Review: Warp

Warp

The telefrag: a convention of some first-person shooters, particularly older ones, where one thing being teleported into the same place as another causes death.  What was at one point largely a way to force players not to stand in a spawn point with a shotgun, or just create the fun and mayhem associated with the prospect of an instant death in a competitive game, has now become a central mechanic in an Xbox Live Arcade title which is decidedly not from the first-person perspective.  That title, Warp, sums up the basic content of the game, short range teleportations.  “Warps” probably would have been more on the nose, sort of like how one might call Super Meat Boy “Jumps”, but I can understand why they might not have gone with that title.  The word “warps” causes me to think of the pipes in a warp zone, and that is not what this game is.  What it is, is an action puzzle game that some people might like but is hard to recommend that everyone run out and buy it.  (Or stay in to buy it as this is a download only game).  This particular Microsoft ‘House Party’ is sort of like a soiree at a dry house — some people might have fun, others might even enjoy the lack of lubrication, but many are not going to like dealing with the reality of everything.

Powered by the Unreal engine, Warp tells the story of an alien that gets thrown into captivity in a – presumably – secret government base to be poked, prodded and probably dissected after an untimely, but perhaps experimental, death.  Government scientists are jerks and they don’t like weird science-fiction creatures, which is odd because everyone I’ve ever met who majored in or liked any field of science was way into science fiction and would much rather chat with or date a Centauri rather than cut her open to count the hearts.  Obviously a white lab coat and comically large rubber gloves turns you evil because that is what these scientists have and they have no interest in talking to anyone without the standard number of parts.  In any event, players will take control of the alien as he tries to escape the facility.  Along the way he is guided in part by an Objective marker on a map, but more contextually by a strange voice that rattles off gibberish, commentary and displays text at the bottom of the screen.  There is not a ton of narrative of which to comment further.  Escape the base, read some occasionally funny text, develop a dislike for your human captors.

The little guy is a cute orange blob with arms, legs and floppy antenna that does not look very menacing at all.  He sort of looks like a waist-high bottle of orange Fanta soda wearing the Hamburglar’s mask, with six pieces of black rubber hose for appendages and illuminated, yellow eyes.  In addition to awkwardly trotting through corridors, he will spout off an almost unending series of gurgling, indecipherable and decidedly alien vocalizations which sound like a horrific amalgamation of a zergling and Wall-E, but cute.  It is not as complicated sounding as Simlish, but it is emotive enough to give the wordless creature some personality.  The scientists and the soldiers that guard him are, again, jerks.  Vanilla soldiers patrol some sections of the base and will shoot any alien on sight whilst saying the typical guard things. (“Where did he go?”, “I better look over here!”)  Overseeing the entire base is a commander that will constantly berate his underlings and describe his desire to kill the alien his base is set up to contain and observe.  Some of the voice acting is amusing, but a lot of it can be tuned out.  The quality has great swings between filler and gems like, “You idiots!  I told you to build a death trap, not a fucking obstacle course!,” which is about the most spot on thing a commander of an impractically laid out and ridiculously dangerous base could say.  An almost constant annoyance is the sound of scientists running around and whimpering after they’ve seen the alien.

The reason that they are afraid of the warpy, neon glowing blob is that he is a mass murderer.  His primary offensive maneuver is to lethally telefrag the opposition.  As stated earlier, the primary game mechanic is the warp, used for movement and killing.  While it has three dimensional environments, the game is structured as a top down, two dimensional game where jumping is unknown and movement is constrained to directions of up and down, left and right.  Should a large pit or closed door be encountered, instead of hopping or, say, opening the door, the little guy will do a short ranged teleport. 

In order to help reduce confusion, the distance and approximate destination are indicated by a small cursor that is always in front of the guy, indicating where he will go when the A button is pressed.  Some objects can be warped into, including filthy, blood-filled humans.  Once an object is warped into, players can either warp out again, stunning a creature if it was alive, or choose to waggle one of the joysticks to have the target swell, show signs of strain, and eventually pop like so many Pookas and Frygars.  However, unlike in the brightly colored adventures of Dig Douglas, humans that go pop in Warp erupt in an explosion of blood and gore, temporarily covering the organ pill-shaped man with the red, sticky stuff and causing him to leave little scarlet footprints on the floor.  It is more amusing and silly than it is horrific, but people popping and a few curse words explain why this seemingly benign game got an M rating from the ESRB. 

In addition to redecorating the walls with the plasma and platelets of your captors, Warp consists of avoiding guards or blowing up computer nodes to advance through a level.  In order to get through a level players will have to dodge laser beams, trick guards and turrets into shooting each other or accidentally blasting active computer nodes which will open gates, and occasionally warp through a wall to dodge gunfire.  The warp idea is neat, but at a certain point it becomes questionable as to whether there would be any need to warp if all of the doors in the base were open, as moving on the X and Y axis’ would get the alien most of the places he needs to go.  He can hop into objects to make them either explode or hide from enemies, but that is not what I think of when I think of warping. 

