I’ve never felt so helpless and uncomfortable after hitting the start button in a puzzle-action game that I thought would bank on the cutesy wiles of its alien protagonist.
Seconds after I hit the button to start the game, I was given the first person perspective of an alien who barely survived a crash on earth. Scientists approach me hesitantly, with groans of pain gurgling forth as my eyes struggle to stay open. I pass out shortly afterwards, with intermittent spots of awareness as I’m wheeled into a science facility. I’m operated and experimented on, with pained groans croaking over top the sounds of the intrigued scientists and their scalpels.
When you escape from another humiliating experiment shortly afterward, the satisfaction of regaining your powers and teleporting into the soon-to-explode body of your first scientist couldn’t be more satisfying.
Warp, the first game from Canadian developer Trapdoor, sets the premise for the game’s puzzles and combat with moments like those mentioned above.
While trapped in the large underwater science facility, your goal of escape has you working together with a fellow alien captor against an unnamed and malicious military commander intent on killing you with security bots, guards, and a few other surprises.
All of the above mentioned hazards, which quickly increase in variety and presence, kill you in one hit, so being a fast learner comes in handy. The game also gives you many instances where killing your assailants and former surgeons is entirely optional, allowing you to sneak past them entirely.
Unfortunately, the large amount of deaths that happen in Warp from carelessness or the innocent learning process of figuring out the mechanics lead to a lot of loading screens. These loading screens, which took about five to eight seconds each on the Playstation 3 version of the game, become incredibly annoying. This is a huge shame, as the checkpointing system in Warp is executed so intelligently, with each respawn area placed just before and after the increasingly difficult puzzles and combat scenarios.
Rather than wordlessly tacking on new enemies and obstacles, Warp keeps things logical; security camera footage of your exploits, along with intercom conversations and cutscenes, show the humans in the facility trying to research new technology to adapt to your increasing array of abilities. It’s all well done, with gruesome footage of your kills and some humorous, curse-filled chatter between the employees in the facility juxtaposing with your cute alien avatar and his mostly-innocent quest of self defense.
Your abilities, also gained through some intelligent narrative moments and often at the expense of less fortunate experimental subjects, help you smartly adapt to your increasingly well equipped foes. Your basic and firstly given ability to teleport short distances is complemented with abilities like the phantom, which lets you use a specter of yourself to distract enemies and trick them into shooting each other or exposing their weak-points.
Unfortunately, the controls lack the precision to keep up with the often-unforgiving puzzles and combat/stealh scenarios, which leads to deaths (and loading screens) that feel undeserved and unnecessary. The directional pad and thumbstick are both used for movement, but the eight way direction on the pad is completely imprecise and the thumbstick doesn’t allow you to react quite as quickly as you’d like to.
Those control issues, compounded by rare stutters in frame rate and consistently lengthy load times, mar what is otherwise an overall worthwhile package. Several challenge rooms are included that give you an easy way to practice your abilities to perfection, and the rewards are kept meaningful as they help you upgrade your powers. I won’t spoil the ending, but the emotional impact and satisfying conclusion make all of those awful death-load-screens seem like less of a fault.
Note: The Playstation 3 version of Warp, available on the Playstation Network, was played for review. The game is also available on PC and on the Xbox Live Marketplace.
- Intelligently designed puzzles and enemies.
- Interesting powers that match up with the increasing difficulty nicely
- Overall change in variety of powers and obstacles works into the narrative
- Sympathetic main character that’s developed without any real dialogue
- Imprecise controls
- Load screens between deaths are far too long
- Rare stutters in frame rate