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Wot I Think: Warp

Blink and you'll miss it

The lack of fanfare surrounding the release of Trapdoor's Warp seems a little odd. Barely anyone seems to have heard of it. That said, EA do seem to be making a habit of not doing too much to hype their digital titles, and seem to be letting these games speak for themselves. Perhaps that okay, too, because games like Warp speak the language of Oh There Goes Cash From My Pocket Again.

Here's Wot I Think.

I think Trapdoor have made a characterful, clever 3D puzzler. There's no revolution here, and there are some frustrations along its tricky path, but Warp is an amusing idea turned into a robust game. That basic idea is as pure could be: it's in the name. You are an alien, and you can “warp”. This means teleporting, sometimes through obstacles, sometimes inside other objects, sometimes into living people. The consequences of that last part can be grisly.

The set-up for this top-down puzzle game is that you are a gelatinous creature that has been captured by masked human experimenters. Once you have fluked back your warp power, you find yourself able to leap through locked doors, jump into objects and cause them to explode, and otherwise cause familiar videogame mayhem. You're as soft as a balloon, however, so the armed guards and gun-turrets can end you in moments.

Your revenge for being experimented upon and shot at is surprisingly bloody: as you escape you can leap into the bodies of guards and scientists and, by waggling the directional controls, cause them to burst. The scientists cower and cry, and I popped them anyway. For a game whose protagonist is a cute blob thing that makes adorable chirping noises, it's remarkably horrid.

Warp's powers of blinking escalate the puzzles in a predictable and pleasing manner. This is partly through new challenges and powers, and partly in you learning to master the options you've been given. Clearing a room of guards by blinking between living an inanimate hosts is gruesomely satisfying. The way the warp powers work gives the game a unique sort of flavour, too. You find yourself peering ahead into the levels, trying to path between objects, or to see which guards you can pop without getting gunned down when you emerge, splattered in blood.

The game begins to throw down additional challenges almost as soon as you've mastered this first trick – water causes the power to be temporarily suspended, for example – and soon other powers, such as a Total Recall-style false projection of yourself, come into play in the later stages. You learn these with the help of another, rather chatty, alien entity, and unlock upgrades for powers as you gather the collectibles that appear throughout the game. Some of these need to earned in “challenge” levels, which are sort of more abstract test chamber-style puzzles outside the main base-escape story map. I'm not sure about these and rather which they'd been somehow tied into the main game more coherently.

Ultimately, I found myself quietly charmed by Warp's puzzles. Despite the austere rent-a-lab backdrop, the game has lovely scenes, and one or two “ah” moments where figuring things out for yourself redeems some intellectual reward. That balance of cute and horror also works heavily in its favour. It's quite a grown up puzzler.

Not all of it is delightful, however. One scene in particular, where a series of perfect warps have to be made to avoid instant death at the hands of a boss character, made me scream like enraged apeman. Okay, so I only actually had to play it through a couple of times to get past it, and I could skip the cutscene that played each time, but the sheer insta-death frustration of it was enough to get my blood boiling. These kinds of games – and by that I mean all such puzzlers and platformers where “game over” is a hazard of having to fail the jump/dodge/button press to know what happens so you can avoid on the next go – don't seem to be able to avoid irritating me in this fashion. Perhaps I am the one who is at fault. Perhaps not. And Warp is definitely not a major offender in this area, though, and I was able to get out of lots of scrapes with skilful warping.

There's also the matter of the AI, which delivers the most simplistic patrol routines imaginable. So locked into their routines are the guards that they even occasionally knock ill-placed scenery objects around the levels, making a right old mess of things.

Nor are Warp's controls as slick as they could be. I did find myself mis-warping almost routinely. Failing to jump as expected was something that just seems to come from general control clunkiness, and it feels like it needed a little more attention before it was put in player hands. It's only a minor thing – it works – but it never feels entirely natural.

The consequence of this is that while Warp is an entertaining experience, it does fail to hit the high notes required of this sort of thing. It won't be memorable in the way that other great one-trick games have been, and I suspect it might be the kind of game you pick up in a sale, get a few hours of fun from, and then forget about as bigger, bolder games capture your imagination.

Warp is cute, smart, and mostly well made, but I fear its legacy will probably match the fuss made for its release.

Warp is available on Origin and GamersGate, and requires Origin to be installed. It was also promised for Steam, but has not yet appeared there. I am going to try to find out why that it, and whether it will appear there soon.

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