Warp, by Trapdoor Inc. is a game which was first introduced to me at PAX Prime back in September of 2011. It immediately caught my attention for its unique brand of stealth-action puzzling, and my time with it left me curious and wanting more. Now that the game is out for public consumption, does Warp live up to its promising first impressions, or does it kick off the Xbox Live House Party with a whimper?
Warp puts you in control of a deceptively cute little Martian named Zero, who has been captured by evil scientists. You’ve been stripped of your powers and are being held in a sprawling, underwater facility for experimentation. Naturally, once you reacquire your primary ability, all hell breaks loose in the facility as the staff attempts to recapture and contain you. Guided by the telepathic voice of another alien being held within the facility, you must see Zero safely to the surface, and freedom.
Rather than being split up into linear levels, the game is spread out over the entire facility, and progression occurs at a Metroid-like pace. Like any good Metroid game, you’ll come across areas early on in the game that you can’t access yet. You’ll need to acquire the necessary abilities before you can gain entry to those locations. It helps keep the pace steady, and the feeling of discovery alive throughout.
At its core, Warp is a stealth-action game. Your primary ability allows you to teleport a short distance in any direction, bypassing walls and other barriers. You can also warp inside of objects, be they inanimate or living, and even blow them up if the situation requires. The facility is crawling with armed guards and automated sentry turrets, but like any good stealth game, you don’t need to kill everything. More often than not, you can make it through an area without killing a single person, instead merely stunning guards or using distractions to see your way past them.
To that end, you gain a few extra abilities aside from your basic teleport as you progress. The most important of these abilities is the Echo, which allows you to send out a mental projection of yourself in any direction within a set radius. It’s great for drawing attention to a particular area, either for springing traps or just to allow the real Zero to slip by unnoticed. You’ll eventually get an upgrade to the Echo ability, which allows you to swap places with other objects or people, adding yet another wrinkle to the gameplay. You can also upgrade your abilities in a number of ways by collecting Grubs, which are hidden throughout the facility, and spending them at upgrade stations. Whether you’re choosing to display Grubs on your map, or to increase your movement speed, spend wisely – there are not enough Grubs in the game to buy you every upgrade.
Warp also does a pretty good job of introducing you to new gameplay elements without beating you over the head with tutorial text. One example of this puts you in a room with three types of barrels, lasers pointed at each of them, and buttons to activate each individual laser. Rather than telling you that one of the barrels is indestructible, you come to that conclusion on your own by playing around with the lasers. This knowledge, of course, comes in handy soon after, when you must choose the right kind of barrel in which to take shelter so that you’ll be protected from lasers. It’s just nice to see a game giving its players the benefit of the doubt once in a while instead of treating us like bed-wetting five year olds who couldn’t think their way out of a paper bag.
Like every stealth game before it, however, Warp relies heavily on trial and error gameplay mechanics. This isn’t necessarily a flaw in and of itself – more like a necessary function of the genre – but the less patient among you may earn yourselves a rage quit more than once anyway. Fortunately, the camera lets you pan far enough in any direction that you can generally see what’s up ahead and plan accordingly, but you know what they say about even the best laid plans. You’re going to die in Warp – probably more than once.
Nowhere is the game’s generally elevated level of difficulty more apparent than in its handful of Challenge Rooms. There are a number of these scattered about the facility, and scoring Bronze, Silver, or God will reward you with one, two, or three extra grubs respectively. Sometimes the goal is to reach the finish line, other times, you must kill all the humans. Either way, you’re being timed, and even when you’re not racing for a medal, these rooms are ball-bustingly hard. Hell, most of the time, I couldn’t even comprehend how getting a Gold medal was even possible, but I suppose I can simply chalk that up to a lack of skill.
On the presentation side of things, Warp gets mostly high marks. Zero is colorful and expressive, and the game’s lighting is particularly nice. The facility itself, however, is pretty drab, and most areas look similar to one another. You’ll be hard pressed to tell where you are or where you’re going without using the map. It’s no deal breaker, but some more variety in the environments would have been appreciated.
In the end, Warp is a fun and unique, if occasionally frustrating, stealth-action puzzler, and you won’t find much else quite like it on XBLA or PSN. What it lacks in variety, it makes up for with creativity. At a cost of only 800 Microsoft Points, Warp is also a decent value, clocking in at around seven hours even if you’re not a completionist. If you’re looking for a good way to spend your weekend, you can’t go wrong helping Zero warp his way out of captivity.
Warp was released on February 15th, 2012 for Xbox 360, and will be released on March 13th, 2012 for PS3 and PC. Review is based on the Xbox 360 version.