Stylish yet shallow grindhouse action
As the current generation of consoles continues to age and mature, many developers are striving to create experiences that are indistinguishable from Hollywood movies. Video game budgets continue to soar, award winning writers and composers are now commonplace, and the barrier of the uncanny valley has become nothing more than a slight obstacle. WET follows the same trend as other cinematically inspired games, but focuses instead on mindless over the top action with a low budget grindhouse aesthetic. For all the action aficionados out there, WET may be the perfect guilty pleasure, but is the gritty setting enough to make the game stand out for the rest?
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the grind house cinema style, they refer to extremely violent or sexy exploitation films released in the 70s. Those movies have gone on to heavily inspire films by Quentin Tarantino and the recently released Wii game House of the Dead: Overkill. WET is extremely similar to Overkill in many ways, but it isn’t quite as vulgar and there’s more of an emphasis on plot. Still, don’t go in expecting WET to deliver an Oscar caliber story.
You take on the role of Rubi Malone, a tough as nails femme fatale who wields two guns and a sweet golden sword. Rubi establishes herself as a bad ass pretty early on as she disposes of dozens of foes with ease, retrieves and delivers a case, and coldly claims her money with no questions asked. And this is all before the title screen even appears in the game. From there, the story sends her off on another mission, but the job quickly goes sour when Rubi is set up and deprived of her rightful reward. For the remainder of the 8-10 hour adventure, its up to you to help Rubi get revenge and get paid. While the game doesn’t have the most original story in the world and the ending will probably go down as one of the most anticlimactic in history, it still does a serviceable job of providing enough motivation to keep Rubi going.
On the surface, WET is a typical third person action game. What makes the gameplay stand out, however, is the way it implements the age-old slow motion mechanic. Whenever Rubi jumps, wall runs, or slides on her knees, time will slow down as long as your finger in on the trigger. There are no meters tied to the slow motion, so you can use it to your heart’s content. However, the best way to get the most out of combat, as well as achieve the highest score in each level, is to chain together the different abilities. For example, one effective tactic is to start off with a jump, go right into a slide once you land, and hopefully position yourself so that she slides right into a wall run. Of course, while chaining all of these moves together, Rubi is blasting away at mobs upon mobs of helpless goons, so it’s possible to take out a room full of foes before the game even goes back into real time. Which is fortunate because shooting in real time feels incredibly stiff and unresponsive. It’s understandable that the developers would want you using the slow-mo in creative ways as much as possible, but it would have been nice to allow players to mix things up a bit more.
At the conclusion of set events in the game, you can visit an upgrade shop where you will spend style points you’ve accumulated throughout the level. Upgrades include increasing the rate of fire, bullet damage, and unlocking more acrobatic moves for Rubi to use. The acrobatic upgrades slightly help alleviate the monotony of shooting wave after wave of almost identical thugs because it gives you new ways to chain together moves. The upgrades also allow you to use Rubi’s sword more often, such as a move that allows her to springboard off of an enemy and come down with a devastating slash. The best showcase for Rubi’s graceful destruction are the rage levels. On a few occasions, Rubi will get blood splashed on her face which transforms the entire level to a bright red shade and highlights the enemies as black and white silhouettes. These levels are pretty much a fun diversion to see how quickly you can chain together a large number of kills. Another gameplay diversion comes in the form of rail shooting sequences that place Rubi on the roof of a car as she pursues escaping foes and occasionally jumps out of the way of impending car wrecks through the use of quick time button presses. While the rage and rail levels aren’t especially challenging, they are highly cinematic and a lot of fun to watch.
A grind house setting is nothing without the sound design to complement it and WET truly shines in this category. By far, the stand out feature is the fantastic soundtrack. Whenever Rubi enters a new shooting arena, high energy rockabilly music kicks in, perfectly pumping up the adrenaline for the ensuing chaos. The game also uses heavy metal tracks for a couple of the really intense moments as well as some light funk beats for the brief exploration parts. The voice work is also solid overall, even though a couple of the mobster voices border on parody. Eliza Dushku, in particular, infuses a great level of gruffness and vulgarity into her performance as Rubi. The biggest sore spot in the audio presentation is audio clipping during the 70’s commercials interspersed throughout the game. These commercials are humorous throwbacks that are humorous at first, but their frequency and cracked audio soon make them an unintelligible nuisance.
Another weak spot in the presentation are the visuals. While there are some competent landscapes to see, and Rubi’s acrobatic animations are well done, the facial animations and textures are hardly on par with other titles on the current consoles. The developers seemed to have recognized this since the optional grainy film filter is turned on by default. Even though this type of game doesn‘t really require the highest visual fidelity in the world, it would have been if a bit more effort had been applied to this department.
Aside from the main story, there really isn’t much to do in WET. After finishing the game, you can tackle additional difficulty settings, run through an obstacle course in Rubi’s Boneyard, or play through certain chapters to try and score the most points. These extra challenges help pad out the game length, but the action doesn’t feel as satisfying when you’re under the pressure of time or scoring high.
WET is certainly not a game for everyone. Despite its stylized presentation and amazing soundtrack, it’s still a straight forward shooter at its core. Also, the fact that slowing down time is really the only way to play makes it feel a bit repetitive at times. However, if you’re looking to just have a good time with an over the top action game with a cool new protagonist, this game is worth checking out.