Developer: Artificial Mind & Movement (A2M)
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
# of Players: 1
Rating: M (Mature)
The best way to enjoy Bethesda’s new action game, WET is with tongue planted firmly in cheek, controller planted firmly in hand and butt planted firmly on couch. The game is a fun, funky mash-up of cinematic influences – Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, John Woo and more than a few others all get riffed on here and for the most part, it works perfectly. Despite the metric tonnage of “grindhouse” gimmickry, the game manages to click from the moment you press START and the fireworks begin. With its over-saturated color palette layered with an intentionally scratchy graphics filter, actual old movie intermission reel clips and outrageous, bloody arcade-style action throughout, the visual overkill outdoes itself over and again as the levels fly past.
In case you’re wondering, Rubi Malone is no Lara Croft clone at all (which is a good thing). Her hard drinkin’, acrobatic stylin’, take no prisoners attitude keeps the game pumping even through its lesser moments. Veteran developer A2M (Artificial Mind & Movement) has cooked up an always hopping, almost great M-rated game that refuses to take itself too seriously, the latter part being the game’s strongest point. The plot is fairly simple B-movie revenge fodder (which again, works just fine for what it is). The first level sets up the non-stop action with gun and swordplay galore, closing with a spectacular freeway chase that’s half quick time event, half bullet ballet as Rubi leaps from car to car while shooting and trying not to end up as roadkill. Remember the overlong highway action scene from Enter the Matrix? Well, what’s here proves that there are still plenty of things video games do far better than movies.
Hell, just about anyone not on her side standing in the way, driving a vehicle chasing her or otherwise engaging her with intent on harming a hair on her pretty little (and unstable) head is either going to be shot or hacked multiple times until they’re dead, often in very stylish ways. But this isn’t one of those games with judicious automatic targeting where you can run in one direction while instantly capping fools mindlessly without even looking in their general direction. Nope, In WET, if you’re not pulling off kills while pole sliding, wall running or using some bad dude’s chest as a springboard, you’re missing out on what the game wants you to accomplish.
Granted, you’ll be forced to learn how to do a great deal of those moves once the first stage is done. Before you can get back into the shooting and sliding, you’re kicked off to Rubi’s desert hideaway where a few mandatory weapons training missions need tackling. If you’re a less patient sort, these timed runs will be a big pain in the neck until you nail them. However, pain or not, they’re here for the sole reason of teaching you how to navigate and shoot through the rest of the game as acrobatically and as quickly as possible. Acrobatics, speed and precise shooting skills reward you with points that can be used to unlock additional skills for Rubi and upgrades for her weapons. So suck it up and get ’em right the first few times, pardner.
During its deadly dozen levels, the game doles out its wickedly paced action set pieces at breakneck pace, only occasionally stopping for a bit of platforming so Rubi can jump and wall-run to her next killing spree. Although this is a strictly on foot affair, Rubi will get her share of vehicular action, in quick time event form, even taking to (and falling from) the not so friendly skies in a truly jaw-dropping (and hilarious) action sequence. The violence here is super-stylized and despite the repetitive quips she spouts, you’ll find Ms. Malone quite likable if you prefer your game heroines as tough as nails and (a little psychotic). Hell, the fact that she gets health boosts from boozing it up at checkpoints makes her someone you’d want on your side in a real life bar fight. Er, provided you’ve left the bar before she started beating the crap out of everyone inside.
Levels are pretty straightforward, so getting lost isn’t an issue at all. Maps have a bunch of stuff to jump over, swing from, run up or across and slide down, and as mentioned above, you’re strongly encouraged to use everything you can in each area. There are also closed off sections where waves of enemies will continue to spawn until you destroy well-guarded wall symbols. In these killing zones, Rubi can score tons of style points by grabbing hold of and leaping off multiplier poles while shooting holes in anything holding a weapon. Some objects in these areas can be shot until they explode, causing collateral damage. However, a lot more destructible objects throughout the entire game would have been welcome, given all the detail and debris that begs to be broken in some way. You’ll find a lot of hidden monkeys in the game, sometimes near stuff that can be smashed, so I’m guessing the limited amount of breakables was to keep the game flowing and not turn it into a pure collect-fest where every crate ‘n barrel must be smashed.
