Microsoft has kicked off this year’s Xbox Live Arcade House Party with Warp, a sadistically adorable game from the folks at EA and Trapdoor. Are teleporting aliens and exploding scientists right up your alley? If so, this is one title you shouldn’t miss.
The basic premise is one that won’t be foreign to anybody who’s played games in the last few years. Zero is a cute little alien dude who crash lands on Earth and has the misfortune to fall into the sanitized hands of a nefarious cadre of scientists. After being subjected to all manner of tortuous experimentation, Zero sees a chance to escape and makes a break for it. The setup is not unlike those of The Maw and Splosion Man, but the gameplay itself is refreshingly unique and addictive. Rather than having Zero career through a 2D platforming world, Warp presents a set of abilities for our cuddly alien bro and an undersea lab full of puzzling encounters that require brains and timing to escape.
Shortly after his adventure begins, Zero regains his native ability to warp, or to teleport for short distances. Zero can phase himself past doors and walls, as well as into environmental objects like chemical barrels. Some areas are treated with anti-alien goo or are electrocharged, making them impassible, but there’s no shortage of things and places into which Zero can bamf himself. Once inside an object, waggling a thumbstick will charge Zero up until he explodes out of the item, sending shrapnel everywhere. And yes, Zero also can warp into and explode out of guards and scientists, leaving all manner of bloody and dismembered messes in his diminutive wake.
Another alien being held in the facility contacts Zero telepathically and acts as his guide through the hallways and labs, occasionally introducing him to new abilities that can be absorbed from less fortunate beings in captivity there. Zero collects grubs as he explores, and they fuel his ability progression at upgrade stations sprinkled throughout. After warping into such a station, Zero can spend grubs to make himself run faster, warp more silently, and enhance other aspects of his abilities. While he is an undeniable killing force, Zero doesn’t pack anything in the way of overt punch when confronted with bad guys. If he’s not sneaky in his approach, he’ll be shot down by guards or robot drones faster than he can introduce scientists to their small intestines.
Due to Zero’s own fragility, as well as to some clever level design, Warp rewards stealthy play. Instead of charging head-on into a room full of guards, Zero can creep through air vents or teleport through a wall into an empty barrel to get near his prey. Dealing with several guards or obstacles in the same room can be a particularly fun challenge as Zero has to bypass or dispatch each of them in turn without alerting the others. Alternately, he can intentionally alert the other guards, sometimes leading to resoundingly successful firefights in which the guards actually kill each other while trying to gun down the alien. There are many ways to approach nearly every puzzle and encounter, and that’s what inspires a lot of the fun in Warp.
Any game like Warp will have its moments of frustration, and those are present here as well. Although there are a few points that likely will have you cursing your little alien buddy and the timing of exploding barrels, most of the seemingly insurmountable situations end up being entirely doable after a few trials and errors. In this way, the frustration just ends up being celebration fuel for when you eventually bypass whatever wicked impediment has been in your path. And if you find that the game somehow is not challenging enough for you, try playing it without killing anyone. Seriously, hardcore stealth stuff there, folks.
Warp released on the Xbox Live Arcade on February 15, 2012, and will be available on the PlayStation Network and PC on March 13, 2012, priced at $9.99 across the board.