XBLA’s House Party is in full swing again this year and it was kicked off by Trapdoor’s WARP. A quirky main character and simple yet deep control system attempts to deliver an experience that draws inspiration from other titles but wants to deliver an experience all its own. At times the game appears to achieve this but when all is said and done and the final warp has been made, what’s left is a shell of a game that in concept seems fantastic but in practice lacks the one spark that makes a game truly fantastic.
To start let me set the stage. You play as Zero; a cute, lovable alien from who knows where who is captured by scientists and taken to their underwater research facility. It is here that I began to sympathize with Zero a bit. The game opens with him being put through some pretty basic tests. It’s the games way of teaching you the basic controls of movement. After a few easy puzzles Zero finds his lost ability to warp, hence the name of the game. Suddenly what seemed like a simple puzzle game set to test your wits becomes a whole new ball game as Zero begins warping into everything in the environment. From barrels to turrets, soldiers to scientists, Zero’s ability to warp becomes the core mechanic that he must use to find his escape from the research facility.
What’s odd about the Warping is that at first it is fun to jump into barrels and hide from the lethal guards. If they spot you there’s about a seconds time to get out of sight before you are shot at and quickly killed. So why just warp into barrels when you can just warp into the guards right? At first it is satisfying to explode a guard you just warped into knowing that they would have just killed you the instant they saw you. However after doing this numerous times and then even doing this to innocent scientists hiding in the corners I began to feel remorse for Zero’s deadly actions. As the game progressed it did a poor job of connecting me any more with Zero and frankly I didn’t care whether he made it out or not. I just felt like I needed to go through the motions to get to the next part and doing so meant I would be leaving a trail of blood in my wake.
As the game progresses it opens up to the old “Metroidvania” style of play which has you getting to a point where you can go no further until a new ability is unlocked which at that point you must backtrack. This of course works in the scheme of the story because being trapped in an underwater research facility I’m sure leaves you with little places to go and backtracking is a must. This actually works out fine because the game does do a decent job at introducing new abilities such as the ability to make a hologram of yourself, swap places with objects, and even toss objects you have warped into. With these new abilities all put together the game becomes a bit more interesting and begins to get away from the senseless murdering that it is early on. Puzzle solutions are satisfying as I found myself having that same feeling I’d get when I finished a level in Portal. I would feel satisfaction that I actually figured it out.
With all the abilities finally coming together the game of course ramps up the difficulty. Early on it is not frustrating but in the late game it becomes increasingly so. For some reason the increase difficulty began to lead to more and more “mis-warps.” I began warping into objects that I did not mean to which often lead to my demise. The game also introduces boss fights at certain times that ultimately become a test in your resourcefulness to use Zero’s abilities efficiently and quickly. They actually work well and are smartly put together but death brings one of the worst parts of the game, the loading screens. When there are big moments in the game it leads to a cut-scene. These cut-scenes are often accompanied by a loading screen. Every time you die after one of these moments, if you have not hit a checkpoint (which in boss fights there are none) you must sit through the loading screen and cut-scene again. You can hold down a button to skip the cut-scene but it still needs to load and it quickly becomes a test of your patience because all you want to do is fight the boss and not wait 30 seconds to do so again.
The abilities can also be upgraded and made more efficient via upgrade stations. The upgrades allow you to make your hologram last longer, make you walk quieter, have more health, etc. Each upgrade is unlocked by capturing grubs which are hidden throughout the facility. Only a handful are within plain sight with the rest being hidden down dead end corridors or within deadly rooms that can end Zero’s life in an instant. The challenge for the player quickly became whether or not the upgrades are worth it. The simple answer is no. In my playtime I only upgraded one ability and found that it didn’t do much if anything to improve my play. There just really isn’t anything interesting or worthwhile to them. I guess it would be hard to make completely new abilities since this may unbalance the game and may make Zero even more powerful then he already is.
Yet another piece that the game introduces and the one that adds replayability to it is the Challenges. Scattered throughout the facility are these Challenge stations that bring you to a minigame of sorts. It sets you with a task that may include eliminate X amount of enemies in a certain time or just progress through this level as quickly as possible. By completing a Challenge you unlock an ability that you can later buy at an upgrade station. Again, with the abilities being pretty much useless this isn’t really that interesting at all. However, what these stations do is add a competitive twist to the game by showing you how you rank compared to your friends and even those in the world. If you are a competitive person then you may find yourself replaying these over and over. Some of the world times are insane. Some of the top players were beating me by literally tens of seconds on some stages.
When it all comes together in the end Warp quickly dissolves into a ridiculously hard final level that will have you tossing your controller and screaming at virtual objects in a virtual world. To its credit, it does introduce your abilities throughout the game and rightfully so gives you the final exam at the end. Warp is probably a game worth playing and it should also be noted that this game is rated “M.” With the blood and gore Zero unleashes to the filthy mouths of the soldiers, I can see why it was given this rating. It actually shocked me at first. I didn’t realize it was “M” until i began experiencing some of the more graphic elements of the game. I honestly think it could have done without this and it may have provided for a more memorable experience.
I think that’s my problem with this game, it’s not truly memorable. Everything I will remember about it is the problems I had or the fact that it’s Portal mixed with Splosion Man. I won’t remember Warp, that game with that cute yet lethal alien who is on a quest to escape an underwater facility that he is held captive in. Sure the game is well put together, polished, and is only 10 bucks, but I just wish there was a bit more to Zero himself. Give me more info about him and the world he comes from. Give him more of a voice besides the infantile moans and quirks that he makes already. I think Warp would have been better served if it was a shorter experience and more compact with story. Give me a more memorable antagonist outside of the random general with a cigar in his mouth. The spark that most games carry is just not present in Warp. With all these issues again the game’s only $10. If you enjoy puzzle games and like blowing things (or people) up, then Warp may be for you.