Throwing in the Towel

WET is so damn close to being a truly great action game, but it trips over itself just when things start to look brilliant.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: October 7, 2009
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Oh WET, I want to love you, I really do. The first few hours through things, you were a refreshing -- if slightly clunky -- take on an action game. Your lead, Rubi Malone, is a genuinely tough chick -- something that may not even be obvious upon the first few hours of play. Your presentation... oh man, your presentation is suck a loving tribute to Grindhouse offerings that it's almost reason enough to pick up a copy.

And yet... somewhere along the storied trip for your developer, Artificial Mind and Movement, the race to just get the game done upon finding a publisher in Bethesda Softworks after being unceremoniously kicked to the curb by Sierra during the Activision buyout meant that things weren't quite as polished as they needed to be. No, you're not a terrible game, but you do terrible things to the player, causing them to plummet to their death unfairly or saddle them with difficulty spikes that can be controller-throwingly frustrating.

WET honestly is a decent game; there's more reason here to play through it than there is to give it a pass -- not the least of which is the presentation, which does things like throwing awesome little movie theatre promos in between chapters or cutting to the "film" of the game catching and then melting under projector light. Both are welcome callbacks to the era when movies with the same kind of gore and tough chick leads were shown in back-to-back engagements in dingy third- and fourth-run theatres, and more than any other game on HD consoles right now, it really does embrace the idea of an all-encompassing delivery to help sell what is otherwise a fairly basic kind of game.

The decision to add film grain, lo-fi audio, skips and jumps where missing frames of film stock should be is a brilliant one. Eliza Dushku clearly had fun reprising her tough girl role when voicing Rubi, and she got to do so while dropping as many "fucks" and "shits" as she damn well pleased. Comparisons to games like May Payne and Stranglehold are warranted, but neither of those games let you go sliding across the floor in slo-mo as your in-game dealer of death does a full layback and pops two guy behind her in the face at the same time.

WET's core mechanics are solid, it's just the little things that tend to get in the way. The simple idea of chaining kills while doing things like swinging around a bar or leaping in the air or sliding on knees is a great one -- even better that properly linking those kills and fetching the occasional multiplier scattered about the playground-like levels can turn the points earned from kills into money that can be used to upgrade stuff like health, damage and firing rates of weapons.

The first time I realized I could run up the side of a truck to take out two guys behind me then drop into a slide under another truck then leap into a dive that took out two more before slashing a final two guys with a sword swipe was, frankly, thrilling. When I'd powered Rubi up enough to get her to slash a guy's face while running along a wall, jump off that wall into a slo-mo dive to pop another guy, right into a slide to take out two more behind her, I felt enormously empowered. Then things started to fall apart. Hazards in the environments made such seamless transitions spotty. Slo-mo jumping all over the place left me without the awareness to see obstructions like walls or boxes that stemmed the flow of bullet-powered carnage. And when Rubi got blood on her face... ugh.

These Rage Mode moments were meant to be a flurry of nothing but death, sword swipes and spent bullets. Rubi flips out when she gets blood on her face (which always happens with the same enemy rushing her, the blood appearing the same way and the same alarm buzzer sounding, none of which can be skipped), and the whole world turns into a stylized swatch of red with enemies appearing as black outlines and disappearing as they're killed into wisps of smoke.

The whole look of the segments is actually pretty cool, but they're met with a handful of annoyances. For starters, enemies constantly spawn, and will do so until you can close them off similarly to the normal little arena battles that happen frequently, but with far greater throngs of baddies. Secondly, there's no real health pickups here; Rubi recharges her health according to her multiplier, which can reach multiple dozens very, very easily. The problem is, if she's low on health and multiplier totals, a shotgun blast to the back ends everything and sets you back at the start of the whole enemy rush/shoot/blood spatter/grrr/alarm sequence. I died more on these Rage Mode moments than any other part of the game -- most more than I'd died in the whole previous segments connecting the Rage Modes combined. I came to dread when some enemy would rush Rubi in a scripted sequence more than any platforming section with constant falling deaths.
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