The Artificial Mind and Movement team are clearly fans of Quentin Tarantino. The crazy explosions, the over-the-top expositions, the vibrant bombastic characters, and the crazy Grindhouse experience that he brings to so many of his movies. To that end, they’ve created Wet. Originally brokered by the folks at Activision Blizzard, the game was kicked to the curb in July of 2008. A2M decided that the game was too far along to let it go, and Bethesda Softworks agreed – the game finally saw the light of day just a few days ago. With a rocky production under its belt, does Wet hit the target or it is simply a misfire?
The protagonist of Wet is the leather-clad sexy bitch-on-wheels, Rubi Malone. We get a demonstration of this right off the bat as she swan dives from the roof right into the middle of a botched deal. As Rubi hits the ground, one of the partners (a thug named Simmons) in the busted deal flees the scene with Rubi’s obvious object of attention – a medical case. From here you’ll learn the basics of the game.
Rubi is an acrobatic little minx. She can backflip, slide on her knees, fire pistols akimbo, bounce and run off the walls, cut enemies to ribbons, and much more – albeit with a little practice from you. At any point, especially (and encouraged!) during acrobatics, when Rubi pulls the trigger on her weapon, the action moves into bullet time. Sliding like an eel through the water, Rubi cuts through her enemies like they are made of paper. Before long, you’ve grasped the basics, and Rubi is running down Simmons through the back alleys of what looks to be Chinatown, or some reasonable facsimile thereof. Riding backwards down ladders in slow motion while gunning down enemies, it isn’t long before she’s caught up with Simmons – unfortunately for her, he’s got backup and a car to whisk him away.
At this point, I think Wet really hits its stride. Using a mixture of quicktime events while gunning down enemies, Rubi jumps between moving vehicles, bouncing off of busses, trucks, and cars, she eventually catches up with her prey, causing his vehicle to flip and pour gasoline all around his broken body. After retrieving the medical case Rubi tosses her lighter to the ground, blowing up poor Simmons and ending the chase. Delivering the case to a man named Trevor Ackers, Rubi’s mission is complete. The case contains a heart for William Ackers, head of the Ackers crime family. Bills paid, Rubi heads back to her home in Texas.
A year passes and one day while Rubi is practicing her crazy acrobatics in her yard, the recovered William Ackers meets up with Rubi and explains that Trevor now needs her help. Rubi agrees to the contract and is sent to Hong Kong to pick up Trevor. With her mission accomplished, William Ackers unleashes his bodyguards on Rubi, the obvious story twist arch complete. Obvious showdowns between Rubi and the guards occur, culminating in the eventual showdown between Rubi and Ackers, or at least that’s what it appears to be on the surface…
Second verse, same as the first
Overall, Wet feels familiar in almost every way. This is in no small part due to the elements heavily borrowed from a great many other games. For instance, when Rubi takes to the air she moves in slow motion, very similar to Max Payne. When she pulls her sword, it is somewhat similar to Ninja Gaiden (albeit at half speed), and every cutscene is essentially similar to how Quentin Tarantino would interpret a 70’s grindhouse flick. Rubi flips and runs around like Lara Croft, runs along the walls like Ryu Hayabusa, swears like the nameless scumbags in Kingpin, and slides on her knees like a well-oiled Jason Statham in The Transporter. The characters are introduces and freeze-frame captioned like a Guy Ritchie movie, and they could all easily be members of the Deadly Vipers from Kill Bill. The problem is that we’ve seen all of this before.
The first level could serve as a design template for the rest of the game. You learn that when you move into slow motion, one hand hits the nearby target of opportunity, and the second one uses a precision aim mechanic controlled with by the analog stick. You learn that you can slide on your knees and use this mechanic. You learn that you can use this mechanic in the air, sliding backwards down a ladder, running along the wall, flipping through the air, backflipping off a wall, and everything in between with combinations therein. Once you get through this level, you’ll know pretty much everything there is to know about Wet. Later on you’ll get access to other weapons, but they never really feel much more powerful than your unlimited-ammunition pistols.
There are some levels that break this formula, but they are the exception, not the norm. Pushing the game pace into overdrive, occasionally Rubi gets bloodsplattered and simply runs amok in bloodlust. This Rage mode allows you to cut through enemies more quickly as the game changes to a red and white stylized version of itself. You’ll also occasionally have to run a training level, the aformentioned highway chase scene, or mount a minigun to rip apart scores of enemies in rapid succession. While running down a gang leader named Rat Boy, it occurred to me why I feel so mixed about Wet.
