Combining a grindhouse film presentation style with Max Payne and Stranglehold-like slow-motion combat mechanics, Artificial Mind and Movement's WET certainly has a promising setup. You play as Rubi Malone, a raven-haired vixen clad in leather armor. Armed with dual pistols, she's as likely to fire bullets as she is to unload curse words and can flip, slide and swing around combat arenas. For the developer the game represents a spark of originality on a resume populated mostly with licensed products and ports, and its release was not always a sure thing. Amidst the shedding of intellectual property as the publishing giant Activision-Blizzard settled into its new skin, the title was let go, picked up earlier this year by Bethesda Softworks. It's a violent, crude, and often inane title -- which fits in neatly with its presentation style and tone -- but unfortunately its gameplay isn't as dynamic as it wants to be, falling flat and failing to sustain the experience.
As Rubi you're thrown into a world of murderers, double-crossers, drug runners, impossible action scenarios, and conspicuously dressed villains. There's a film grain effect skittering across the screen the entire time, which can be turned off, but while active reinforces the B-movie angle of the plot, dialogue, and characters. Rubi is wronged and angry, and the game in an appropriately inelegant manner smashes together pieces of story that move you through a series of combat arenas and quick-time event action sequences.
Rubi's combat abilities are upgradeable, but you'll find the basics will be your mainstays throughout the course of the game. At any time while moving around in third-person you can initiate a slide or jump move that if combined with gunfire results in extended slow-motion sequences. There's no limit to the amount of slow-motion effects you can use in the game, meaning there's nothing like Max Payne's bullet-time gauge. As long as you're hopping off walls or skidding on your knees across the floor, the fire triggers are being pulled, and there are enemies onscreen, you'll be in slow-motion mode. Rubi always has two weapons at the ready – either pistols, shotguns, submachine guns, or crossbows – and nothing ever needs reloading. Just fire until you're out of ammo, or in the pistols' case just keep firing forever. And if you're close enough, bust out the katana for a quick and brutal kill.
It's a system that can produce some gleefully violent and cinematic scenes of carnage as Rubi rebounds off enemies' chests while unloading streams of bullets directly into their faces, something made even more interesting by the fact that her aim isn't limited to one foe. She'll auto-target one as soon as slow-motion mode is initiated and then with her other weapon she can blast away at another enemy. This way, if you're quick and accurate, you can wipe out two or more thugs with one slide or dive which, at first, can provide a welcome rush of adrenaline. Keep shooting and chaining kills together and you build up a multiplier, accumulating points and enhancing your sense of reward for fluid play. So what's so bad about that?
Well, the system doesn't really hold up. Weapon damage and fire rates and new acrobatic moves can be unlocked as the single-player campaign is completed, but nothing ever significantly alters how combat works, just provides a few cool extra frills. While you do get the opportunity to more easily stay airborne and in slow-motion firing mode, after you've learned the basics of battle, there's little reason to stick around unless you're particularly drawn to the title's pulp sensibilities and want to see through the story.
The game just doesn't offer enough variety. As you move through linear levels you'll run into small groups of foes until you hit an arena. Here enemies surge from Gauntlet-esque spawning doors, and the goal is to disable their ability to reinforce while snagging multipliers scattered around and scoring kills in as stylish a fashion as possible. Some sword-wielding enemies require you use headshots to take down, and the enemies that bring miniguns to the fight take a hell of a lot of damage before keeling over, but the challenges wind up feeling repetitive and unrewarding as they're thrown at you time and time again.
Things get Kill Bill-crazy on occasion as Rubi shifts into a rage mode, denoted in-game by blood splattering across her face as she makes a short range kill. The graphics get Killer 7 stylish with swaths of black and red and white, but just because there's a different lens through which you're viewing the action and your multiplier builds dramatically faster, it's still the same action.
Since the roots of the game's presentation extend into the medium of film, it makes sense that A2M wanted to build in a few sequences that felt more like watching a movie than playing a game. A Matrix Reloaded-like car chase has Rubi bounding across the tops of vehicles as they smash into each other, all presented with slick camera movements that makes for a genuinely entertaining viewing experience. It's just not all that interesting to play. The same goes for a silly falling sequence as Rubi tumbles through the air as plane wreckage and armed foes drop around her, eventually leading to an annoying segment where wreckage must be dodged in order to snag a life-saving parachute.
A2M takes this cinematic system a little too far when it comes to the boss characters. It seems the combat system wasn't really set up for single encounters, so you enter into Indigo Prophecy-ish timed button press situations when clashing with these pillars of villainy instead of getting the opportunity to hop around and conquer them with your acrobatic skills. It's a tease, and deflates all the tension and reward built up throughout the course of the game. Like the car-jumping bits, it's still neat to watch, but it's tough to draw a sense of reward from the situation since you're naturally expecting a more interactive fight.
To put some space in between these types of encounters and the arenas are clumsy platforming setups reminiscent of Prince of Persia, but without any of the feel and flow. Instead you're just pulling off standard wall-running and pole-swinging acrobatics that have been done better in plenty of other titles. While it's occasionally cool to combine swinging and climbing with Rubi's gun and sword skills in a fight, they're usually more trouble than they're worth. Out of combat, the sequences are rarely enjoyable, and seem to have been built in more to eat up your time than entertain. A wide range of speed-run and shooting challenges are also offered outside of the story mode where, among other things, you dart and dive through rings and try to peg targets with guns to reduce your overall time, but here the imprecision of the jumping and platforming becomes more obvious. While the added content here is certainly appreciated, it feels too rough-edged and sloppy to really dig into.
One of the game's strongest elements is its presentation with its film grain effects, weirdly humorous interstitial advertisements, loading screens, soundtrack, and intentionally simple and crude character dialogue. If more than a minute has passed without an f-bomb being dropped it would be an unusual moment in the world of WET. Rubi's ruthlessness is also effectively conveyed, as she continues to curse while killing as the game goes on and employs a merciless approach to extracting information from those who threaten to jeopardize the success of her mission. None of the characters introduced in the game world manage to escape the clutches of the cliché, but that was probably the point, playing up the world's pitted B-movie aspects while retaining a certain generic flavoring.
While A2M gets the style right and provides plenty of dark and dirty battlegrounds to splatter with blood, the visuals and animations aren't particularly sharp. With the exception of the stylish rage modes, there isn't a lot to marvel at here – though again maybe that's the point given the low-budget, rough-edged themes. The soundtrack, featuring styles from punk to funk to rock, surges to life as the bullets fly, effectively locking in with the action and tone.
And maybe I've completely desensitized myself over the years by regularly absorbing ultraviolent media, but if WET really is trying to be the videogame equivalent of an exploitation movie, it's pretty tame. There's violence and blood – of that there's no question – but it's a game that doesn't come with a high degree of shock value…with the exception of the sword thrusts through the crotch. Ouch.
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