WET is a third-person action title starring Rubi, a sword-wielding killer acrobat with a penchant for whiskey. When Rubi isn't busy slicing gangsters into little pieces, she likes to shoot them in the head. She also likes to run up walls, to flip around the room like a high-speed monkey, and to go sliding about on her knees with a blazing pistol in each hand, John Woo style. If it involves jumping around and someone getting hurt, Rubi will probably like to do it.
One thing that Rubi doesn't do, however, is hide. In a design choice that clearly flips a bloodied middle finger to convention, WET declines to give the player a cover system. No Gears of War-style cowering behind walls here - just lots and lots of gymnastic violence. The name WET alludes to "wetworks", a slang term for assassination that is usually associated with the CIA and other government bodies. Rubi is no suited spook, though - she's an independent "fixer" for hire, a colourful killer with a style that owes more to Quentin Tarantino than to Sam Fisher.
It takes all of two seconds to notice that developer A2M has been heavily influenced by the films of Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez - particularly Kill Bill, Desperado and the Grindhouse double-bill. There's a grainy look to the game's visuals, and every once in a while you'll see the "screen" scratch or tear; the game's loading screens take the form of faded movie posters and cheesy trailers announcing "your feature presentation,"; there's even an up-tempo soundtrack packed with surf rock and rockabilly tracks. It's a very stylish approach, and I'd guess that this aesthetic played a large part in Bethesda's decision to rescue the game from limbo after it was abandoned during last year's merger between Vivendi and Activision. Rubi herself is voiced by Eliza Dushku (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), while the story has been written by Duppy Demetrius - the oddly named scribe who authored the first five seasons of 24.
When it comes to action, WET discards the stop-start pacing of Gears and other cover-based shooters in favour of something a lot more fluid. With less emphasis on self-preservation, you're encouraged to kill your foes as quickly and as stylishly as possible. Holding the left trigger will send Rubi running along a wall, during which time you'll automatically trigger a slow-motion sequence. During this interlude you'll have full manual control of one crosshair while a second is automatically aimed at a second target nearby. Killing several enemies in a row will start up a combo meter, and such is the game's commitment to style that you can maintain your psychotic spree by chaining together acrobatic moves: you might start by running along a wall, leap off and then wind up sliding along your knees, leaving a trail of bullet casings and dead mobsters in your wake. Throw in a samurai sword for some quick-n-bloody melee attacks, and you have yourself a party... a great big party of death.
In the demonstration shown at Bethesda's recent London event, Rubi found herself in San Francisco, attempting to retrieve a mysterious case from a Brian Eno-lookalike named Simmons. At the start of the level Mr Simmons attempts to sell the case to a third party, but before long all hell breaks loose and the meeting turns into what Tarantino would call "a bullet festival". The resulting chase seemed to consist of fairly linear streets and corridors broken up with more open, arena-like levels. One of these found Rubi trapped in a large urban courtyard, with what seemed to be a near-endless supply of thugs with bats. Using her acrobatic skill, Rubi flipped her way around the plaza, despatching foes while searching for a way to close off a series of shop doorways that were acting as bad-guy generators. While this was our heroine's primary goal, the underlying aim was clearly to just kill as many people as possible whilst acting like a poseur. Rubi can fire her weapons from pretty much any position you can think of - she can even blaze away as she slides down a ladder, using only her legs for grip. With her default pistols, you don't even need to reload - although later in the game she can pick up other dual-weapons that do require you to watch your ammo - shotguns, submachineguns and crossbows.
Style-wise, A2M's demo hit its peak with a quick glimpse at something called "rage mode" - a set-piece sequence that rather resembled the word's bloodiest iPod commercial. This section began with a cutscene in which Rubi gets blood on her face after blowing away yet another hapless gangster; for some reason this really pisses her off, causing the game to briefly take on a new look: the entire world becomes soaked in red, with Rubi and her foes drawn only as black and white silhouettes. During this interval the player becomes near-invincible, with boosted attack power and regenerating health. There didn't appear to be any added point to this section, but it looked pretty damn cool. There will be eight of these set-pieces in the final game, and they'll each have their own quirk or gimmick.
The final section of the demo saw Rubi attempting to chase Simmons over the tops of several moving vehicles. This was essentially your typical Hollywood highway car chase, except that several of the participants were standing on top of their rides. It was enjoyably ridiculous stuff, although you may be slightly disappointed to hear that the whole sequence was actually an on-rails shooting gallery with the occasional QTE thrown in for good measure. All the same, it was quite fun to enjoy the sight of Rubi throwing people under the wheels of passing cars. Things got really quite ludicrous towards the end of this battle, with cars flipping and exploding as the body count shot through the roof.
There's no denying that WET boasts an energetic and eye-catching style. It may be pilfering its flavours from other sources, but at least it's picking decent material to pinch from - and besides, Tarantino has forged his whole career from stealing and blending pop culture images. The big question for WET is whether there's any substance beneath the style. It certainly looks fun, but until we get hands-on it's hard to say whether the action will be refreshingly light or simply light-headed. Bethesda clearly had enough faith to pick the project up, so we'll see how it fares when Rubi makes her grand entrance later in the year.
WET will be released on PS3 and Xbox 360 in the autumn.