Warp review: An interesting stealthy puzzle game

Warp review: An interesting stealthy puzzle game

As a big fan of stealth and puzzle games, I was delighted to hear about this offering by Trapdoor — instead of the usual infiltrating in a stealth game it's the opposite; you play an alien called Zero, who is trying to escape from a secret underwater lab where the evil humans are performing experiments on you and you kind.

The game itself is played out in a top down perspective and is very well designed while also being full of witty humour; if I were to liken it to anything it feels reminiscent of the older Metal Gear Solid titles. However unlike a human your alien has the upper-hand, being given a variety of tricks it can perform in order to facilitate its escape, with the main one being teleportation - you can 'warp' through walls and unlocked doors, warp inside of objects of a similar size to hide from humans, and warp into enemies either teleporting out and leaving them dazed and unscathed, or if you want to be messy you can make them explode in a glorious cloud of shrapnel and/or guts. As you progress through the game you unlock new powers, such as the ability to duplicate yourself and use these decoys to distract attention.

Each of your abilities can be upgraded by collecting grubs which can be spent at the various upgrade points dotted about the lab. The grubs also provide the main reason to explore the whole of the environment as there's some back-tracking to do if you want to be able to collect enough to upgrade all of your abilities to their maximum potential. The upgrade mechanic is balanced well as generally you'll only collect enough grubs on a level to upgrade one power and will lead to a choice based on your preferred gameplay style, upgrading stealth powers if you subscribe to the "live and let live" school of thought, or increasing your ability to make things go splat from further away if you're more cautious.

The game also tracks a multitude of stats, all displayed on various leaderboards that you're presented with, so those gamers who like to measure themselves against their peers should find lots of mileage here. Milestones such as teleporting a total distance of 5km, are displayed in-game and are measured against your friends which is a nice touch and helps re-enforce a multiplayer/community feel for a single player game.

All of the above certainly helps the experience, but the best part about Warp is way that each puzzle or situation you find yourself in can be solved in multiple ways making it feel less linear than most puzzle games. A good example is dealing with guards; you can stun guards, kill them by warping into them and exploding, or by teleporting in between two of them and then teleporting out as they fire at you, thus 'off-ing' each other in delightfully cartoonish 'bungling henchmen' style that is endlessly satisfying. Generally there are at least two ways around each problem and checkpoints are just frequent enough to stop you tearing your hair out, though be prepared to be patient at the loading times in between botched attempts as you can be waiting longer than you'd expect.

This leads us onto the problems of Warp, of which there aren't too many but the ones that are there do have the ability to ruin the core experience. The teleport controls are a bit fiddly and it's not always obvious exactly where you are going to teleport to and what objects can be teleported into and/or through. Combine this with the 'insta-death' that the game punishes you with at the drop of a metaphorical hat and you'll find your best laid strategy in ruins before you even know what's happening more times than not. This, coupled with the loading times between restarts, can make some sections of the game feel very grinding and finishing them is more of relief rather than a sense of achievement. Also little design decisions, like having to jiggle the left stick to explode objects/humans is a tad frustrating, especially since sometimes you have to move quickly this control scheme just doesn't seem responsive enough for the actions required. Of course, this might just be to encourage you to find a different way around this particular obstacle but letting you choose your own path for most of the game and then being suddenly being forced to play in a set way does nothing for the flow of the gameplay.

The production values are lacking at times too compared to other PSN and XBLA titles; some of the animations are a bit ropey, there is only one voice actor per human type (e.g. one scientist, one guard etc) and after a while the environment becomes a bit of a samey blur. All of this doesn't help too much with the little flaws but can easily be looked past as well depending on what type of player you are.

Overall Warp is fun and based around good, solid ideas, and I wish the issues with it didn't bug me as much as they do, plus the level of polish that we've grown to expect from downloadable titles just isn't there throughout the whole game. After spending some time to replay certain sections over and over, getting a little further each time before you die again, outweighed the fun I was having with all of the cool sections which is a real shame as this could have been one of the best downloadable games out there. It offers a fairly generous trial in terms of length and full game features which I would urge anyone to download and try for themselves, as it is well worth a play. I hope that Trapdoor and EA have another attempt in the future and fix all the niggles as I'll certainly be waiting to download it. At a smallish price point of 800 Microsoft points it definitely is worth a play.

four stars

Warp is also now available on the Playstation Network for £7.99 should you not have an Xbox 360.