're more than one warp away from the nearest hunter base. Interestingly enough, this is not in force in their strongholds. If you enter their stronghold, no matter how large a bounty you have on your head, they will still be friendly with you and allow you to bribe them. This stands in contrast with Civilian and UTA outposts that attack on sight, though they too allow you to dock if you manage to get past their defense.
  • Saints Row
    • The first two Saints Row games had the same system. The Notoriety Meter was split into 2 semi-circles around the mini-map. The bottom half filled up as the player committed crimes, and represented the police. The top half filled up as you attacked enemy gang members, and represented the enemy gangs. The enemy gang meter tended to fill up faster. If you pissed off one of the gangs, then went after another, the meter would show who was angriest at the time. A level of Notoriety was represented by a symbol of the force who was after you, which was a star for the cops, while gangs had their logos.
    • Saints Row: The Third was similar, but with two notable differences. The minor change was the lack of a meter leading up to the next Notoriety level. The major difference was the enemy gangs sharing the top half of the meter, so moving from one gang area to another would simply cause a different gang to attack with the same gusto as the original offended gang, since all three gangs had formed an alliance against The Saints, this being empathized by not having individual gang symbols, with all of them using the star of the Syndicate, the cops now using a shield icon.
    • Saints Row IV removed the gang Notoriety meter, as enemy gangs were no longer part of the game. Instead, a six-segmented circle surrounded the mini-map, which filled up as the player kept committing crimes. At lower levels, the police attacked, with aliens teleporting in as the meter increases. At higher levels, Murderbots will appear. By the 6th level, a monster named a Warden attacks, clearing out the entire street. If the Warden is beaten, the meter instantly empties. Late into the game, clones of enemy gangs from the previous games appear, and until they're stopped at the source, the meter's lowest point is Notoriety Level 1.
  • The Driver series has a Felony meter. The higher it gets, the more and sooner cops will chase you.
  • Sleeping Dogs has a fairly standard Wanted system, ranging from one heat, when one or two beat cops try to grab and cuff you (Wei can reverse this and cuff THEM instead), all the way to five heat, where SDU officers with assault rifles and full body armor appear out of nowhere to gun you down with extreme prejudice. Of course, you can escape to any of your safehouses to erase all heat, or just outrun and get away from them until it dies off over time.
  • Red Faction Guerrilla has a green/yellow/orange/red alert system. In principle, you should be at green any time you're minding your own business, but the EDF guards are touchy and will very quickly decide you're a threat. At yellow or higher, you're a target for all EDF troops, and reinforcements will arrive periodically; the higher the alert, the more powerful the response. (Red? Tanks.) You can "outrun" any alert level, but red takes so long to wear off that you're better off heading for a safehouse, where the alert level is always green.
  • In line with the Wide Open Sandbox influences, Satellite Reign has this. There are four levels, with an automatic first level for trespassing in restricted area. Unusually, in an aversion of the usual Disproportionate Retribution common to most sandbox games, trespassing just gets your Agents escorted out of the area at gunpoint so long as you don't fight back.