On occasion, killing an enemy up close and personal causes Rubi to go into a rage mode of sorts where the screen turns red and everything is presented in stylized silhouette form for a decent chunk of time. This visual trick reminded me of good things such as Killer 7, Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked and a bit of Kill Bill Vol. 1, but it’s definitely overkill (ha, ha) by game’s end. By the tenth or so time you’ve seen the effect, some of you may say “OK, I get it, Rubi sees RED when she gets blood in her eye!” On the other hand, in real life you’ll probably think twice about pissing off that supermarket cashier or some cute gal at the mall who only wants to spritz a little perfume your way. Brush her off or be a total jerk and she just might be packing heat under that apron…
As mentioned above, the game also uses a number of quick time events that strip the action down to one-button press moments where timing is key. This is fine for some areas, but it also makes a few late game fights a bit too easy. Granted, the first few times some players mistake the flashing button on screen as “jam on this as fast as possible” instead of the proper “press once,” it’s easy to see how certain sections can become frustrating. I only got stuck twice jamming away when I should have pressed, but a friend who dropped by while I was reviewing the game tried and failed multiple times in one area because he was pounding on the buttons as if he were possessed by the ghost of Gene Krupa. Once I pried my near-busted PS3 pad out of his claws and explained the simplicity of the sequence, things got a lot quieter. I still need a new Dual Shock 3, after all that pounding, though…
Visually, the game is solid, if not spectacular. If you know anything at all about the game’s lengthy development cycle, you’ll realize that it’s been in production for quite some time, so unless you’re a shameless graphics whore, you won’t mind the “dated” look of A2M’s stylized realism. That grainy graphics filter can be turned off, which allows you to see a bit more of the excellent detail in the game world (along with some lesser texture work in spots). I really loved Rubi’s hideout with its half-junkyard, half thrift shop decor. The area looks like something pulled out of Fallout 3’s Wasteland and cleaned up just a little bit (as in no radioactively huge spiders or pissed off guard bots here!).
In terms of character models, Rubi gets the most love as do the game’s main characters while enemy goons are mostly dark-suited cannon fodder with interchangeable faces and weapons. Environments are gorgeous, but as mentioned above, more stuff should have been smash-able. Since the two games are quite similar in gameplay, I’ll hold up Stranglehold as a sort of benchmark for insane amounts of destructible objects in a game world (no, I haven’t played Uncharted 2 yet, so hold off on those angry e-mails). The game’s cut scenes are great, especially the ones where Rubi is beating up on a bunch of baddies as a way of introducing herself or making a hasty exit.
Sound production and effects are both great and the game’s voice cast does quite well with the game script. Eliza Dushku does a bang-up job as Rubi and Malcolm McDowell, Alan Cumming and W. Morgan Sheppard all turn in some excellent work. Where the game really knocks it out of the park is musically. Retro 70’s alt-whatever guitar-god screaming stuff hits your ears in all the right places and all the right times. Sure, getting actual 70’s tunes would have fit the “grindhouse’ aesthetics a bit more, but WET’s soundtrack is actually soundtrack worthy, in my opinion. If ever an actual film gets made out of this game, I’m hoping the filmmakers actually play the game and hear just what tunes they’ll need to shell out for.
My complaints about the game are few, but here goes. Something that bugs me in action games (not just this one) is unlocking stuff like combat moves and skills. My take on this is unless the supposed bad-ass you’re controlling has amnesia (Overused Game Device #1), learns new skills by being beat up (OGD # 12) or needs some sort of bio-chip implants to learn new skills (OGD #23) if you’re supposed to be controlling a bad-ass, you should be controlling a COMPLETE bad-ass. Give a character all of his or her moves from the beginning and let things such as weapons selection and player skill dictate how and what get used when. WET does do this to some extent, but you still need to “buy” certain things or you find out new moves Rubi should know as the game goes on. Of course, this type of level by level learning system will probably never go away as a game device. On the other hand, I can think of a few characters that have debuted with tons of acrobatic moves and stylish combos players could whip out right away against anything that moved.
As for that ending… well, I liked it. However, I can see folks who want a bit more controller wrangling really getting teed off at how things turn out. Having grown up in the 70’s and having been exposed to more “B” grade flicks with jaw-dropping endings that I can remember, what’s here made me laugh out loud at how it all turned out. It certainly works as a “boss battle” if you’re one of those folks whose eyeballs glaze over and fingers automatically go numb at the prospect of facing off for twenty minutes or against some unstoppable loudmouth with a million ways of killing you before you get to run away.
Anyway, go buy WET if you like what you’ve read – it’s a good old fashioned, balls-out, kill ’em all blast of a good time with no tacked-on multiplayer modes or downloadable content packs to shut out those that only crave single player action. You’ll get a good 8 or so hours out of the game on the easiest setting plus a couple of fun, tough bonuses once you complete the game. There really needs to be another Rubi Malone game (and yup, she should have all her moves at the beginning) as this character is way too cool to vanish from the scene after a single appearance. Sorry Lara, it’s been a long relationship, but you’re off my hot list – Rubi Malone may kill me at some point, but at least I’ll die smiling with a controller in my hand.