Wanted: Weapons of Fate Preview
Some game developers have a really tough job to do. One example is GRIN and Universal Studios in trying to make movie-based games that break the stereotype that every game with a movie's title on the box is completely worthless. The cards are stacked against them, though; it turns out that releasing a game and movie at the same time rarely actually works, since the development cycles of movies and games are so different. So while Wanted: Weapons of Fate is based on a movie that was released in theaters almost a year ago and your excitement for all things Wanted has probably dropped off by now, this one's still actually worth your time.
The demo for Weapons of Fate that Warner and Universal released on the Xbox 360 a couple weeks ago doesn't really help. Sure, your character gets to employ some of the signature Wanted action, including the ability to curve bullets to hit people behind cover, but if you recall, the movie wasn't exactly a bunch of guys trying to sling bullets around corners while hiding behind crates. And the single level included in the demo, chosen for I don't know what reason, has you doing exactly that on an airplane that's doomed to crash. And what's worse is that the demo ends right when it's getting good - as in, right when the plane is about to crash into a mountain while your character is desperately trying to escape. On top of that, there's no boss to fight and you don't get any real story elements to connect the game to the movie. Frankly, that demo was an obvious rush job and it's sad that the most amusing thing about the Wanted: Weapons of Fate demo is that the easiest difficulty level is called "Pussy". For anyone who's seen the movie, at least that's a good nod right there.
But don't let Universal's poor decision of what to include in the demo completely destroy your impression of the overall game. Wanted: Weapons of Fate is actually pretty damn good, and my time spent playing the full version of it just a couple weeks short of the official release date has convinced me. It's not going on any GOTY lists, but the unique brand of action does open up later in the game, making those cool abilities that were annoying to use in the demo actually really good.
The game's plot starts only a few hours after the movie's ending. It serves not only as a sequel, but it's also got backstory-filling flashback scenes that have the main character's father, Cross, fighting to keep the unborn Wesley out of the crosshairs of the Paris branch of the Fraternity. These guys see Cross' relationship with a woman and the child he fathered with her as a breach of the Fraternity's code and are out to wipe his new family out. And in the modern-day scenes, Wesley, the main character from the movie, is fighting to stop the new threat: the Immortal, the assassin Cross wasn't able to finish off that is back to hunting Wesley. As you alternate between these two stories you'll head into fairly large and interesting indoor and outdoor areas, moving quickly from cover to cover, curving bullets to take out your enemies that hide very well, and fighting bosses that may not be able to curve bullets themselves but can really put the hurt on you if you're not careful.
One of the under-used characters from the movie, the bullet smith Pekwarsky (voiced by Terence Stamp, reprising his role from the film), makes it back and gets to play a more prominent role as the Fraternity insider looking out for Wesley. He's a good addition to the game, but it is kind of a shame that more of the actors from the movie couldn't make it into the studio for voice work here. Still, the guy taking over James McAvoy's role as Wesley does a fine job, and even the voice actor playing Morgan Freeman's Sloan in a flashback really isn't bad at all - and at the least, the likenesses of all of the movie's characters have been secured for the game. But one of the better things about this all is that the game doesn't compromise the attitude of the film, or of the comic book that preceded it: even though the developers could have easily kept everything tame to make a Teen rating, they are leaving in the blood, the cussing, and the sexual references that ensured an M rating.
Wanted includes a couple of action-based innovations that you probably wouldn't expect out of a licensed game like this. The first is that curving bullets allows your enemy to usually hide correctly behind cover, instead of being purposely animated to make sure they've always got some conspicuous body part sticking out for you to easily hit. The second one, though, is in adapting a cover system - something that's mostly been used in other games for slow, meticulous fights where you pick off enemies one at a time - to a fast-action game with lots of quick kills. This is done by allowing you to very easily swap between cover spots, and once you unlock the ability, also turn on a quick bit of bullet time to take out 2, 3, or even more enemies quickly while dashing between one cover spot to the next.
While the developers list Max Payne as one of their bigger influences, it's important to note that you won't quite be reproducing a John Woo film scene-by-scene here. Instead, your use of things like dives and bullet time are a little more limited or scripted, so while they're just as deadly, you can't lean on them constantly. In the meantime you'll be dashing between cover quickly, using the right-bumper/right stick method of figuring out the right trajectory for a curved bullet to traverse the environment and plug the dude throwing grenades way in the back. Or you'll blind-fire out to suppress a group of enemies so that they can't see as you quickly get around behind and hit them in the back.
One of the more impressive features, though, is this game's take on Quick Time Events - here, Wesley (and Cross) will dive, fly, and slide in a QTE-style interactive cutscene - and in mid-air you'll have to actually aim and fire during them rather than be forced to intently watch the bottom of the screen for a button indicator. So you get to see and control the action as it unfolds in these short sequences, and it makes for a natural-feeling, shooter-oriented recreation of the QTE system that gamers have been getting sick of over the last few years.
Wanted: Weapons of Fate will not include multiplayer action, but it does have a decent round of unlockables, three difficulty levels, and the ability to play as the boss characters you defeat. I wonder just how different the game actually plays when controlling these characters, or whether it just substitutes the Wesley character model for a different one. And since the movie had a hot vixen in the form of Angelina Jolie's Fox, how much of a role does the game's pretty lady, an enemy boss named Araņa, actually have?
The upside for Universal and GRIN is that these questions are rather tame and have to do with little details. Often enough, the questions being asked around this time for most licensed games have to do with just how bad the game is or whether they'll be excited enough from the movie experience to see past some deep, deep flaws in the game. Wanted: Weapons of Fate is a much better experience than that; it avoids those questions by forging a new plot line and putting some good, if subtle, innovations into today's cover-based action. We'll find out just how well the package rounds itself out when the game's released on PC, PS3, and 360 on March 24th.