When I first fired up my copy of Warp, it seemed like a cross between two Twisted Pixel games, The Maw and Splosion Man. The main character, Zero, is an alien who looks a little like The Maw, and the plot is ripped directly from Splosion Man: You’re a being with special powers, and you need to escape from a laboratory full of scientists and armed enemies.
I also noticed that the graphics are cute and the protagonist’s babbling has a definite childlike quality to it, so I was expecting a kid-friendly experience with maybe a few risqué jokes. Then I heard the F word drop, and I thought that was a bit odd. And then I discovered that my alien can teleport inside a scientist and rip him apart from the inside, leaving the surrounding area smeared with blood. Then I checked the ESRB rating, and was surprised to find an M.
No, Warp is not the game you might expect based on a few screenshots. It’s an adults-only affair filled with exaggerated gore and dark humor. And while indie developer Trapdoor took some obvious cues from Twisted Pixel— Hey, why don’t we make Splosion Man a Maw-style alien that scientists are experimenting on, instead of a fiery being created by the scientists themselves? That’s, like, totally different! —the gameplay is stealth-oriented and fresh. At $10 for a five- to six-hour experience, this is a great buy.
Warp plays a little bit like old school Metal Gear Solid, except with more puzzles and shorter cutscenes. You control your character from an overhead third-person perspective, and, if anything, your alien is more vulnerable than Solid Snake once the enemy has spotted you—almost always, a single blow will end your game. Zero makes up for this, however, with his ability to teleport. You can teleport only a short distance in any direction, and the researchers have devised elaborate mechanisms to keep you from going through certain doors, but for the most part, you can move through walls and other objects with impunity. Most interestingly, you can teleport yourself inside certain objects, such as barrels and even people, which allows you to move more quickly, access new parts of the game world, hide from bad guys, and—best of all—blow things up by thrashing around inside them.
The level design here is simply fantastic. In between the game’s generous auto-save checkpoints, you’ll navigate mazes of deadly lasers, patrolling guards who make hilarious (if repetitive) comments, scientists who’ll pull an alarm lever if they spot you, and countless other contraptions. There’s a fair amount of trial and error involved, but you never find yourself losing massive amounts of work following a death, so it’s rarely frustrating. The boss battles are fairly clever for the most part, but one in particular can be infuriating—a rare misstep for Warp.
By far, teleporting is your greatest asset, but you gain other abilities as well. Throughout the environment you’ll find “grubs,” which you can exchange for enhanced powers (such as the ability to walk silently). You’ll also find special challenges—a room where you have to navigate a maze or kill all the humans, for example—and these earn you grubs too. Later in the game you’ll encounter other gameplay gimmicks, such as the ability to create a ghost of yourself and use it to trick the guards into shooting each other.
The controls are remarkably simple for such a clever game—you’ll play most of the game with just your directional input (the arrow keys on PC) and the teleport button. Also, the graphics are a little primitive—let’s just say it’s obvious the game has indie roots, even though it’s published by EA—but they’re also clean, charming, and effective, and they’re rarely so bad as to be distracting. Similarly, the sound isn’t overly elaborate, with all of the scientists being voiced by the same actor and bare-bones sound effects.
(Note to PC gamers: If you get horrendous screen tearing at first, as I did, you’ll want to force VSYNC on through your graphics card, because it’s not included in the options menu. Why do so many developers fail to make this easier for us? I have no idea.)
If there’s a flaw in Warp, it’s that when the game is over, you’re left wanting more—with more investment in the graphics and more levels, this title could easily have commanded several times the asking price of $10. Anyone who likes stealth, puzzle-solving, quirky humor, and a mixing of the childish and the gruesome will love Warp, and there’s easily enough fuel left in this concept to power a sequel or two. What’s more, this title introduces us to a promising new developer in Trapdoor—their next project, a platformer called Fez, is also coming out soon. All around, Warp is a success, and a fine example of what indie developers can accomplish when they aim high.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.8 Graphics
They’re primitive, but not so bad as to be distracting. 4.5 Control
Most of the time, a single button and a D-pad are all you’ll need. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Like the graphics, the sound is primitive, with lots of cut corners. 4.3 Play Value
At $10 for a six-hour campaign, this is a great buy. 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best