Inside Pulse 12

Review: WET (Microsoft Xbox 360)

WET
Genre: Action/Third-Person Shooter
Developer: Artificial Mind and Movement
Publisher: Bethesda
Release Date: 09/15/09


So, I have to admit up-front, I wasn’t expecting much from WET.

When the game was first announced, I was less than impressed. “A female assassin in a game called WET? THAT’S not obviously a double entendre.” You know what I’m talking about. The game stuck me as so much mediocrity trading on a cute name and a less than impressive concept, but I figured I’d review it anyway, if only because I loves me some terrible games. Further announcements did nothing to really sway my opinion. The main character is voiced by Eliza Dushku! Because we all enjoyed watching her in Buffy the Vampire Slayer for her acting. The game is a stylish shooter! Because I haven’t seen like ten games that have done that in the last five years. The story is presented with a grindhouse aesthetic! And we can sure thank Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarrantino for resurrecting that, as, while I am a fan of the style without question, I can safely say that our own Aaron Sirois’ observation that, “Too many games are assuming the Grindhouse motif makes your story good these days,” was an accurate one. That all said, the demo piqued my interest a bit, if only because the gameplay seemed solid enough and the actual way everything was implemented was surprisingly solid, enough so that I was actually interested in playing the game, even if my fears that the game would suck weren’t assuaged.

Turns out, WET is, while by no means a contender for Game of the Year, a solid piece of work that’s worth playing. I’m as surprised as you are.

So you take control of Rubi Malone, a mercenary for hire who is listed as a “fixer”, which essentially means she cleans up other people’s messes. In the beginning of the game, we see her retrieve a very important package for a client, Trevor Ackers, for his father, William. The retrieval of said package involves killing a lot of people, for no adequately explained reason, but Rubi accomplishes this without much trouble. Flash forward a year, and now William Ackers is seeking Rubi’s assistance, as apparently Trevor has fallen in with some less than savory sorts (SHOCKING!), and William wants Rubi to pull Trevor out. Needless to say, this is not even close to how everything actually goes down, and Rubi ends up with a whole ton of problems she has to fix, and it’s your job to help her fix them. On its own, the story is pretty cut and dry, and you pretty much know how it’s going to go down from beginning to end, but it’s surprisingly fairly engaging in action. Rubi isn’t a sex symbol, she’s Death incarnate, and the storyline makes her into a believable hero without crossing the line and making her into an object, so points for that off the bat. The villains are appropriately menacing, the big twist a little over halfway through is pulled off well enough even if it’s obvious, and the concept is generally done well enough that it keeps you interested throughout. The whole Grindhouse aesthetic is pulled off by the story. Characters are given big lead-ins only to completely disappear from the script, the game cuts from sections where Rubi is fine to sections where Rubi is in trouble without telling you what happened, and you get the impression that the developers have seen plenty of crappy seventies drive-in films by how much of the feel of those films they captured in the way the story is presented and executed. On the other hand, in a Grindhouse film Rubi would have been naked seventeen times before the sixth chapter, but given the choice, the game is better for that having been omitted.

Another area where WET gets the Grindhouse motif down pat is in the visual and aural presentation. Visually, the game isn’t especially outstanding in any way. The character models look good, as do the environments, and the animations and effects, particularly the fire effects, look nice, but the game isn’t as technically impressive as something like Batman: Arkham Asylum or Resident Evil 5, detail-wise. However, the “grainy crappy camera filter” effect the game uses combined with the various film effects (the film breaks when you die, the film reel runs out when you complete a stage, and so on) and the goofy advertisements that pop up between segments give the game a distinct sense of visual personality that’s really lacking from a lot of games and really makes the game its own thing. The “homicidal maniac” vision that pops up when Rubi goes into a blood rage is also pretty cool looking and works well, so thumbs up for that. Aurally, the voice acting is mostly quite good, thanks in large part to, surprisingly enough, Eliza Dushku, who plays Rubi with a surprising amount of vigor, bringing the appropriate amount of, for lack of a better way of describing it, asshole to the part. Malcom McDowell also does a great job in his role, playing the character given to him with an unsurprising amount of versatility. Alan Cumming plays a smarmy psychopath quite well, so, y’know, between this and Nightcrawler, dude’s pretty versatile. The music is mostly a mix of fast paced rock and punk tunes, which fit the Grindhouse theme surprisingly well, and the sound effects are generally spot-on perfect.

