Slip-Slidin' Away

We paint the town red in a little hands-on time with WET.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: August 30, 2009
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From the very first few frames of the game, it was obvious A2M has got something of fondness for grindhouse-style visuals. Copious effects are slathered across the screen, giving everything a battered, beaten Hi-8-filmed feel. Static and film noise are everywhere (if you die, the "film" of the game's video actually catches and is burned away under the head of a projector) and the game revels in its 70s-style over-the-top cheese. At one point early on, the game actually takes a break to play back what looks like a concession stand tease ripped right from an old action film, and it really does add to the feeling that you're playing through a movie ripped right from the glory days of high-powered guns, hot chicks with plenty of attitude and a swooping, quick-paced set of camera moves that gives the game a decidedly speedy flow. In fact, about the only time the game actually pauses is to the throw up an important character's name for a few seconds before returning to breakneck cuts and zooms.

It works, honestly, setting the tone for a game that's peppered with the female lead's decidedly un-ladylike propensity for throwing out almost as many expletives as she does bullets. Long-time Joss Whedon collaborator Eliza Dushku provides Rubi's pipes and it was obvious she had fun doing it -- at least from the limited time we spent guiding her around a level to cap asses and slash midsections. Oh, right, Rubi can use a sword, too, for up-close fights.

At first, we played the game like a normal third-person shooter, which was, frankly, rather dumb. See, Rubi's entire move sets revolve around her ability to dive through the air in slo-mo, run along walls (yes, in slo-mo) and slide on the ground (wait for it... in slo-mo). The game's temporal elasticisity is key to lining up shots, because Rubi with automatically lock onto one enemy with one gun, but you're free to fire with the other, allowing you to attack two targets at once. This is important, because the more enemies you can kill stylishly and in quick succession, the higher the score multiplier. In areas where there's no booze around to refill health (accomplished with visual aplomb as Rubi grabs the bottle, takes a huge swig, throws it up in to the air, draws her pistol and blasts it out of the sky in a sequence that takes all of about three and a half seconds), keeping the combo multiplier high will actually help her regenerate.

It also fuels the game's upgrade system, which unlocks more moves, health and firepower. For instance, when Rubi first starts out, she can only use her sword in classic melee strikes. Pour some Action Points into her sword skills, though, and she'll be able to take out enemies while sliding on her knees or running along walls, both of which net her more points and a better chance at a higher multiplier than her normal swings. Artificial Mind and Movement has clearly designed the levels around acrobatics, both aerial (Rubi can hop over the edge of particular ledges, which are highlighted by holding down the L1 button, and then leap to other areas) and on the ground (she can slide quite a ways on her knees, including under objects, then spin to grab a ledge instead of falling). In nearly every slo-mo-inducing move, she's got 360 degree freedom to fire, and the game actually rewards full 360 degree spins as combo bonuses, During her slides, she actually completely lays back to target enemies behind her, which is a slick little touch.

After learning how best to gun down enemies with style, we slowly came to grips with how to chain together attacks, mixing things up and working over the combo mechanic to rake in more Action Points. Interestingly, the game's levels are typically divided into exploration/traversal/combat bits and boxed-in arenas where we had to destroy switches. Now, one could certainly tear through the area, hitting all the switches and stopping the constant flow of enemies that poured into the arena, but it actually makes a little sense to farm the area a little, racking up points -- usually because after a big arena battle, a mid-level store opens up, allowing Rubi to become more powerful when taking on enemies in the next few parts of the level; remember, upgrading some skills makes it easier to rack up more points, so the time spent in one area can mean bigger, faster payoffs down the line.
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