When I first started playing Warp, the latest game from Trapdoor Interactive and Electronic Arts, I couldn’t help but feel what I like to call the “Valve vibe”. That’s when you kind of get the same sort of independent gaming essence from its previous works, but from a different perspective. Warp has a Portal-esque look at first, as you wander as a cute little alien named Zero around a lab and humans watch over your progress through a memory puzzle and digesting a grub (without a mouth, no less).
But before you get into the easygoing vibe that the game puts on at first, you’re soon taken for a throttling turn. About near the beginning of the opening level, Zero reacquires an ability that makes him a force to be reckoned with – the option to warp from one place to another. Granted, the warping isn’t effective in the long range, but it does come with its perks, like getting through walls and warping into objects. But it’s about ten minutes into the game that you discover Zero’s best ability – warping into human beings.
It’s simple. Once a guard or an unfortunate scientist get into your reach, you can warp into them and shake the analog stick to make them explode into a pile of bloody goop. It’s a sick effect, and one of the main highlights of Warp.
Unfortunately, it’s also an indicator of the steep difficulty that awaits you as you progress through the game. The level design ramps up diabolically, to the point that you’re stuck in a certain part, trying to figure out what switch does what. We understand Trapdoor’s desire to add complexity to to the game, but this might be a little ridiculous. Factor in some nearly unbeatable boss enemies that can crush you in a moment’s notice and a final level that’s to the point of utter fury-inducing madness, and you’ve got a game that only a certain few will see through to the end.
It’s not the gameplay’s fault. There’s ingenuity here in warping around and making stuff explode, but the whole stealth approach feels too heavy-handed, and Trapdoor could’ve easily added a lighter difficulty setting for those who aren’t crazy about being smushed by a grunt. Luckily, there are some side challenge rooms that are endearing, where you can compare your best completion times with others through Xbox Live (and soon, the PlayStation Network).
Warp has very inspired design, as we mentioned above. The graphics are very good for a downloadable game, and Zero has his moments of delight, even without a mouth or, for that matter, hardly any other recognizable facial features. The camera needs some work, though, especially when it comes to spotting enemies in the immediate area. And the HUD map doesn’t always help.
At least the audio is good. The in-game music is fun to listen to, even if it does die out a bit too often during certain stages, and the sound effects and voicework are good, giving you the feeling that something’s amiss, but never to the point that these guys are recreating Alien (though, honestly, with Zero’s human blasting powers, he is something worth fearing).
If you prefer your games on the steep, damn near hard side, then Warp is definitely for you, with its twisted level design and challenging bonus rooms. However, if you’re a 'newb', we highly recommend giving the trial game a run first – lest you warp yourself into a frenzy.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]