The basic gameplay of WET works pretty simply, and anyone who’s played a third person shooter should probably be able to figure it out simply enough. Rubi moves with the left stick and looks around with the right stick. The right trigger shoots whatever weapon she has equipped at the time, and you can change weapons with the D-pad. A jumps, X uses Rubi’s sword, Y interacts with the environment when needed, B allows Rubi to slide when running, and the left trigger allows Rubi to run along walls and see things through “Rubi Vision” to allow her to see places she can climb on. The default controls are easy to pick up, but what the game does with them is what makes it interesting and enjoyable. It bears noting here that WET, while it really feels like its own game, is also quite reminiscent of three other games, and while it does make improvements to those games, it would be unfair to not mention those games when discussing WET. So here we go.

First off, WET borrows a good bit from Max Payne with how it handles its gunplay. Much like Max Payne, WET gives Rubi the ability to dive around shooting at enemies, and much like Max did, Rubi can employ Bullet Time to make these sections easier. Basically, as you dive, slide, run along walls and so on, when Rubi begins firing, the game slows down as you do this, allowing you to pop off shots and aim more easily in the process. WET changes and improves on the basic groundwork laid by Max Payne in a few ways, the most notable of which is the ability to use Bullet Time pretty much whenever you want. Max was limited to how often he could use the mechanic, with the idea being that you’d only want to employ it in situations where it was vital to your survival. WET says to hell with this, instead allowing you to use Bullet Time whenever your little heart desires, under the caveat that you can only do so while employing various acrobatic maneuvers, IE diving, sliding, running on walls, sliding down ladders and so on. As you will learn, however, these are the best possible times for Bullet Time to kick in anyway, as these are really the only times where Rubi will brandish both of her weapons at the same time. While stationary, Rubi only uses one gun at one time, but while performing various stylish acrobatics, she will use both guns simultaneously, except in certain circumstances (running along walls, sliding down zip lines, and so on) where she needs to use one hand for something else. As a further improvement to the Max Payne concept, Rubi will automatically lock onto the most centralized enemy with her left hand, leaving you free to aim at other enemies or environmental hazards with her right hand, instead of simply targeting whatever you’re aiming at. Since Rubi can target almost anything around her at any given point in time, it’s entirely possible to lock on to one enemy and take out three others with careful shots while the off hand fires at the targeted foe, which is generally useful and well done.

WET also borrows a bit from Gungrave with its stylish combat mechanics that reward you for chaining kills together and generally encourage you to wipe out everything you see as fast as possible. Basically, Rubi will run into an area filled with either a set amount of goons or a Challenge Map where the goons will spawn endlessly until you close the doors they exit from. At that point Rubi essentially becomes a super-human death-dealer, to the point where you expect the phrase “Kick their ass!” to pop up at the beginning of these segments. Rubi can alternate between using her guns and sword in various fashions, which you can improve as the game progresses, and she’s rewarded for how many enemies she does in with bonuses that improve her life regeneration and increase the amount of experience she earns. Now, the MECHANICS will feel more familiar to fans of Devil May Cry, between the locations that lock when Rubi enters them, the ability to upgrade Rubi’s abilities and weapons, and the multiple different guns you can acquire, but the gameplay has more in common with Gungrave, as Rubi is simply a death-dealing machine that rips apart anything she sees. While strategy will be employed in picking your stylish maneuvers, you won’t spend much time countering attacks or planning out combos. Instead, you’ll spend time pumping bullets into enemies as fast as possible to keep your kill count going, and the game focuses more on style and flair than combos and counters, and fans of Beyond the Grave will feel more at home here than fans of Dante and company.

