Follow TV Tropes


Wanted Meter

Go To

"Who are these guys?"

Waving a gun around and shooting people is a pretty good way to attract the attention of law enforcement, but sometimes instead of just having more and more Mooks show up to try and make an arrest, the criminal at large will find him or herself the target of different, more powerful kinds of police until ultimately they are taken out by a tactical nuclear strike. The Wanted Meter, codified by the Grand Theft Auto series of video games' star system, represents the level of law enforcement response to a character's given action. Typically used as a Restraining Bolt in open world video games to prevent the character from just running amok without consequence, it can also show up as a plot device in media where increasingly effective security forces arrive to deal with a problem the local cops can't.

This trope is generally Truth in Television with local police calling in a SWAT Team, who might then elevate to the State Police, then Federal police, National Guard and finally the national Armed Forces; however, with the rise of terrorism and mass shootings, many of these steps are now skipped and highly militarized local police are the first to arrive. In a related effect, after a certain point, the security forces will generally stop trying to take the character alive. In video games, that point is usually reached almost immediately.

In games, this may be tied into a Karma Meter to determine the level of law enforcement response. Can be a result of Police Are Useless, at least at the lower levels. Distinct from the concept of wanted posters, which offers increasing levels of reward. On the law enforcement side, this can result in Jurisdiction Friction. 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 Fought The Law And Lost.

Sub-Trope of Status Line (a display element showing the current disposition of the player, e.g. score, health, ammo, etc).


Anime & Manga

  • In Sword Art Online, players have a colored indicator above their avatars that determines their moral standing. Green is the default color, indicating a player in good standing. Orange indicates a player that has violated the law, typically by attacking or killing other players outside of sanctioned duels, and is prohibited from entering towns by NPC guards. Players with orange indicators can return to good standing by either waiting a set period of time or by completing a specific quest, the difficulty of which depends on the severity and number of their crimes. For player-killing, however, the indicator will be permanently orange. Such players are referred to as "Red Players", even though the indicator doesn't have a red color.

Comic Strips

  • In a Knights of the Dinner Table strip in Dragon, the group are playing outlaws in a Wild West game, and Dave and Bob get annoyed that the wanted posters are offering more for Brian than them. B.A. explains how this is calculated, resulting in them peforming more henious acts in order to boost the Wanted Meter. Eventually they reach the point where the reward being offered is more than the loot from all the bank robberies they've comitted ... at which point Brian and Sara turn them in.

Films -- Live-Action

  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are having a peachy time robbing trains in The Wild West until the railroads employs a team of special detectives to hunt them down. They manage to escape to South America, where they think they can reset their Karma Meter, but they find that the wanted level transferred and soon run afoul of the Bolivian Army.
  • Jason Bourne triggers this effect in The Bourne Supremacy when in Moscow foot cops give way to cops in patrol cars who eventually call in FSB support in shiny black Mercedes. If that wasn't enough there is also a Super-Soldier stalking him.

