This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Wet.
There's a school of gaming that thinks games need to be more "cinematic," a school where they have to put padding on every solid surface and none of the students are allowed near anything sharper than a crayon. What's so great about cinema? Not only does it propagate a culture of dangerous extravagance and crass exploitation, but you can't buy snacks without a decent credit rating and you get muscled off your armrests by fat nose-breathers with elbows the size of diving bells. But every now and again, someone tries to sell a game by claiming that it's "cinematic" - meaning that it's an interactive experience that apes a non-interactive medium. It's the equivalent of a film consisting entirely of text scrolls in order to be more like a book, or a man sticking his head in a pond in order to be more like a newt.
Wet (the title refers to "wet work," meaning assassinations - and nothing else) is the latest example of the "spectacle fighter" genre, a term I'm still determined to strong-arm into common parlance. Like House of the Dead: Overkill, it imitates the grindhouse feel of. . .well, Grindhouse, right down to an omnipresent film grain filter and the occasional old-style drive-in movie ad which pop up about twice as many times as it takes to stop being funny. The main character is Rubi, a tomboyish assassin who is about as likable and sympathetic as a deep-sea angler fish in an SS uniform. She's arrogant, rude, surly, psychotic, selfish, greedy, joyless, and really rather dim. And this may be a cheap shot, but she looks like a 15-year-old boy wearing a dirty mop head and a corset. The only way she could appeal is if your name is Russ Meyer and you built an entire film-making career around the same masochistic fantasy in which domineering women bite your nob off. Also, she seems to confuse swearing with wit. That's my thing!
The gunplay is based around Rubi's ability to automatically shoot one enemy while manually aiming with her other gun, which is an effective gameplay mechanic, but it only works when she's leaping through the air or wall-running or sliding along the ground like she's being carried along on an army of beetles, and at all other times she forgets she's holding more than one gun, so apparently she has an air-cooled brain. It's most reminiscent of Stranglehold; it has the same problem that game had. Yes, it's kind of thrilling when Inspector Tequila dives sideways in slow motion, shooting dual pistols while doves fly out of his arse, but when he does it 50 times in a row, you start to wonder if he hasn't got some kind of inner-ear disabling, dove-shitting medical disorder. So much of this game is spent watching Rubi's fat arse gliding along like the fucking Hindenburg in repetitive slow-motion combat, if it played at regular speed it'd be about half an hour long!
At this point, the game designer's boss says, "Okay, that's the combat. What other gameplay mechanics will there be?"
"Well!" replies the game designer. . .whom I will name Pillock. "How about, on some of the levels, everything goes all red and black and cel-shaded?"
"Er, no," says Pillock's boss, nobody's fool but his own, "that's just the same gameplay mechanic in pretentious arty bullshit-o-vision."
"Oh, right! I misunderstood you at first," replies Pillock. "There's also some Prince of Persia-style platforming sections, but you know how in Prince of Persia it was always clear where you were supposed to go and what was a ledge and what wasn't? Well, I think we should do the exact opposite of that and occasionally plunge important platforms in total darkness so you have to make leaps of faith like it's The Last Crusade."
"That sounds good," says Pillock's boss. "Actually, no, that sounds awful. And why is your head bandaged?"
"Also," continues Pillock, "every now and again, during a cutscene, a button will flash up and if you don't press it fast enough you have to start the cutscene all over again because of global flobal wobbly bits."
"Those are called Quick Time Events," says Pillock's boss with increasing concern, "and they're the worst idea in the world."
"I know it's the best idea in the world!" says Pillock. "So I'm just going to make a load of those instead of boss fights, and the final climactic level will just be an extra-long sequence of them because trying to be creative makes blood come out of my nose."
"I'd better go now," says Pillock's boss, making motions towards the exit and eventually a phone to call the police.
"Wait!" yells Pillock, banging his head against the desk for attention. "What about special challenge modes where you have to get around a training course in a certain time?"
"That's actually not a bad idea," says his boss, stopping at the door.
"I know!" says Pillock. "That's why I'm going to occasionally force the player to complete one during Story Mode for no apparent reason except to appease the octopus that lives in my head."
Then Pillock's boss goes away and throws himself in front of a train, although it was stopping at the station so he pretty much just makes a fool of himself.
Wet comes across as a project that set out with lots of ideas but ended up having to fling most of its weight out the rear door to pull out of a death dive. The climactic boss fight is a cutscene with six or seven Quick Time Events. These are the big baddies who have been set up all game as unstoppable badasses who kick so much arse they have to buy shoe polish that's specially formulated for buttock smell! It's the equivalent of, say, John McClane reaching the center of the terrorists' hideout to find they've all given up and gone home, so the last ten minutes of the film depict him doing a bit of tidying up before his taxi arrives.
Wet is an attempt at a cinematic game that has nothing to offer as cinema and even less as a game. Mind you, it is quite like a movie in one respect, and that's the fact that you spend most of it sitting on your arse doing nothing. The amount of loading is almost biblical, and it's particularly noticeable because they keep trying to hide it behind cutesy drive-in adverts or a shot of Rubi standing in an elevator for five minutes, her expression of angry boredom neatly mirroring my own. But you'll also see a lot of good-old-fashioned loading screens - in fact, at one point, the game quietly crashed behind a loading screen and it never went away. "Oh, Jesus," I thought, "it's finally happened; I've hit the loading screen singularity, an eternity of little spinning graphics and progress bars stuck permanently at ninety-nine percent." Then I reset the console, quietly hoping that my save would be wiped and I'd have an excuse to pack this shit in.
So that's basically Wet; it's "wet" in the sense that it feels like it needs its nappy changing.
- Diving through the air as we speak: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- I definitely do not advise googling for "Wet box" when Safesearch is off
- I consider myself more of a "dry" person, really