A2M wants you to know why it's called its new game Wet. It's short for Wetworks, apparently - a shadowy industry of criminals, spies and stylish desperadoes who clean up your mess when it's too big for a Dyson. It's the kind of job people only ever seem to have in movies, where every phone call means another suitcase of money to track down, another mystical trinket to forcibly liberate from its owners, or another unfortunate disagreement that can only be resolved by shooting all of the participants soundly through the head until everyone calms down.
Whatever the reason, it also implies blandly sassy character designs and WWE-strength attitude. Which is accurate, and which is also a shame, because it makes it all too easy to decide that Wet is going to be cynical, derivative, and slightly rubbish, whereas in truth the game's shaping up to be cynical, derivative, and possibly a little bit brilliant. Look past Rubi, the hard-drinkin' rock chic lead who appears to have split her wardrobe budget between Tyra Banks' favourite boutique and a local branch of Millets, and look past the gaggle of Kill Bill stand-ins, creating a pimp-shoed, shaven-headed, leopard-print human barrier separating the entrance and exit of each level: beneath the aging stylings, this could be a confident and gymnastic shooter, with a refreshingly uncomplicated agenda.
So yes, it's cynical. Despite new publisher Bethesda's fatherly assertions that the development team would prefer you not to look at Rubi as another hot lady with guns, nobody's in any hurry to get her a nice sensible parka. And yes, it's derivative. With the acrobatic lead, slow-mo shooting and Rubi Vision, which points out useful bits of scenery as you race past, A2M has shamelessly borrowed from videogames old and new. But while it's undeniably built from second-hand parts, they've been chosen well, and skilfully reconfigured to create something distinctive, if watching a developer play through the first mission is any indication.
Wet's certainly got a snappier tutorial than most games, at least. While others tiptoe around targeting systems and get you to have a go at crouching, Wet's throwing you through a glass ceiling and into a gangland meeting turned all shooty, prodding you towards the path of a thousand sizzling bullet trails while introducing a catalogue of wall-runs and backflips, teaching you to juggle guns and a katana, before finally flinging you onto a rush-hour highway, as Rubi island-hops impossibly across Golden Gate Bridge traffic, ducking tumbling buses and leaping from one car bonnet to the next while enemies fire endless rounds from automatic weapons.
All the while, every violent action is rewarded with a shower of points rather than blood - huge glowing numbers erupting from the bodies of despatched goons as if the development team had tried to blend Mortal Kombat's fatalities with the maths round in Countdown. Forget the international intrigue and focus on the combo meter: if you like score-attacks and revel in that coin-op thrill as mindless numbers pile up in the top-right corner of the screen, you're probably going to like this too.
Swords and guns sounds like a recipe for ripping off Devil May Cry, but that's a little unfair. In truth, the team has mainly been ripping off Stranglehold, but with the stately procession of over-sized kill rooms transformed into a tight wriggle of corridors and terraces, throwing in a generous helping of Tomb Raider's implausible grace to get you through them. It's a fifty-fifty split, by the looks of things: Chow Yun Fat has brought the destructible tat, bullet-time gunplay and even the Chinatown setting of the opening chapter, while Lara Croft has given Rubi the power to use far more of the environment than most earthbound game characters ever get around to, as tricksy levels see her diving off balconies onto zip-lines, dancing between tables stacked with elaborate ice sculptures, and swinging from one lamppost to the next in order to run rings around attackers.
Acrobatics lie at the centre of the game, its wall-runs, flips, knee-slides and other deadly Pilates moves plunging you instantly into bullet-time, giving you the space you need to plug a baddy right through the left nostril while spinning through the air twenty feet above him with all four limbs moving in different directions. It's probably brilliant for back-pain sufferers, and while you're limited to shooting one person at a time if you stick to simple running-and-gunning, bullet-time also allows you to use both of Rubi's twin pistols independently, one freely directed with the on-screen reticule, while the other automatically selects a separate target and locks on.