Finally, WET borrows a few elements from Tomb Raider, as it breaks up the action a good bit with various platforming sequences. As noted before, Rubi can employ “Rubi Vision”, which highlights anything she can grab onto with a red line, helpfully indicating where she can and should go next. Rubi can perform various acrobatic acts with the best of them, and will spend a decent amount of time jumping from poles, climbing up walls, hanging from ledges, and navigating the environment, either while shooting at enemies or otherwise. These sections are mainly meant to break up the progression from one combat section to the next, but they are fairly interesting in their own right, as you find plenty of “fall off and die” segments, as well as sections where you’ll be shooting at enemies as you run and dive, something Tomb Raider never really made a part of its focus, which keeps the focus on the action while playing these sections, which works well enough.

WET does plenty of interesting things to make the game its own experience beyond the infusion of Grindhouse style and melding of other gameplay elements into a new game, however. The game breaks up the stylish shooting segments further with some more basic shooting segments, where Rubi will either mount a chaingun and blow away everything she sees or will dive from car to car on the freeway, both of which amount to “shooting everything you see”, though the latter also involves some Active Time Events when jumping from car to car. Several stages also see Rubi get a face full of blood, which turns her full-on psycho, and paints the screen red and black. These sections are more of the same standard action segments, but instead of simply charging up a style meter, Rubi is asked to keep constantly killing everyone, and the game tracks said kill count. The gameplay elements aren’t changed significantly in these sections, as the only notable difference is that Rubi can now shoot two-handed while walking, but they’re stylistically interesting, if nothing else. You’ll also have to complete a few challenge missions as Rubi unlocks weapons, such as shotguns, machine guns, and explosive-firing crossbows, which are more about practicing with those weapons than anything else, but this gets the job done well enough and, again, breaks up the game a bit, keeping it from feeling like the exact same thing forever. Oh, and there’s also a stage where Rubi falls out of an exploding airplane and has to dodge debris and shoot bad guys, which is interesting, if nothing else.

The game will probably take you around six to eight hours to blow through, but it comes with multiple difficulties to fool around with, depending on how torturous you want your shooting games to be. There are also some novelty modes that are unlocked upon completing the main game, like Golden Gun, which lets you kill enemies in one hit but take heavy damage at the same time, Points Count, which tracks earned points in a level and tasks you to earn certain amounts, and the Boneyard Challenges, which has you play through the Rubi Challenges independent of the main game. There are also monkeys to find through the different levels, which unlock concept art and such, and unless you’re an expert shooter, its unlikely you’ll upgrade Rubi completely the first time through, meaning you can go back through and play with different upgrades. Also, as is standard, there are plenty of Achievements to earn, and it’s most likely you won’t see all of them in one or two playthroughs, if such a thing interests you.

Now, most people, when they’ve spent some time with WET, will probably think the game to be a bit limited; despite the multiple different mechanics at play in the game, it’s ultimately a six to eight hour game devoted largely to diving around shooting at people. To be honest, however, the game probably would have been better served by being MORE limited in some respects than it is while expanding on fine-tuning some of the other existing mechanics. See, the whole Tomb Raider aspect of WET, while interesting in theory, doesn’t work as well as it should or as well as the other mechanics in the game. The camera angles the game offers in these segments don’t always work as intended and can make the jumps harder than they should be, and the collision detection in these sections can be spotty, making long-shot jumps go off without a hitch while obvious guaranteed jumps miss and send you back to a checkpoint to repeat the process again. If the platforming sections were small and didn’t often result in instant death, that would be one thing, but there are numerous sections that ask you to do these things, and as you progress in the game you’ll find that there are a few of these sections, which are, it must be said, less entertaining than the shooting play. It’s not even that they’re bad so much as it is that they’re mediocre, and they make the experience less than it could be as a result.