When Wet is on, it’s very on. It feels like you are playing an old-school hack-and-slash game stuffed into the pocket of a 70’s grindhouse character. When you are cutting enemies apart with chain-combo kills and crazy over the top ultraviolence the game feels like a lot of fun. The second the pace runs down and you are trying to figure out where the linear game wants you to go next, the game comes apart quickly. There are literally monster generators in the level that you have to break to stop enemies from spawning, and the levels are linear and remain locked until all enemies are dead – old school and not in a great way. When you are strapped to a minigun for certain sections of the game, you can’t disconnect from the gun until all enemies are dead. Simply put, this game is not only on rails, it’s welded to them. While that allows the developer to shape the narrative, it also tends to break the game. During one level I was trying to make a jump about half the distance I would normally leap to get onto a nearby ledge. The game didn’t want me getting up there from this path, so suddenly Rubi would make no effort to try to grab onto the edge. Similarly, during a minigun section I had killed all of the enemies but one, leaving three exploding barrels untouched for the next wave of soldiers. The room cleared and I had nobody to shoot at, but I could hear one lone enemy trying to take shots at me. I spent the next fie minutes randomly shooting until I accidentally killed the hidden foe. This completely breaks the momentum the game heavily relies on to keep it from flatlining and absolutely smashed the immersion in the game.
I didn’t even know it had one…
I have a Sony 7.1 surround sound system for my living room. I’ve been using it for a few years now. The normal listening level is ’50’, perhaps ’55’ if the scene is particularly quiet or poorly recorded. A big sarcastic thank you goes out to A2M for helping me discover a new feature of my receiver – protection mode. Firing up Wet for the first time, my system set to ’50’ as normal, I found myself scrambling for the sound remote very quickly. The A2M intro screen features a giant scorpion attacking the screen (imagine that on your big screen for a moment) making a screeching sound so loud that my dogs yipped and scattered from the room. I had to turn the game down to 25 before the sound was quiet enough to be tolerable during the intro. I get to the game and find the settings to adjust the sound. I jump into the game and turn the game back up to 40 so I can hear what is going on during gameplay and eventually found myself in over my head. What do I get next? That’s right, a ‘film burn’ game over screen that is at least 4x as loud as gameplay! It seems that any of the cutscenes were recorded at a sound level so far beyond obnoxious as to trip the protection system in most surround sound systems. Don’t turn your amps to 11 people – you’ll lose a speaker.
When you do get to the gameplay and hear the voice and effect work, you’ll probably wish you had lost all of your speakers during the intro. The characters are characatures and stereotypes, so everyone in Hong Kong speaks with a “You must have a key made!”-herro-“Breakfast at Tiffany’s”-no-ticky-no-shirty speech pattern. Ignoring the eye-rolling nature of that, it takes less than 30 seconds for the game to start repeating itself. I heard “Taste my special sauce!” in a bad Asian accent at least 50 times during the first level. The same insults are hurled over and over at Rubi, and her responses begin to repeat pretty quickly as well. It’s ok, half the time they don’t make a lot of sense in the context of gameplay anyway. The main characters are well voiced – Malcom McDowell handles Mr. Ackers, and Rubi is voiced by Eliza Dushku, but those few (and loud!) cutscenes are vastly overshadowed by the pathetic “I’m 9 and pulling at the corner of my eyes and bowing furiously” nonesense that passes as acting from the throwaway enemies.
There is one area where the audio absolutely excels (at least, as soon as you turn it down a little in the options so you can hear everything else) – the soundtrack. Wet features music composed by Brian LeBarton, the keyboardist and musical director for the band Beck. The score features fast paced rock riddled with fast bass, ripping guitar, heavy jazz and surfer beats, and a hectic, almost desperate pace. It fits the frantic gameplay (when the combos are flowing anyway) perfectly. The game also features tracks from Gypsy Pistoleros, The Hypnophonics, The Chop Tops, The Arkhams, Knock Galley West and Creepin’ Cadavers to name just a few. The voice work may fall short, but the soundtrack does not.
That outfit looks two sizes two small. There’s nothing wrong with that.
As I said earlier, Wet has a very specific look to it. From the “Let’s all go to the lobby” drive-in cutscenes to the ever-present (but can be disabled) film grain present throughout, this game looks very much like a 70’s throwback ultraviolent action grindhouse flick. The set pieces are colorful or dank and grimy, as appropriate. The main characters, especially Rubi, are very well rendered with a ton of detail even close up. On the other hand, every single “Taste My Special Sauce!” enemy is essentially the same. The film grain tends to cover that pretty well, but you can’t hope but notice. It’s also hard not to notice that the poly count for these minions are significantly less. The slow motion animation that defines this game is also something that hurts it a bit. Moving that slowly through the scene just gives you opportunity to see the low-poly presentation.
The in-engine custscenes are typically shown with the higher poly count characters, but you can’t help but notice the marble-mouth lip synch work or the odd clipping issue. The clipping thing continues into the normal game, as does some environmental wonkiness. In one area I was supposed to jump off the top of a merry-go-round and use my sword to rope-slide my way to a nearby ledge. I instead decided that the ledge was more than reachable based on my jumping skills. Unfortunately the game disagreed and I simply couldn’t go that way – Rubi simply wouldn’t latch on. The game is linear, but this is a bit beyond that.