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On 02/23/2012 at 09:47 PM by Nick DiMola
A unique, but ultimately forgettable puzzler.
For those interested in the unique concepts of the game, who can tolerate a bit of missed opportunity.
Imagine yourself as an alien, just captured and jammed into a testing facility deep under the sea with countless rooms dedicated to poking and prodding you in every way imaginable. Many others from your home world have been captured and are falling victim to the crew of scientists lining the facility's halls - but you have decided you won't succumb to their inhumane treatment. You rebel and break free from your shackles with the intent of escaping the facility altogether. Little do you know that the place is armed to the teeth – drones can be found in nearly every room, every door is locked, and there are a seemingly unlimited number of guards intent on ending you with a quickly fired bullet.
Zero is up against unbelievable odds, but as it turns out - despite his cute visage - he's a savage killing machine. With the ability to warp to and fro, in and out of people and objects (and subsequently explode them), Zero is more than capable of making it out alive. Using his ability to warp, you'll have to guide Zero through the labyrinthine facility (ala Metroidvania) avoiding detection where possible and defeating foes when necessary. Along the way, you'll be able to upgrade Zero's capabilities and consume the spirits of his fallen comrades, imbuing him with brand new warp powers.
If you couldn't tell from the above description, the premise for Warp is great. With a limited distance to warp and a facility built with the Metroidvania concepts in mind, navigating its halls is the true puzzle. While it's easy to draw parallels to Portal, given the laboratory setting and puzzle-based design, the two are nothing alike. The most striking difference between the two is Portal's distinct understanding of how to interestingly utilize its core concepts and strengths to make a compelling experience. Warp has all the makings of a great game, but an execution that leaves much to be desired.
Things start strong, but go downhill quickly. In the beginning, you are still getting a feel for how Zero controls and just how powerful his warping ability is. It's thrilling to look at an area that would normally be restrictive and understand how to bypass its security and barriers. Need to get into another room? Just warp in there.Turrets in your way? Quickly warp into them or through a chain of objects to avoid detection. While novel for a time, it doesn't take long for it to become a commonplace mechanic.
The true shame is that performing these basic warping tasks constitutes a large portion of the game. True puzzle based rooms are few and far between. By the time you do encounter one, they're over so quickly that they barely register as a blip on the radar. You'll quickly be back on your way, plodding through the facility room by room, pushed by an invisible hand.
If you do decide to detour and follow an errant hallway, you may or may not be able to take advantage of the benefits it offers. This is where the Metroidvania concepts come into play. Because you earn 3 new skills beyond your initial subset, some items visible in the game's isometric perspective won't be attainable. While typically a compliment, in the case of Warp, this design proves to be extremely frustrating as you never know if you are being challenged with a puzzle or are unequipped to reach the grub, film canister, or bonus room that you can plainly see.
Worse, it takes quite a while before you even begin to realize that the game allows you to backtrack in order to collect the aforementioned grubs, which are useful in upgrading Zero. It wasn't until later in the game, when I returned to the starting room, that I realized Warp wasn't purely linear.
This is at least partially due to the fact that forward progression often eliminates your pathway back. You eventually earn a "swap" ability, which allows you to send out a duplicate ghost version of yourself that can exchange your actual character's position with that of an object in the environment. If you happen to need to execute this maneuver multiple times in an area, it can drop items in locations where they're inaccessible for backtracking.
Because rooms don't really reset during any given play session, these pathways are blocked unless you decide to completely reboot the game. With certain rooms having one-time interaction items, you'll encounter this issue even without the swap ability.
An even greater issue is the slow pace at which your extra abilities are doled out. You don't unlock the final ability to launch items until nearly the end of the game. While a nice feature, it could've been utilized for some truly mind-bending puzzles throughout the game rather than for some token segments at the end.
The boss fights are the pinnacle of the experience as they challenge you to think on your toes to both solve the puzzle presented and execute your plan with a changing enemy AI. One such fight required baiting the boss using the swap ability so that he would knock down a set of pillars holding up the ceiling. This fight like the others was interesting for a while, but overstayed its welcome. Despite this complaint, they stick out from the otherwise mundane quest.
The complete lack of a soundtrack does little to help the already plodding quest. Had a catchy track been featured in the background, it would've been easier to stay engaged, but the sound effects, while fitting, aren't enough to maintain interest.
It's a shame Trapdoor couldn't better execute the many great concepts it has established in Warp. Instead of a challenging quest containing many varied and engaging puzzles, we're left with a strolling voyage merely punctuated by worthwhile experiences.