Video Games

  • Grand Theft Auto is the Ur-Example, along with the games that followed it. At one star, you had only the cop who saw you commit a crime chasing you, while two, three, and four stars saw reinforcements called in, advanced tactics such as roadblocks deployed, and (at higher levels) police given orders to shoot on sight. You can reduce your wanted level by either respraying your car or picking up a bribe token. Each game after the original saw added twists to this formula.
    • Grand Theft Auto 2 had SWAT teams called in at a four-star wanted level, and added two additional levels after that. At level five, the police would be replaced by the FBI, while at level six, they send in the Army to stop you. At the other end, if you manage to escape from the police at a one-star wanted level, eventually it will disappear and things will go back to normal. The 3D-era games mostly kept this in, with only a handful of added features (changing your clothes will reduce your wanted level from Vice City onward, the police will start using helicopters at three stars) thrown in.
    • 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. Also, the Army response at six stars is eliminated; instead, NOOSE (an analogue of the Department of Homeland Security) joins the police response at three stars, the FIB (the fictional FBI) enters at four stars and replaces the SWAT teams, and the firepower brought to the fore is ratcheted up at five and six stars, including the use of attack helicopters.
    • Grand Theft Auto V took out the sixth star, instead having the police go for the Godzilla Threshold response at a five-star wanted level. The evasion and detection system was changed to simply staying out of the cops' line of sight when they start searching for you and the chase would resume if they found you.
  • Red Dead Redemption (also made by Rockstar Games) 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 committing 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. The radius from GTA IV returns, but the Hammerspace Police Force trope that normally accompanies wanted level systems is averted entirely; there is a finite amount of police officers, so you can choose to either run away or simply kill them all. The advantage of running away is it doesn't increase your bounty like killing a few dozen cops does. The overall effect is a more dynamic and realistic system than in the GTA games.
    The Rageaholic: There's fifteen-fucking-thousand ways to break these bullshit laws, up to and including not breaking them, and precisely one method of unfucking yourself. You guessed it; parting your alabaster ass cheeks for a bounty butt-fucking that distilled to its essence, amounts to a government-mandated murder tax. Flambéd a barn-load of doe-eyed juveniles for simply existing? Wiped out Wyoming from orbit? Fuck it! Fork over your bitcoin and bebop on into the sunset.
  • Bully (also made by Rockstar) 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.
  • In Smashy Road, the sirens at the top of your screen show this trope. At one siren, only police cars are after you. At six, they bring out the tanks.
  • Cyberpunk 2077 has a wanted system that differs between various patches:
    • In the original/legacy version of the game (up to patch 1.63) wanted meter of up to four stars that fills as you attack civilians and NCPD officers. At one star, you have to contend with one cop and a combat drone. At two stars, more officers will descend on you. Three stars, cyborg cops. Four stars, elite MaxTac enforcers. Thankfully, it's easy to evade the cops if need be, and you can lose your heat very quickly just by running and staying out of sight.
    • In patch 2.0, the wanted meter goes up to five stars now, which fills up the same way as in the legacy version. However, the NCPD officers in patch 2.0 actively patrol the streets of Night City and will give chase if V commits a crime, regardless if V's on foot or in a vehicle. At higher wanted levels, the cops will employ different tactics and police units, with MaxTac enforcers being called in at five stars. Due to the overhauled police system, it's more difficult to evade the cops and lose the heat in the 2.0 version.
  • 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.
  • 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 tier 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 than 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.
  • [PROTOTYPE 2], the second game in Hulk's spiritual successor series, functionally has three levels - using certain powers will raise suspicion, causing soldiers to follow you until it empties; filling it up will cause them to start trying to kill you; and staying in combat for long enough will draw in a helicopter strike team. the first game technically has this too, although the suspicion meter is pretty much all-or-nothing and strike teams are called in randomly (and can be stopped by attacking the guy trying to call it in) instead of after a fixed amount of time.
  • 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.
  • True Crime: Streets of LA had its own version of a wanted meter; when Nick Kang commits enough crimes, there is a chance of more violent and difficult-to-apprehend criminals spawning. If the meter gets high enough, the police will go after Nick, up to and including a SWAT team being summoned.
  • Some games in the Assassin's Creed series have variations on a Wanted meter.
    • Assassin's 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. This returned for Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, Assassin's Creed: Revelations, and Assassin's Creed III.
    • Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag ditched the wanted meter while on land—enemies simply stopped chasing you if you hid for a while—but added one at sea. Sink too many ships in a short amount of time, and bounty hunter ships will come after you. This stayed in the two games that used the same framework, Assassin's Creed: Freedom Cry and Assassin's Creed Rogue.
    • Assassin's Creed III: Liberation brought back the standard wanted meter from II, but with a twist: Aveline had to reduce her notoriety in different ways, depending on the persona she was in. The Lady has to assassinate witnesses, the Slave has to tear down wanted posters, and the Assassin has to bribe people. What's more, the Assassin persona has a minimum wanted level that can never be removed—guards are always going to be suspicious of the woman walking around with eight weapons strapped to her back, after all.
