Version tested: Xbox 360
Rubi Malone isn't your typical videogame heroine. She's several of your typical videogame heroines rolled into one. Like Lara, she's pneumatic and acrobatic. Like BloodRayne, she's handy with a sword. Like her out of Mirror's Edge, she has an implausible ability to see potential routes through the environment highlighted in red, like a CSI tracking semen traces left by the Ready Brek man. Like all of them, she wears clothes that are a bit too small.
But the heroine she has most in common with isn't a videogame character at all. WET takes its main inspiration from the Kill Bill films, and like The Bride, Rubi is a high-kicking, sharp-shooting, katana-wielding mercenary who takes down swathes of enemies with one swift movement. Like Kill Bill, WET offers cheap thrills in the grindhouse style, blending endless references to B-movies and Tarantino films with cartoony ultra-violence and a thumping soundtrack.
The storyline is a load of shlocky nonsense which isn't worth recounting, suffice to say it features characters with names like Tarantula, Rat Boy and Kafka Dvorak. Each one is introduced with a freeze-frame and caption, Guy Ritchie-style, and they all say "****" and "****" a lot. Here's some typical dialogue, taken from the scene where Rubi has just blown Rat Boy's hand off with a shotgun:
Rat Boy: You ****ing bitch! **** you!
Rubi: I need information.
Rat Boy: Yeah? Well I need a new hand. So **** you!
Etc. Forgetting the plot for a moment, which is easy to do, the game mainly revolves around shooting and slicing your way through endless waves of baddies. The twist is that Rubi has a Max Payne-style ability to slow down time while she performs spectacular stunts. Press A and she'll leap high into the air, diving and rolling depending on the context; press B and she'll drop to her knees, sliding along the ground as though her shins were made of butter.
Pressing the right trigger makes Rubi fire her dual weapons (pistols to begin with, followed by shotguns, sub-machine guns and so on) in 360 degrees. You can use the right stick to aim one of her guns while the other stays locked-on to a different target, thereby taking down two enemies at once. Alternatively there's the melee combat option - pressing X makes Rubi swish her sword about, chopping off limbs and slicing up guts with lethal efficiency.
The fun begins when you start to combine these moves. It's highly satisfying to jump over the heads of your enemies and take down two of them before you even land, then slip straight into a slide, lean backwards and finish off the men behind you before taking out the baddie up ahead with a fierce sword slash - all in one fluid sequence. The camera does a surprisingly decent job of keeping up with the action and Rubi's animations are just about good enough to carry it all off.
But while it looks impressive, performing a combo like that is extremely easy - you hold down the trigger, press three buttons in slow sequence and fiddle with the right stick a bit. WET is a game which offers instant gratification, but not much in the way of long-term satisfaction. There's no sense of progression and it doesn't feel like you're getting better at controlling Rubi with each level; the enemies just get a bit tougher.
Rubi does learn new moves as the story unfolds. Points are awarded for chaining kills and performing stunts, and these can be spent on extra manoeuvres in the Unlock Shop. Few of these are very exciting, though. They tend to be things like the ability to shoot while swinging round poles or riding zip lines - stuff which it feels like Rubi ought to be able to do anyway.
She's certainly a big fan of pole-swinging and zipline-riding, not to mention ledge-hanging, wall-running, gap-jumping and all the rest. There's a fair bit of exploration in WET, though nowhere near as much as in Mirror's Edge or the Tomb Raider titles. Once again, there's not much in the way of challenge here as it's almost always obvious where you're supposed to go next. When it's not, there's WET's version of Runner Vision to fall back on.
Rubi is ridiculously agile, capable of leaping over gaps larger than anything Lara would even attempt. She's better than Ms Croft at guessing that you wanted to grab that ledge, actually, not plummet to a crunchy doom, and she's less fiddly to control than Mrs Mirror's Edge. But the exploration sections are linear, predictable and feel shoehorned into the game; it's as if they're just interval entertainment designed to keep you occupied while the next batch of pipe-wielding goons finish their make-up.
