We may not have written about it all that often over the past two years, but Artificial Mind and Movement's WET has actually been sloshing around the industry for quite some time, running through the fingers of various publishers and eventually trickling into a pail owned by Bethesda Softworks just a few months ago.
In those several years, A2M hasn't changed a lot. Look back to Ellie's August 2007 preview and many of the details remain intact: you're still a gun-for-hire called Rubi Malone, who manoeuvres acrobatically around each level firing twin pistols with independent targeting and hacking people up with swords. It's still aiming for a "unique retro film visual treatment" with grainy filters and seventies-inspired music. When Bethesda says A2M is working with 24's story editor Duppy Demetrius on the script, one assumes he filed a while ago, given that Vivendi was also bigging him up in 2007.
In other words, this is a case of publishers dragging their feet, and not one of those mid-life development rethinks that are so fashionable at the moment (I'm looking at you, Borderlands - and you're looking hot). But whatever it is, the important point is that we've never actually got round to playing it before. Not until today - and, appropriately enough, against a backdrop of thunder and lightning out the window.
The demo in question is the same as the one Christian described over someone's shoulder in April, and begins with Rubi perched on a statue peering down through the glass ceiling of a massive atrium, where a pair of unlikely criminals thrash out a deal for a donor organ in a snazzy briefcase. On the left, a burly man in a wheelchair with a mechanical larynx, and opposite him, a squirmy Asian gentleman in a leopard-print suit jacket. But it's a double-cross! Asian gentleman makes a run for it with money and goods, and wheelchair man crashes to the floor, followed shortly by Rubi, who hurls herself into action.
This bit is technically the tutorial, but it doesn't take long to catch the game's gist. Rubi has a pair of pistols, one of which automatically targets a nearby enemy with a star-shaped reticule, sending a stream of bullets his way as long as you hold the right trigger. Meanwhile, you can direct a second stream of bullets with a smaller, circular reticule, meaning that your gunplay focus is more on right-stick movement than your trigger finger, which is permanently clamped.
Rubi can jump with one button, slide along the ground on her knees with another and wall-run with left-trigger, and whenever she does any of these the action switches into Stranglehold-style slow motion (bear in mind Stranglehold came out after we first saw Wet in action), making it easier to target your enemies. Rubi's acrobatics can also be used to latch onto handily placed trapeze bars, and there are plenty of industrial pallets leaning against crates to form convenient ramps. At one stage I fall to Rubi's doom by prematurely grabbing for the A button as if to charge a jump in an ATV game, reflecting the game's speed of movement and assault-course level design.
Along with another face button for her katana, the idea is to combine the lot to move fluidly around environments dancing and floating between gunplay, swordplay and Lara Croft antics. There's also a combo meter and multiplier icons scattered about for further encouragement, with higher scores doled out for chaining kills before landing. In between the main sections, Rubi also goes through 'Rage' areas, where the combo meter becomes a kill counter similar to The Club, and the action is sped up - all the wall textures swapped out for blood red and bad guys reduced to Killer 7 cartoons.
The demo culminates in a QTE-driven highway shootout, which sees Rubi leaping between the rooftops of cars, trucks and lorries as you match A and X button prompts (or decelerating fatally along the tarmac as you don't), all the while you clamp the right trigger and wave the right stick around to dispatch enemies firing out of car windows. Eventually Rubi catches up with the Asian gentleman and relieves him of the goods, and his driver of his brains, before she's subjected to a few purple words by the bad guy, who's spilled out onto the floor in a puddle of petrol. Knocking an unlit cigarette out of his mouth, she tosses him a light anyway. Whoomph. Fade to black.
It's an interesting mix, although playing through it raises some concerns. There's a decent amount of flexibility in the combat, but it feels disjointed - particularly in the transition from gunplay to swordplay - while the sample sections are full of identikit enemies who do little to defend themselves, but whose hit-response is almost non-existent, so the twin pistols lack punch. As for the highway chase, which ends on the Golden Gate, it's heavily scripted, and one enemy leaning out of a car with a gun is much the same as the next 15.
Then again, it's a demo, and Bethesda assures us that higher difficulty levels will make more of the bad guys (driving Rubi to drink in the process - she tops up her health with whiskey she finds lying around). And, with apologies to Duppy Demetrius, the characters and dialogue are uniformly cheesy, and A2M isn't taking itself too seriously, sprinkling collectable clapping-cymbal-monkeys around the levels for no obvious reason. The voice acting shouldn't be terrible either, with Elisha Dushku on Rubi duties, and Malcolm McDowell and Alan Cumming also attached, while later levels will introduce different weapons and a visual filter for locating platforming points, among other things. There will also be a separate challenge mode.
The world certainly has enough third-person action-adventures already, and WET doesn't do a lot to distinguish it from other games in the genre. But after half an hour as Rubi Malone, at this stage it's an accessible, unselfconscious knockabout, and with a bit more polish to the combat the results should be nothing to sneer at.
WET is due out for PS3 and Xbox 360 this autumn.