But, fine, let’s assume you can deal with the odd frustration of the platforming elements. The game is still quite enjoyable in spite of these, but it still stumbles in other areas. Rubi’s guns are all generally useful, but the limited ammunition of anything that isn’t her pistols combined with the fact that you can essentially upgrade her pistols to a level where they can ruin everything makes using anything else unnecessary. Increasing the ammo count or removing the ammo caps entirely might have made the guns useful, but aside from testing them for review purposes, I frankly found no need to use guns with limited ammo in a game where firing repeatedly at everything you see is mandatory, and completed the vast majority of the game without them. The game feels a little too short, and while there’s some replay value to be had, it’s marginal. Concept art is fine, as are multiple difficulty levels, but something where Rubi could simply play through a survival mode or something would have been far better than the Boneyard Challenges, which were, frankly, a waste of code that incorporates all of the WORST elements of the game into a mode most players will want nothing to do with. Frankly, the game simply never seems to be certain of what it SHOULD be doing and consistently does weird or off-putting things that really make the experience feel flat at times. Why were there something like three boss battles in the whole game? Why was the entire final battle, as it was, a gigantic Active Time Event instead of an actual BOSS BATTLE? Why weren’t there some more absurd battle sequences, like leaping across speedboats or fighting from the back of a motorcycle or something, instead of fifteen minute long platforming sequences where nothing interesting happens? Again, these are small complaints, but they add up in a hurry.

The bottom line is that WET is a good, but not great, game, mostly because it does plenty of things right enough to be worth playing, but plenty of things wrong enough to not be worth playing again. The story is interesting enough to carry things along, the presentation is stylish and generally good, and the gunplay is mostly tight and feels solid all around. The game breaks up the experience enough to keep it fresh and does enough different things while emulating other games that it feels right, more often than not, and this makes the experience a fun time by and large. However, the platforming elements become annoying as you progress further into the game, the guns besides Rubi’s pistols don’t feel terribly useful, there’s no reason to come back to the game after the first go-round, and the game does some odd things that make it less than stellar. Is WET worth playing? Absolutely. It’s a blast to play through once, the gameplay is more good than bad, and it’s stylish as hell. Is WET worth owning? Probably not as a full-priced game, simply because it’s limited and flawed, but as a rental it’s great, and if you find it on the cheap, it’s worth picking up in that case.

The Scores:
Story: GOOD
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: CLASSIC
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: POOR
Balance: GOOD
Originality: GOOD
Addictiveness: GOOD
Appeal: ABOVE AVERAGE
Miscellaneous: GOOD

FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
WET is a game that succeeds more than it fails, thanks to some slick style and awesome action, but it doesn’t manage to be as successful as it could have been, thanks to some awkward moments and bad decisions. The story is engaging, the visuals are stylistically (if not technically) interesting, the audio is solid all around, and the Grindhouse aesthetic helps elevate the presentation from good to great simply because it’s implemented incredibly well. When the gameplay works, it’s fantastic, as Rubi is a killing machine and it’s fun to wipe out everyone you see in a stylish display of carnage, and the game borrows enough great elements from games like Max Payne, Devil May Cry and Gungrave while also completely doing its own thing. However, the game employs plenty of Tomb Raider mechanics that miss the mark due to some collision issues and spotty design, there’s little reason to play the game more than once, the imaginative elements of the design are occasionally drowned out by the retreads, and some of the design decisions are confusing and not well executed. Overall, WET is a worthwhile rental or reduced price acquisition, but as a full priced offering it’s simply not meaty or functional enough to justify unless you like third person shooters a lot. What it does, it mostly does quite well, but it simply doesn’t do everything well enough and doesn’t make a compelling argument to return to the game after completing it.