When we last took a look at Wet, the game looked mighty cool, but the reps from Bethesda refused to let us hold the controller. That's normally a worrisome sign, so when Bethesda swung by last week to give us some quality time with the leather-clad Rubi, we jumped at the chance. Over the course of two hours, we explored five different levels and came away duly impressed because Rubi handles just as good as she looks.
The best way to describe Wet's gameplay is to compare it to a work of cinema. In the first "Tomb Raider" movie, there is a scene wherein Lara Croft is defending her mansion from a large group of invaders while flipping around like an acrobat on speed. Take that five-minute sequence, stretch it out to the length of a full game, mix in some '70s styling and a dash of Quentin Tarantino-inspired violence, and you've got a good feel for what Wet is all about.
You play the game as Rubi, a female "fixer" with a body to die for and a mastery of weapons that are just as deadly as her looks. Voiced by Eliza Dushku (who also starred in Saints Row 2), Rubi is a self-styled anti-heroine. She doesn't care for good or bad, just that she gets the job done. If you have a problem, she can take care of it — assuming you have the money. Malcolm McDowell is also on board, voicing one of the game's antagonists.
The game begins with a training level set in San Francisco's Chinatown. It is here that you will learn how to control Rubi, as she doesn't quite handle like the typical action star. Inspired by a mix of Hong Kong action films and '70s spaghetti western cinema, Wet is designed to make you feel like an ultimate badass, all while maintaining some degree of control. It does this by funneling all combat into acrobatic combos. If you really wanted to, you could try to play Wet as a standard run-and-gun, third-person shooter, but doing so would result in a point penalty as well as a difficulty increase. It's much more fun when you play by the rules.
In this case, "the rules" means making sure that Rubi is always flipping, sliding, running or flying through the air when she's firing. Every time you start firing while performing some sort of acrobatic maneuver, the game automatically enters bullet time, slowing things down and allowing you to get a bead on your opponents. Since she dual-wields her guns John Woo style, Rubi will automatically track one enemy by default, leaving you with control of the second weapon. This allows you to take out multiple targets with a single volley. Getting your first multi-kill is satisfying, but the fun really starts once you learn how to chain together moves. Keeping the acrobatics going is key to keeping Rubi engaged in bullet time. This makes it easier to keep the body count rising and, in turn, keep your combo multiplier going higher and higher. For example, you can start with a wall run, followed by a flip and then finish with a slide. Not only does it look really freaking sweet on the screen, but it also does wonders for your score. As you progress to the later levels in the game, it is possible to execute some pretty wicked-looking combos.
The second level in the game mixes up gunplay with a series of Quick Time Events (QTEs) as Rubi is chasing a group of thugs down the freeway. The catch? They're in cars, and you're not. You'll find yourself jumping from vehicle to vehicle (the QTE part) while engaging in a shoot-out with various moving targets (the real-time part). Although the entire level is on-rails, the presentation keeps it feeling like things are free-flowing at all times. You may not have total freedom, but the game gives you the illusion of total freedom, and that's nearly as good.
After San Francisco, we jumped to Rubi's boneyard in Texas. Living out of an abandoned fighter plane, Rubi's home turf is a great place to hone your skills and test out new weaponry. Various obstacle courses crisscross through the area, complete with pop-up targets that only appear when you are actively engaged in bullet time. Each course has multiple rankings, based on completion time, so there is a reason to go back and replay them. The good news is that the bronze level times are long enough that you won't face a blocker to progression simply because you can't complete a course. Everyone should be able to get to the finish line in time on their first try. The silver and gold times, however, will require a bit of practice and polish if you hope to achieve them.
From here, we skipped ahead a few levels (thanks to the magic of cheat codes) and began an assault on a cliffside castle home. This area really tested Rubi's acrobatic skill, along with a few precision jumps that bordered on frustrating. Perhaps it was the mere fact that we jumped ahead about five levels in the game, but earlier sections all seemed to have a bit of leeway to the jumps. Not so here. In more than one location, if you pressed the jump button a millisecond too early, Rubi would fall short of her target and fall to her doom.
With a little perseverance (and swearing), we made it up the cliffs and into the castle. This level is also the area where we really started to use the "Rubi-vision" skill. By pressing a button, you can toggle a blood red highlight on any section of the world that is grabbable. When you're high above the ground and searching for a path through the area, this is a good way to find out where you can and can't go. You can toggle "Rubi-vision" at any time during play.
The final area we got to experience was a section of Hong Kong. Being the most advanced part of the game, the level required more complex acrobatics as well as fancier combat moves. For example, one obstacle was a pit that was too far to jump across and too far to wall-run past. To traverse it, Rubi had to wall-run halfway across, jump and, while in midair, take out the enemy that was waiting for her on the landing platform. Another section in the same sequence has you fighting a group in a somewhat confined area. As a result, Rubi's acrobatics had to be restricted, lest she slide right off the edge of the platform and into a pit of doom.
One commonality across all of the main levels was the pacing. You start things off with a brief cut scene, there is an adventure/exploring sequence, some minor combat and then an arena combat sequence, which is capped off by a mini-boss. The arena combat sections were a blast, as they required a bit of situational awareness alongside a quick trigger finger. Each arena is loaded with platforms and bars, making acrobatic combos a cinch to pull off. They are also loaded with doors, which supply an endless number of enemies. To win, you must block the doors and then kill the remaining opponents. Once you've taken out most of them, a guy with a chain gun enters the scene. Taking him out requires softening him up with bullets before applying the finishing blow with your sword. Because the arenas have no health pick-ups, you are more or less forced to play aggressively. The higher your combo meter, the faster Rubi's health regenerates.
We got to play around with a number of Rubi's weapons. She starts out with a pistol and a sword but quickly adds a variety of guns and a crossbow. The pistol sports unlimited ammo, while the more powerful weapons have limited stocks. These can be replenished by picking up ammo clips dropped by fallen enemies. Each weapon appears to be useful in its own right, with the sword being the underestimated hero of the show. We initially discounted the sword, preferring to use Rubi's guns as we fought from a distance, but soon realized that using the sword was a killer way to finish up a combo. No pun intended.
As mentioned earlier, using combos is encouraged, not only because it makes it a bit easier to wade through the hordes of enemy fighters, but because it also increases your score. For example, shooting an enemy dead normally earns you a solitary point. Shooting the same enemy while in bullet time earns you 10 points. All of these points are banked, and you can use them at the end of a level to upgrade Rubi's abilities in the shop. The more points you have, the better the upgrades.After two short hours, our time with Rubi was done, but we left with a very positive impression of the game. The control scheme took a bit of getting used to (this is one game where you don't want to skip the tutorial), but once we had it down, everything seemed to flow as it should. With the game's penchant for style, smooth animations, a decent script and lots of action, Wet has the potential to be a sleeper hit. We're anticipating more hands-on time with Rubi when the full game drops next month. Check back then for the final verdict.
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