Review: WET

wet_ps3_cover_M.jpg Throughout its many years, Bethesda Softworks has become known for its award-winning RPGs, and in large part that’s the genre gamers expect from the makers of The Elder Scrolls franchise. But it’s always a pleasant surprise to see the Maryland-based publisher and developer go in an unexpected direction and bring us something outside the status quo. And there can be no denying that Bethsoft’s new PS3 and Xbox 360 action title WET is about as far away from an RPG as a game can get.

Lovingly crafted by Artificial Mind and Movement (A2M), an independent Canadian development studio you’ve surely heard of if you play a lot of licensed movie and kid games, WET is a grindhouse-style run-and-gun third-person shooter following in the footsteps of games like Max Payne and, more recently, Stranglehold.

In the game you play as Rubi Malone, a viciously sexy and surprisingly foul-mouthed “fixer” who will solve any problem and kill whoever needs to be killed for the right dollar figure. While the story generally comes across as incoherent, Rubi, brought to life by a spunky voice acting performance from actress Eliza Dushku, steals the show as a vivacious breakout female video game protagonist with the potential to become an iconic franchise starlet if A2M and Bethsoft decide to take the WET experience beyond this one game (Potential Spoiler: and a not-so-subtle ending teaser suggests that they will). It’s certainly refreshing to see a female character in such a violent role you’d typically only see male characters in – Rubi is no generic Lara Craft clone, that’s for damn sure!

The game itself is somewhat flawed, but all in all it fulfills its niche as a blood-soaked, adrenaline-charged shoot-‘em-up. As Rubi, you run, jump, flip and slide through 12 exotic stages between London and Hong Kong, pumping enemies full of lead with Rubi’s dual revolvers (and shotguns, SMGs and crossbows) and maiming them with her samurai sword in glorious slow-motion as she runs along walls, leaps between buildings, swings from poles and slides backwards down ladders. If you couldn’t figure it out already, style is key to getting the most out of WET. Being stylish with your kills helps you build up your score multiplayer and earn more style points to use as a currency to purchase deadly new attacks and weapon upgrades.

The whole “Bullet Time” slow-mo effect has been done many times before, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it pulled off as acrobatically as it is in WET. Whenever you shoot during an acrobatic maneuver, the game automatically kicks you into slow-mo mode – you don’t have to hit a button to activate it manually and there is no meter limiting how much you can use it. While floating through the air, a “slip-aiming” system also allows you to twist Rubi around and target multiple enemies at the same time – one of her guns automatically locks onto one target leaving you free to manually aim her second pistol at another target. Rubi’s movements and aim aren’t as finely tuned as I would’ve liked, and because of it you will have to endure mild frustrations with errant jumps and sporadic gunfire, but in large part the game handles well.

More problematic is the game’s erratic pacing. A2M clearly had a lot of ideas they wanted to cram into WET, and unfortunately I think they may have gone a tad overboard. Many of the levels simply lack continuity. One minute you’ll be running and gunning, the next you’ll be doing some mild (and fairly clumsy) platforming, the next you’ll enter one of the game’s many Arena challenges in which enemies repeatedly spawn from marked doors until you close them off, and then the next you’ll be manning a stationary turret blasting away at waves of enemies. And in between these differing gameplay bits you’ll have to sit through elevator load times and drive-in movie commercials that certainly enhance the game’s grindhouse flavor, but do so at the cost of interrupted gameplay flow. The occasional QTE-laden vehicle-hopping mission is mixed in as well, and during certain stages you enter a Rage Mode in which Rubi’s face splatters with blood and the visuals turn red, black and white, a la Sega’s Wii action game MadWorld. I appreciate the variety of all these different elements, but their collective execution is a tad too disjointed.

One thing A2M definitely nailed, though, is WET’s sense of style. Technically speaking, the graphics are dated in terms of simplistic level geometry and basic textures, but the retro art direction and (optional) film grain/flicker effect go a long way towards masking many of the rough edges. The high-energy 70’s soundtrack also compliments the visuals with a brash medley of rock and punk themes, and the voice acting, featuring notable performances from Eliza Dushku, Malcolm McDowell and Alan Cumming, too fits in with the B-movie vibe. Quentin Tarantino would surely approve of WET’s production values!

WET is very much an imperfect, unpolished production, but its flaws are fairly easy to overlook because the game is generally loads of fun to pick up and play. I’m not sure it offers much in terms of long-term value – the optional Challenge Mode containing addictive time trials in Rubi’s Boneyard and high score runs through individual story chapters does extend replayability somewhat though — but if you like action games and don’t take things too seriously, WET will soak you with 6-8 hours of bloody, over-the-top gunplay.

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Pros:
+ Killer grindhouse visual style
+ Acrobatic gunplay is loads of fun
+ Strong voice acting and soundtrack
+ Rubi has star potential for future games

Cons:
– Erratic pacing
– Inconsistent targeting
– Clumsy platforming controls
– Just feels a bit rough around the edges across the board

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3, also on Xbox 360
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: A2M
Release Date: 9/15/09
Genre: Third-Person Shooter
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!