Life is cheap, and so are bullets
- Unique visual style, pick-up-and-play run-and-gun craziness, awesome vehicle chase sequences, amusing "rage mode" breaks
- Not much challenge, dull enemy-free climbing sequences, dearth of weapon variety, outrageously poor final confrontation.
Guns, grindhouse violence, car-hopping and Eliza Dushku. Outside of a few gameplay quirks, it's pretty hard to go wrong.
Price$ 99.95 (AUD)
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Video games have long borrowed liberally from Hollywood, but they typically look no further than glossy big budget film productions for inspiration. WET goes in another direction, drawing its strength from the grit and grime of a 1970's martial arts drive-in flick. The results are sometimes rocky, but WET's idiosyncratic style and intense action makes it unlike anything else you'll play this year.
Death from Above
As the lights go down, our curvy protagonist keeps watch over a meeting of what pass for criminal minds in San Francisco's Chinatown. Rubi Malone's one of the underworld's great Fixers: violent all-purpose problem-solvers who don't catch the vapours when the blood starts to spray. When the deal inevitably goes sideways, Rubi dives from her perch, and injects herself into a convoluted tale involving a syndicate leader's wayward son, warring drug smuggling syndicates, and a pasty white goth chick with the ominous name "Tarantula."
Despite the vocal talents of Eliza Dushku, Malcolm McDowell, and Alan Cumming, I never found a reason to care about the narrative's blur of absurd villainy, but I immediately loved WET's self-consciously affected lo-fi style. Simulated grain and projector scratches spot and streak the screen, the image itself jumps a little as if the "film" can barely stay on its sprocketed track as you take damage, and even the music strays from the beaten path with an array of obscure but energetic psychobilly bands. It's a coarse grindhouse aesthetic that owes more to Quentin Tarantino than Roger Corman, and makes for a welcome change from the usual generic spit and polish.
This distinctive visual processing could've seemed like a hollow attention-grabbing gimmick, but Rubi's antics suit the modified medium. The gun-crazed gameplay owes much to Max Payne and Stranglehold, but WET's been cut down like a chopped hog in favour of adrenaline-fuelled arcade pacing. Rubi fires her gun with all the speed of a Civil War musketeer until you send her hurtling through the air, running up a wall, or sliding along a flat surface; then she unloads in an unrestricted slow-mo fury, twisting in the air and chaining her acrobatics as you aim around the scene. Little in the environment is breakable, which limits the sense of spectacle, but somebody went to some trouble setting up ramps and bars. If a mob war took place on a jungle gym, this is what it'd look like.
Rubi unlocks and applies simple strength and capacity upgrades to dual shotguns, submachine guns, and a crossbow that shoots explosive bolts, and occasionally heads back to her desert home to run a handful of tedious practice courses, but you'll spend most of the game holding down the right trigger, lining up headshots, and lashing out with your sword when somebody gets too close. Heck, WET even aims your left weapon for you, so you can take out thugs in pairs, and only late in the game will you encounter any enemies wise enough to wear armour or helmets.
It really is as easy as it sounds. Rubi never has to stop firing, so the only time I found myself in danger was when I faced brutes with helicopter guns, or plodded through some wretchedly dull Tomb Raider-style platforming interludes where advancement hinged on trial and error and patience for punishing checkpoint placement. Luckily, a revolving door of distractions interrupts the repetitive bullet ballet often enough to keep it from going completely stale. Block spawn doors in some cool free-form open arenas, go berserk in bare but striking red-and-black "Rage Mode" kill-a-thon levels, and rain hot death with the occasional elevated Gatling gun.
Strangely, WET's best and worst moments alike appear when your control of the action is stripped down to the bare minimum. Highway chase sequences reduce movement to timed button-pushing, but they also create insane high-speed shooting galleries of tumbling vehicles and heart-stopping near-misses that deliver what are easily the most exciting moments of the game. On the other hand, that the final boss battle relies entirely on quick time events is an inexcusable misstep, and makes WET's conclusion one of the least satisfying in recent memory.
This stark contrast in results illustrates that WET's greatest weakness isn't its placement of style above substance, but the very simplicity that makes it so immediately approachable. It makes little difference whether you're sailing through the air in London or grinding the pavement in Hong Kong when your abilities never change or develop in a meaningful way, or meet memorable new opponents, and so the whole sordid travelogue tends to blur together.
I enjoyed the eight or so hours I spent in Rubi's frenzied world of bullet time and bloody somersaults, but I don't feel any particular urge to play again. WET's sassy style and minimalistic gameplay give it a tasty enough flavour that you won't find anywhere else, but like movie theater popcorn, you can only consume so much of it before you're hungry for something with a bit more substance.
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