About the closest thing to a Nightcrawler moment in the game comes if a guard has the alien sighted and he happens to teleport at just the right moment to avoid the bullet and make the shot go into something else, maybe a person.  This does feel great every time it is pulled off, but for every time I avoided death, there was another where the alien got shot and the game reloaded to a checkpoint.  Predictably, there are some force fields that cannot be warped through and some effects that cause the lil killer to temporarily lose his ability to mess with space/time.  Things do get fairly interesting once the ability to swap guards and exploding barrels is gained.  The puzzles and tactics that result from the ability to swap places with other things is unique and I wish was featured more.  Sadly, this ability is not unlocked until after the game’s halfway point.

The graphics are good but not very interesting beyond the main character.  The game clearly tells what kinds of different barrels there are or where there are nets that will stop the momentum of said moving barrels, but it is basically a generic base.  Conveyor belts, science labs, warehouses, and dark pipe filled corridors all look nice but it’s nothing that is not featured in dozens of other games.  As it is an underwater base and the camera is thirty feet above the floor, occasionally undersea creatures can be seen swimming by.  Some of the rooms are filled with a decent amount of detailed charts or office supplies.  Nothing amazing; it looks fine.

The best way to describe this game is “a decently well made title that requires puzzle solving skills and some quick reflexes.”  However, the game is not all competence as more often than not frustration will rear its ugly head.  Every hazard, of any sort, will kill the main character in one hit.  It is very vexing to die, be prompted to “Try Again” by pressing B, watch the game cut to a loading screen for ten seconds, die again five seconds later and not be sure why.  Or, as is often the case, you know exactly what you need to do and why, but the game’s clumsy controls will not let you.  In a game that requires split-second timing on several warps, the response between button press and warp is delayed such that there will be several try agains. 

Also, after a certain point Echos, little holographic/psionic projections of the alien, can be sent out and controlled to distract guards or extend the warp range, but the alien has to stay still when doing this.  When they die or go beyond their limited range the controls immediately shift back to controlling the projector, which if Echoing near the edge of a cliff or laser beam, will really suck if you do not stop pressing on the stick and accidentally start walking into the hazard.  To go from being safe in a place to send out echos to dead due to this control system is maddening.  These problems become very common towards the end of the adventure as the traps and guards become more and more populous and the frequency of checkpoints does not increase.  I probably died more times in the last hour and a half than I had in the previous five.  And, given that last sentence, if length of game is a factor in your game decision making, you might want to add the word “short” to the descriptive phrase in the first sentence of this paragraph.

As a sideshow to the action players can collect grubs, because aliens obviously love luminous larvae, and blow up film canisters found throughout the levels.  The former can be used on upgrades, like the ability to walk faster, and the latter unlocks concept art.  Not all of the grubs are collectable from the outset as players will first go through some areas without all of the powers necessary to get them.  Towards the end it is possible to backtrack to get all the grubs, but when the last level begins it is impossible to go back and get everything.  To be fair, the game does warn that it will be impossible to go back to the base after the last level is begun, but it is disappointing that there is no ability after the credits roll to renter the base to quickly clean up all the collectibles.  Maybe some people will want to replay the entire thing just to get a few achievements, but I doubt it.

There are also challenge rooms which can be unlocked by finding yellow nodes in the base, or by completing the game and unlocking them all at once.  These rooms are in abstract looking areas filled with various mechanical, gameplay elements and players are given a task to complete.  The closest comparison to these rooms are the virtual training missions from Metal Gear Solid as completing the task of killing all targets or getting to the end of a map are accomplished with only a limited arsenal of abilities and judged by quick completion.  They are supposed to train players on how to best play the game, but in reality they are dull and not very much fun.  It is not as though the mechanics of the game are so difficult to grasp that separate challenges are needed to help train players to master the idea that this game uses warping instead of jumping.

Warp is a lot like the thing which comprises its title: it does not last a very long time and it goes from novel to mundane quickly.  Teleporting is a big deal in The Fly as the story involves the genesis of the technology with the triumph and hubris of its inventor.  By the time we get to Star Trek and Heisenberg compensators have been around for years, teleportation is being used as a cost effective means to transport personnel and cargo over short distances, a dull aspect of everyday life.  There are not a lot of levels in Warp and while some of the core ideas are interesting, it gets tiresome towards the end.  Warping around behind doors and such is not such a revelation that everyone needs to pay a visit to the Xbox Live Marketplace and buy the game.  At a certain point there is no thrill of discovery and it is just a question of how you use the tools at your disposal to get to the goal.  It is a puzzle game at heart, but the puzzles are not varied as they would be in a truly great game.  It’s a fine title with some good moments, probably worth playing if you are sick of XBLA action games, but it does not do enough to make players want to keep warping after the credits roll. 

TryIt

Pros:
+ Little Warp guy is charming
+ Warping around and swapping places with items and enemies is fun, conceptually

Cons:
– Controls can be frustrating
– Game can get repetitive

Game Info:
Platform: Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade (also coming to PC and PSN)
Publisher: EA
Developer: Trapdoor
Release Date: 2/15/2012
Genre: Action / Puzzle
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

[nggallery id=2184]

About the Author

Steve has been playing video games since the start of the 1980s. While the first video game system he played was his father's, an Atari 2600, he soon began saving allowances and working for extra money every summer to afford the latest in interactive entertainment. He is keenly aware of how much it stinks to spend good money on a bad game. It does things to a man. It makes stink way too much time into games like Karnov to justify the purchase.