You won't find any sleek white skyscrapers or crumbling temples in Rubi's world. Environments are urban, dirty and in a state of disrepair. They're painted with a pallette of grubby greens and sludgy browns, and they're ugly more often than they are pretty. Highlights include San Francisco's Chinatown during the New Year parade and the Boneyard, our heroine's home turf. It's full of rusting metal, wooden platforms and metal poles, and provides the setting for Boneyard Challenges. These involve racing through a series of checkpoints, firing at targets along the way to increase the time on the clock. It's classic, old-school time trial gaming, and good fun in that regard.
You can also expect retro flashbacks during the skydiving sequence. Here, Rubi must avoid the debris of an exploding plane while she tumbles through the stratosphere and struggles to grab a parachute. This is extremely tricky and involves playing through the level again and again, and again, and again and again and again until you've learned the path of the debris and mastered the precision required to avoid it. It's very frustrating, just like gaming used to be.
Another set piece designed to break up the monotony of crushing skulls sees Rubi involved in a high-speed motorway chase. She leaps between speeding cars and careering lorries, blasting away at enemies as she goes. It's exciting to watch, but not so much to play as it's really a sequence of quick-time events. All you have to do is press the odd button in between watching the spectacular stunts, which is as challenging as it sounds.
The rage sequences are much more enjoyable. These are WET's most obvious homage to Kill Bill; they're even heralded by close-up of Rubi's blood-drenched face and a screaming siren. During rage sequences the visuals are painted entirely in three colours. Rubi appears as a black silhouette, fighting off featureless enemies in white vests against a blood-red environment. The action is accompanied by pumping music with appropriate lyrics ("My baby's lost control", etc.). It's clearly a reference to the Crazy 88 sequence - or a direct rip-off, depending on your perspective. But it's a stylish one. The rage sequences look great and last for just the right amount of time, and the change of pace is welcome.
The rage episodes aren't the only stylish thing about WET. Instead of loading screens there are what look like genuine drive-in movie ads and public information shorts from fifties America, advising you to pick up hot dogs at the snack bar or "Attend your place of worship regularly". There's a slight flicker to the whole game as if it's being played on a film reel - this is occasionally distracting, but you can always turn it off in the options menu. The soundtrack isn't anywhere near up to the standard of Tarantino's musical selections, but at least the jangly, thumping songs they've chosen fit the tone of the game.
To top it all off there are voiceovers by Proper Celebrities. Malcolm McDowell plays the villain of the piece, having probably given up a whole 12 minutes of his time to do so. Rubi is voiced by Eliza Dushku, who does a decent job, and at least unlike with Dollhouse you don't have to watch her prinking and pouting and trying to convey the full spectrum of emotions using her eyebrows. Alan Cumming is also in it. No, I'm not sure either.
So has Artificial Mind and Movement succeeded in what it clearly set out to do, and created a the gaming equivalent of a great Tarantino film? Not quite. There's no depth to WET. The initial thrill of being able to pull off spectacular stunts with ease is powerful, but after a few hours the novelty wears off. There's no real sense of progression, and the emphasis is on repetition rather than reward.
The game doesn't have anywhere near the polish, slickness or inherent coolness of a Tarantino movie. The plot's naff and the dialogue is diabolical. Regardless of that flickering filter, it's hard to believe you could bewatching a film when the visuals look like they belong to a first-gen 360 title.
But WET does have its saving graces. It helps that Rubi Malone is one of the best videogaming heroines to come along in a while. She's not nearly as po-faced as Lara and her dress sense is a lot better than that porny old vampire. She's properly grumpy, not all "sassy" and cute like that chick in Uncharted. And you can't imagine Mrs Mirror's Edge replenishing her health by taking a swig from a bottle of Jack Daniels (or what is as close to Jack Daniels as copyright laws will allow), then tossing the bottle into the air and blasting it with a shotgun.
What's more, WET does have some things in common with Tarantino's movies. It's shamelessly derivative, gloriously over-the-top and it doesn't take itself too seriously. Most of all, it's brilliant fun. If all you want is to chop up and shoot down some baddies, do some stunts, watch some mindless gore and enjoy some silly scriptwriting, and don't mind feeling a bit empty and dirty afterwards, WET fits the bill.
7 / 10