  • 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.
  • 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 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. In any case, your Notoriety meter can be instantly reset by paying a visit to Forgive & Forget, a drive-thru confessional that will clean your slate for a nominal fee.
    • 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. This is justified, since all three gangs had formed an alliance against The Saints in this game, all of them using the star of the Syndicate instead of their own gang symbols. Meanwhile, the cops are now represented by a shield icon. In either case, walking into one of your cribs will instantly reset your Notoriety.
    • 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. The Notoriety meter can also be instantly reset by chasing down and destroying a golden drone. 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.
    • Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell uses the same system as the fourth game, but in place of Wardens, maxing out the meter will summon a demon named an Archduke. Using any of the weapons based on the Seven Deadly Sins will cause the meter to rapidly increase.
  • The Driver series has a Felony meter. The higher it gets, the more and sooner cops will chase you.
  • No Man's Sky has a wanted meter for its Sentinels, murderous robots that serve as the galaxy's Space Police that will attack players if they catch them interfering with a planet's ecology (including attacking fauna or harvesting materials needed to survive) as well as attacking other ships and frigates unprovoked and firing on space stations. They will also attack players on sight on some planets. Players that destroy Sentinels will have reinforcements sent after them in increasing numbers and lethality, up to and including space carriers launching fighters.
  • Persona 5 has a Security Level when infiltrating palaces. Being caught by Shadows patrolling the palaces causes the Security Level to increase, as does running from battles; while successfully defeating Shadows without being caught by them before initiating combat lowers it. If the Security Level reaches 100%, you will be forced out of the Palace for the day (this doesn't apply to the final dungeon). As the Security Level increases, Treasure Demons (and Disaster Shadows in Royal) start appearing more often, providing incentive for players to carefully manage security in a way that allows them to accrue more experience and money.
  • Sleeping Dogs (2012) 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.
  • Bomb Rush Cyberfunk has a "HEAT" meter that fills as you plaster more graffiti around the city. In ascending order from one star to five stars (six in the postgame), the police response includes officers chasing you on foot, automated turrets, armored officers, sharpshooters, attack choppers, and finally, mechs. The easiest way to lose the fuzz is to duck into a port-o-potty and swap clothes.
  • 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 a 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.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • Later games in the series introduce a variant on wanted meters in the form of bounties. Committing a crime within a hold will earn the player a bounty, with the amount of their bounty earned depending on the crime (trespassing earns a bounty of only a few coins, while murder earns a thousand coin bounty per body). There are a few ways in which to deal with a bounty: pay it off yourself, surrender yourself to the authorities and serve a jail sentence, or resist arrest. Sometimes, if a bounty is high enough, guards will attack on sight and use lethal force.
    • In Skyrim, bounties are separated by holds: being wanted for a crime in Whiterun will have no bearing on your status in Riften, for instance (although, if your bounty is high enough, the hold may employ bounty hunters to apprehend or kill you, regardless of your current location). In addition, there are a few additional means to deal with bounties, such as flaunting your status as a hold's thane (but only if your bounty doesn't exceed a certain amount) and using a Pacify spell to stave off guards non-lethally so you can escape. If you take a side in the realm's civil war and conquer a hold for your side, all of your bounty in the hold will be nullified.
    • In Daggerfall, like in Skyrim, criminal status is separated by regions: being seen as pond scum in Daggerfall has no bearing on your status in Wayrest. Unlike other games in the series, surrendering to the authorities does not immediately throw you in jail — instead, you face the court, with the choice to plead guilty (and get thrown in prison) or plead not guilty (which opens up the ability to use Streetwise to try to lie yourself out of trouble, Etiquette to debate yourself out of trouble, and bribing the judge for faction-relevant crimes for members of the Thieves Guild/Dark Brotherhood, but if you fail at any of those your sentence will be quite a bit longer than if you plead guilty).
  • Fallen London has the Suspicion menace, normally increased by failing in Shadowy pursuits. When it hits 8, you're back in the prison that you started the game in.
  • In World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, there's the Eye of the Jailer. Committing actions within the Maw would incur the Jailer's wrath, causing him to send increasingly powerful forces and afflictions to impede your progress, with your level resetting daily. Part of the intro to the Korthia subzone involves forcing the eye to retreat to Torghast, allowing your current character to operate in the Maw unimpeded.
  • In LEGO DC Super-Villains, committing crimes in Gotham and Metropolis will fill a three-stage meter and result in their respective police forces coming after you.

Real Life

  • Local cops needing to take things to the next level was the entire genesis behind the SWAT concept in cities around the world. Through The '60s, local police forces would often be equipped with revolvers and shotguns and little tactical training. As mass shootings, hostage situations, and terrorism became more prevalent, the police would be completely outgunned and the situations would get out of control.
  • The "Motorized Gangsters" of the 1930s were able to quickly cross state and local jurisdictional boundaries, hampering efforts to apprehend them. This lead directly to the evolution of the FBI as a kickass national police force that wouldn't be stopped by lines on a map.