Review: Warp (XBLA)
Warp kicks off Microsoft’s ‘House Party’ Xbox Live Arcade promotion (heading soon to PSN and Windows), and being the first title from studio Trapdoor Inc. it definitely has a lot to live up to. Does this orange critter teleport to the top of the charts, or does it turn inside out … and then explode?
You play as Zero, a small orange alien who must escape a mysterious lab after being kidnapped by humans. It doesn’t take long until you unlock your main ability and you’ll soon pick up the basic gameplay mechanics through a tutorial, taking place under observation from the scientists.
Zero has the ability to warp (unsurprisingly), allowing him to teleport short distances – often through walls or obstacles to navigate the world – though you can also teleport into various objects, and this is where the game claims its 18 rating. By shaking the left stick in a circular motion you’ll expand the object until it explodes. This goes for containers and turrets but also humans…showering the area with blood and limbs, and it really doesn’t get old. Later skills allow you to create an echo of yourself and swap yourself with various objects, creating some quite complex puzzles towards the end of the game, requiring you to combine these skills effectively.
Warp has a unique appeal, and the style must have come into question during the pitch for the project. You have a quirky orange alien who can teleport, in stark contrast to the blood, violence and bad language of an mature title. I appreciate the seemingly at-odds competition of the two, but I’m sure this must have been interesting for EA to decide how to promote.
There’s a lot of charm to Warp, the art style and animations reminiscent of ‘Splosion Man, providing a clean and shiny world, – that is until you cover it in blood – and all the areas are full of attention to detail, creating a very cohesive gameplay space. The humans are very animated and often scared of you … unless they have a gun, in which case you’ll want to keep in hiding or sneak up and warp into them, since if the bullets start flying it’s a one hit kill for the most part. I found from time to time a little inconsistency with objects in the world that were affected by the physics system, so that sometimes I’d get stuck on the edge of objects or lodged into a corner, though having the warp ability means it’s easy to get yourself out of such situations.
The levels are quite large, although primarily linear with clear objectives, and while side rooms may prove a challenge to locate, they are well worth the effort for the upgrades you’ll unlock. To move from one area to another you’ll often hop into transport tubes similar to those of the Chemical Plant Zone in Sonic 2. Later levels do get a little wider (and trickier), offering more chances for exploration, though the objective route is generally well signposted, meaning that you can progress through pretty quickly if you don’t wish to explore and collect everything. There’s a small amount of backtracking, though this is usually because of a newly acquired upgrade, varying the trip back slightly. Brain power will be required in the later stages to collect everything, since as new abilities are acquired, you are increasingly asked to combine multiple powers together and it can get pretty tricky!
As to be expected from a stealth action game, there can be some trial and error, but thankfully the loads are quick and checkpoints frequent, meaning that you’re never out of the action for long. The boss battles may require a few attempts, and as you might already know, I really don’t like boss fights for the most part! The final boss in the game took a number of tries, and unfortunately brought to light the sometimes inconsistent collision detection where for example I’d find myself getting stuck on the corners of objects.
The game is played from a top down perspective, shifting slightly for cutscenes and specific gameplay moments, and you move the viewpoint using the right stick to get a better idea of your surroundings while hiding.
Controls are relatively simple, with use of the two sticks and four face buttons, keeping it straightforward even when you’ve collected all the core abilities.
The Upgrade Stations can be used to unlock new perks using the Grubs that you collect. These aren’t key abilities, but instead help you to move/warp more quietly, or detect all the hidden collectables in the level. Others offer you more gameplay choices such as ‘stealth frags’, allowing you to disintegrate your enemies with no blood or mess, and saving your thumb from some RSI. Some are more useful than others in terms of providing a means of simplifying the gameplay, but they are all worth the Grubs you spend on them. I found the stun perk for the echo very useful, as it allows you to dispatch the fully shielded guards with ease after drawing them in with a distraction. The collected film reels unlock some quite pretty production artwork, accessible from the main menu.
It may be that I’m right handed, but having to move the left stick quickly in circles often proved to be more awkward than I expected. While the right stick is used for the camera, I would have liked some customisation on the controls so that I could have used the right stick to explode/frag.
Warp gives you a lot of variation throughout, and a number of the combat scenarios offer options too. For example there are some areas that you can choose to sneak through silently, or use skilful warping to massacre the entire squad, with a number of the achievements encouraging you to try new methods. In the larger areas it’s also a good idea to take out the alarms first, therefore if you are seen by the scientists, you are likely to be able to take them out before they alert anyone else .. i.e. they guys with the guns!
Challenge rooms are scattered throughout the game to test your skills. While they aren’t hard to locate, you’ll have a tough time getting Gold medals on them all, since they require some pretty quick reflex based actions. Thankfully they are replayable at any time from the main menu, and they’re worth persevering with as they provide you with Grubs, further allowing you to upgrade your skills.
The ending was satisfying, but there’s absolutely no music during the credits, which seemed odd, given that the soundtrack throughout the rest of the game had been very effective and of high quality, with quite an epic main menu theme.
Warp could really have used a New Game+ option, as you probably won’t be able to play with all the unlockable skills on your initial adventure, whereas a second go through with some of the extra abilities would have increased replay value tenfold. How about speed run leaderboards? It does feature quite comprehensive stats, something to the extent you’d expect to see in an open world title, with values on how much distance you’ve covered, as well as the various means by which you died.
Warp took me a good afternoon to get through, with the ingame timer clocking in around 4 and a half hours, though I can’t be sure that this took into account the 30 minutes or so I spent on the final boss encounter!
Overall I really enjoyed my time with Warp. By the end I was becoming a little tired of the underwater complex environment; however there was enough variation in the core gameplay to keep me entertained. The charm and art style are very effective at creating a unique looking stealth puzzle adventure game, working nicely with the soundtrack. As expected, it can be quite trial and error, with some situations becoming much easier with the various purchased upgrades. I wish they had thought a little more long term with the replay value, and while the challenge rooms are a nice touch, I can’t help but think they could have offered a level replay feature, or smaller side missions such as the VR missions seen in the Metal Gear Solid series. Maybe they’ll offer these as DLC, since the core mechanics are very strong. The adventure mode is a good length and gives you your money’s worth for the most part; just be expected to die … a lot!