While third-person shooters are two-a-penny these days, Wanted seems to be the perfect licence for a quick burst of action. This is the story of Wesley Gibson - an office drone who is surprised to discover that he's the son of one of the world's top international assassins. Last summer's film, very loosely based upon a comic by Mark Millar, told the story of Wesley's recruitment to The Fraternity - the same cabal of killers that his old man worked for. Weapons of Fate is now set to continue Mr Gibson's adventures, picking up a few hours after the end of the movie.
So yes, we're once again in third-person shooty land, and all our familiar friends are here: there's Mr Cover System, Mr Slow-Motion and Little Miss Recharging Health. However, there are also a few new twists on the standard way of doing things. For a start, the cover mechanics have been designed to allow the player to crawl around most of a level without ever properly exposing themselves. Getting into cover is still just a matter of running up to an object and hitting A on the 360 pad or X on the PS3 controller, but once you're there you can usually slide over to another location by holding the left stick in a specific direction and pressing the button again. It's a minor refinement, but worth mentioning.
A more interesting feature is the fact that you can choose to trigger a sort of Bullet Time transition between two bits of cover, provided that you've built up your adrenaline meter by killing enemies. If you do this you'll get a brief window of murderous opportunity while you flit between hiding places; kill enough bad guys and perhaps you'll manage to refill your meter. Between bouts of sliding back and forth between crates and the like, you'll find that it pays to fire off the occasional burst of blind fire. If you do this enough the screen will take on a darker tone, signifying that your enemies have been suppressed. Once this happens you'll be able to dart about at greater speed and slip around to your opponents' flank without them noticing. At which point you can shoot them in the arse and feel all proud of yourself.
Of course, one of the distinctive trademarks of the Wanted universe is that its trained killers have the ability to curve the path of bullets, allowing them to shoot around corners and the like. Naturally this ludicrous concept has made it into Weapons of Fate. Assuming that you've built up enough adrenaline, holding the right shoulder button will summon a curved line between you and the closest target. Adjust the trajectory with the left stick until the line turns from red to white, indicating a clear shot, then release the button to fire. For some reason this method feels a little counter-intuitive at first - perhaps because you're releasing a button, rather than pressing one - but once you've got the hang of it you'll be swiftly despatching enemies hiding in cover. Sometimes you'll also be treated to a nice slow-mo of your rival taking a slug to the head, too.
Unfortunately, there currently appear to be a few minor problems with bullet curving. For a start, it seems quite tricky to cancel your aim - something you may well want to do if you suddenly find yourself under fire, or if your proposed target gets up and moves. As a result, it's quite easy to waste your curves. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that you don't seem to be able to switch targets while aiming a curved bullet: the game decides who you'll lock-on to, then it's up to you to kill them. If you're facing three guys at once and the game decides that you'll aim at the bloke on the far left, then that's who'll get your bullet - never mind if one of the other enemies represents a greater threat. In fairness, it seems as though the game picks the enemy closest to your targeting reticule and, as a result, where your eye is focused. In theory, you can just look in the direction of the enemy (usually breaking cover in the process) and then hit RB, but it goes without saying that this is a bit of a clumsy arrangement - particularly if you're under fire from three different guns.
There are a few other issues that give cause for concern. Because there's no lock-on for standard gunplay, aiming and shooting at a target can take a few seconds. This isn't a problem most of the time, but if someone manages to get close to you by approaching you from the side or rear, you're pretty much screwed. You do have an instant-kill melee attack at your disposal, but this can only be triggered when you're facing an enemy and right up close to them. In short, if someone gets close to you and they're not standing pretty much in front of you, you're in big trouble.
Still, let's not be too po-faced about this. The melee animations are gloriously unpleasant (think knife-meets-groin), and can be triggered from cover if you get into the right position. Picture this: you're on one side of a box, some loser is on the other... then you lean across and - "Goodnight!" - you stab him in the head. Though it probably goes without saying, Weapons of Fate is looking pretty dark. One of the demo levels I've been playing sees you working your way through the cabin of a large commercial aircraft - one where all the passengers have been murdered in their seats. There's a lot of grim detail to this stage, and some neat effects to boot: you can shoot wall-mounted fire extinguishers to blow open emergency doors, sucking your enemies into space and causing the entire plane to lurch about to the sound of bleating alarms.
It's worth mentioning that in this level you actually play as The Killer - Wesley's semi-legendary father. Though full details are scarce, it seems as though the plot of Weapons of Fate will jump about in time, covering Daddy's career as well as Wesley's own battles with a French chapter of The Fraternity. From what I've seen so far, Wanted's graphics are looking pretty sharp, if a little on the dark side. The model for Wesley looks close to his real-world counterpart, and the character animations on him and his enemies also seem to be slick and well-produced.
Make no mistake, there's certainly potential for Weapons of Fate to be a really decent action game - but a lot will depend on how the combat controls play out in the final build. Perhaps it's simply a case of getting used to the mechanics, or perhaps I'm just playing like a numpty, but at the moment I fear that a few fiddly irritations may hold the game back from being a more successful shooter. Still, we should know soon: the final product is due for release in the Spring, and we're expecting review code any day now. Check back soon for the final verdict.
Wanted: Weapons of Fate will be released on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 in April.