Wet (Xbox 360)
I was fielding questions on a panel at Fan Expo in Toronto two weeks ago when an audience member raised the issue of sex in videogames. Said person wanted to know if the day will come when sex becomes a more organic part of game experiences.
My short answer to the question was: "Yes, that day will come. Be patient." My long answer to that question involved about six or seven puerile jokes, because that's me. How I love my puerile jokes! Until that day comes (and yes, that is the third time I've used "the C-word" in three paragraphs, so viva la puerile jokes, viva, viva!), we have Wet.
Now, before you squawk your tires as you speed to the game store, Wet does not feature bona fide "this person is on top of that person; now that person is on top of this person" sex. Regardless, Wet is the closest our medium ever really gets these days to being a sexual experience. And by sexual experience, I mean that a heterosexual male will likely feel excited while playing the game. Not a holy-crap-I'm-turgid kind of excited, but more of a raised-pulse, I-think-I'm-a-little-bit-in-love excited.
The catalyst for those feelings is Rubi Malone, who m I'm proclaiming winner of the Most Clothed Yet Still Sexy Videogame Character Award. Congratulations, Rubi. There is no subtle way to put this, so I'll just say it: I like Rubi. I like her a lot more than I like, say, Ivy from Soulcalibur, or any of those Dead or Alive pixies with their missile-grade boobs, or any of the many thousands of other ridiculously proportioned, one-dimensional, midriff-baring "women" who traditionally inhabit videogames. Whoever came up with Rubi quite clearly knows that women's breasts do not feel the least bit like "bags of sand."
The gist of Wet's gameplay is that Rubi must defeat thousands of henchmen, a great many of whom are hideous stereotypes. Worst example: the Asian gang member who repeatedly says, in Ingrish, "You want candy, little girl?" Rubi defeats said henchmen by either a) diving through the air or b) sliding on her knees, pudendum-first in a you-know-you-want-this pose, while targeting the henchmen in slow-motion. Each room can typically be cleared by diving, then sliding, then diving again, then sliding, sliding, sliding, then diving, then sliding, and finally, surprise, diving again. You can swap weapons -- dual shotguns, SMGs, a bow, etc. -- and you can work a katana slice into the mix if you so choose, but sliding/diving constitutes around 98-percent of the gameplay.
The developer, A2M (if you're over the age of 18, no doubt you understand why this is an unfortunate name for a developer), tries really hard to mix things up. There are locked arenas in which Rubi must shut X number of enemy-generating doors. There are Rage levels, when the game shifts into a red/black-silhouette color scheme and Rubi must go on a killing spree. There are some puzzle-platformer-centric levels where she must figure out how to reach a destination via running and jumping. And there are the car-chase levels, which are basically Quick Time Events that show Rubi leaping from car to car and taking out enemies along the way. The car-chase levels are so good that they represent a first in gaming history: They are officially the first Quick Time Events in the medium that I wanted to play a second time.
All of this is done in the name of making you forget that you are sliding and diving ("sliving"?) for around 10 or 15 hours, depending on how quickly you can get past the game's difficulty spikes. But despite A2M's best efforts, I still could not shake the feeling that Wet lacks a third gameplay element, some key ingredient that would have made this game, like Rubi herself, irresistible.
Rubi's tough-talking exterior (whenever a door gets jammed, she says, "F***ing door!"), at-the-ready katana, dual pistols and even the saucy lock of hair perpetually draped over her left eye all come off as fronts -- as defense mechanisms for a more delicate underbelly. She behaves like a man, or believes she must behave like a man, in order to deal effectively with her mostly male enemies. Personally, I think Rubi would like to let herself be a woman, but can't, or doesn't know how to anymore. She would never admit to this, but I think she would like a nice gentleman to squire her to see "The Time Traveler's Wife" on Friday night and hold her hand.
There will be a raid tomorrow on the A2M office. All copies of "Kill Bill" and "Kill Bill 2" will be confiscated and destroyed. That is all.
What I'm saying is that there's more to Rubi than what we see on-screen. There's a past, a history, a soul. And there's a sadness there, a loneliness. She reminds me more than a little of the always-solo Samus Aran from Metroid.
Of course, this is still a videogame, so there's plenty of surreal absurdity attached to Rubi. Example: Rubi's abode is the carcass of a crashed B-52. This is where she apparently has her mail delivered. That's assuming she gets any mail; I can't really imagine Rubi opening a statement from Citibank each month. Whenever Rubi is low on health, she takes a swig from a bottle of booze. And not only does she swig -- no, that's not enough for Rubi -- but whenever she's finished drinking, she must toss the pint bottle into the air, whip out one of her pistols, and shoot the empty bottle.
Everything in the game, from the faux film-grain aesthetic to the clich? of having the name of each villain spelled out on-screen (even if said villain will be dead in a few moments), is straight Tarantino. I'm seriously beginning to think that Quentin Tarantino is the worst thing to happen to pop culture in the last 20 years. I've had it with the audience wink as a device. It forever presumes that we're all in on this awesome joke -- GET IT? WE'RE CELEBRATING AND SATIRIZING B-MOVIES? HA, HA, HA! -- that really isn't awesome anymore. Make something real and honest and true. That's more difficult to pull off.
Wet is also haunted by the ghost of Stranglehold, another game that attempted to let gamers kill henchmen and do cool things in slow-motion. And cool things do happen in Wet. Example: I saw a large wedding cake on a table. I climbed onto the table, went into a knee-slide, targeted a pair of nearby henchmen -- blam, blam, blam, blam -- while the wedding cake exploded around me.
But the illusion that you're doing cool things vanishes right quick -- this was Stranglehold's Achilles heel, too -- whenever you find yourself knee-sliding into a corner, then inadvertently roll-diving into the same corner, all in suddenly-embarrassing slow-motion, while enemies basically take their time to write little love notes to one another on your backside in bullets.
This happened a lot in Stranglehold. It happens a lot in Wet.
The plot includes the prerequisite oh-so-now-he's'-the-bad-guy moments that won't surprise anyone over the age of 14. Eliza Dushku voices Rubi and Malcolm Macdowell voices the game's lead villain, so the voice acting is generally well above par. But the real star of the game? My one true love? (Sorry, Rubi, honey, forgive me. I'll still take you to "The Time Traveler's Wife" on Friday night.) It's the game's spectacular soundtrack. Never in the history of gaming has a soundtrack done so much to shore up an otherwise mediocre experience than this one does. It's all raunch and wailing guitars and West Texas rockabilly with just a hint of Dick Dale mixed in.
My real secret fantasy? That Bethesda, Wet's publisher, had shipped a CD with the game's soundtrack on it. Perhaps it realized that, if it had, I'd no doubt wind up playing the CD long after Wet and Rubi were both collecting dust on my shelves.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 game provided by the publisher.
Don't miss GSI: Game Scene Investigation: Wet