What would you do if you were an alien, captured by scientists and imprisoned in an undersea laboratory? Would you try to escape by using your ability to warp into objects to stealthily evade your captors, or would you use that same ability to exact revenge on the jerks, warping into them and then exploding them from the inside? Trapdoor and Electronic Arts let you make the decision in Warp, a fun action puzzle game that succeeds despite some flaws.
Warp is played from a 3/4 top down perspective. You are Zero, an alien captured by scientists and taken to an underwater laboratory for experimentation. Using your abilities, you must solve environmental puzzles, escape your captors, and survive encounters with the crazed Commander hunting you. Zero can warp, passing through doors and walls to avoid danger. You can also warp into objects and even people, allowing you to hide from your pursuers and cause mischief. As the game progresses, you gain additional abilities like creating echo clones, swapping places with objects or throwing them. While traversing the lab, you can collect grubs for purchasing advanced powers and destroy the video research the scientists have collected on you.
Warp is as much about how you use your powers as the powers themselves. In addition to just solving puzzles so you can escape, your powers let you choose how you want to play the game. You can warp into objects to hide or for tactical purposes; while in an object you can shake it to attract the attention of guards and scientists, who will come to investigate. Shake an object repeatedly and you will frag it, exploding out and creating a shockwave that stuns nearby enemies. The same applies to humans, so you have the option of either employing stealth to gain your freedom, or making sure that you exact revenge on your captors as you’re on the way out.
For example, you can watch the movement of guards and sneak through most rooms undetected, or you can warp into the guard, explode out of them in a spray of blood and body parts and then move around at your leisure. New abilities give you more options, like using an echo clone to either distract guards or trick them into shooting each other. You can purchase additional powers suited to your play style at upgrade stations scattered throughout the lab. Upgrades can make your warps and footsteps silent for better sneaking around the base, or give you the ability to place echo mines that will attract guards and then detonate, disabling them. Upgrade stations also have passive abilities for purchase, like displaying grub and film locations on the map, and recovering your power faster if it is drained. Being able to choose powers that fit your style of play is nice, but it doesn’t really have a deeper purpose. There are enough grubs to purchase all of the powers in the game, and the lack of story leaves you no compelling reason to be particularly good or evil.
In some instances, especially when entering a new area or encountering enemies or situations that restrict your powers, death is a necessary part of learning how things in the world work. The game reminded me of Limbo in that sense, where death is almost unavoidable as part of the learning process. Fortunately, the game is liberal with the checkpoints, and there always seems to be one close by, especially for harder parts. Unfortunately, the checkpoints don’t always reset after you’ve collected a grub or destroyed a film canister, so you may not be able to trigger the same checkpoint again, and will have to repeat those actions if you die before reaching the next one. For the majority of the game, the challenge scales nicely, but I did get the feeling towards the end (especially in the last area) that the designers were cheaply adding difficulty. In addition to the main game puzzles, there are also challenge rooms scattered around the lab, each one focused on improving your skills at certain abilities. You are awarded grubs based on your time, and leaderboards allow you to see how you rank against friends and other players.
The controls in Warp are generally good, but there are some frustrating elements. The analog stick is the best for controlling Zero, but it takes a lot of wiggling (and creates a lot of controller noise) to frag an object. Conversely, the directional pad is faster for fragging, but not as good for moving and aiming your powers. In the end I wound up controlling Zero with the stick and then using the pad to frag things, which is not a very elegant solution. It would have been nice if fragging required less movement, so I could have just used the stick the entire time. Another issue was controlling echoes. When you create an echo you have control of it, but as soon as the echo goes out of range or is “killed”, control reverts back to Zero. In more than one instance my echo unexpectedly died and I wound up inadvertently walking Zero off a ledge or into a laser beam as a result. It wasn’t a huge issue, but it happened enough to be annoying.
The graphics aren’t amazing but they do the job, and Zero has an appealing charm to him. The sound is like the graphics, and doesn’t leave a strong impression either way. Zero is quirky and sounds like a cross between the Hamburglar and the minions from the movie Despicable Me. The voice work is fine, but all guards and all scientists have the same voice, which gets a little repetitive.
A good puzzle game should leave you with the feeling that the solutions make sense, and I felt that way the entire time I was playing Warp. Often when stuck, I had to step back and look at a puzzle a different way, only to find the solution immediately. The abilities are fun to play with, especially trying new things like throwing a corpse down a hallway to test for mines. I spent about 6 hours in the campaign, and probably another hour in the challenge rooms either trying to complete them or going for a faster time. I can’t really comment on the story because there isn’t any; in fact the only way I knew the main character’s name was Zero was from reading the release notes. Even with the lack of story and occasional frustrations, Warp brings enough fun to the XBLA House Party to be worth checking it out.
Review copy provided by publisher.