If you’ve seen any of the promotional materials for Warp, you’ll have seen the way the protagonist, the cute little alien Zero, uses his warping powers against the scientists and soldiers that have captured him.
When Splosion Man was similarly trapped, he got revenge on the scientists who held him with his explosions, turning them into cartoony hunks of meat. Zero, on the other hand, gets his revenge by warping inside scientists and guards, and then inflating them until they explode in a shower of blood. It’s not particularly funny after the first time, and watching the soldiers screaming and dying as you spin the stick feels weird almost immediately.
This misguided visceral excessiveness is symptomatic of Warp’s larger design issues – it’s a game that suffers from uncertainty, and a lack of overarching vision. Simply put, it’s often hard to say what it is, exactly, that Warp is trying to do.
Warp is a puzzle game at heart, but with a healthy dollop of stealth mixed in. As you wander through each room of the facility, warping through walls and figuring out the way forward, you’ll often have to deal with armed guards, turrets, explosives, and various other one-hit-kill obstacles. Using your handful of abilities (you start with a basic warp move, but unlock three other powers as the game goes on), you need to bypass these obstacles, often by warping inside and exploding them, without dying yourself. This means quite a lot of sneaking around and creating distractions for your enemies to fire at, but the AI is extremely erratic, and their reactions to your efforts are often illogical. Your ability to take down your enemies sometimes comes down to whether you have good or bad luck, which is a shame.
When Warp’s ideas are coupled with smart room design, which does happen quite a few times throughout, it works well. The second ability you unlock, which lets you switch places with various objects, leads to some pretty fun and creative puzzle scenarios. Often though, Warp feels like a puzzle game in search of actual puzzles. The game struggles to really tap into ingenious ways of using your powers, and the solution to getting through most rooms is immediately obvious. The first time you create a spectral version of yourself to trick a guard into shooting an object behind you is cool, but then the game asks you to do it over and over again.
Still, sometimes things just really come together nicely in Warp. Zipping around a room, just barely avoiding gunfire and hijacking back and forth between bodies, can be moderately thrilling. It never quite feels like an intentional piece of the design, more a by-product of your own creativity, but these moments are great nevertheless.
Unfortunately, there are even more moments scattered throughout that are just plain irritating. For a game reliant on precision warping, the controls just aren’t very precise. You can’t control the distance of your warp, only the angle, which makes some later sections very frustrating.
You’ll frequently accidentally warp in then straight back out of objects, getting spotted in the process. And unless you find enough ‘grub’ collectibles around the facility and purchase certain upgrades, Zero is a cumbersome little bugger, which adds to the frustrations. Also scattered throughout the game are ‘challenge rooms’, which gives you an optional task and time limits to aim for. They’re only really for players who get really stuck into the game, but they do extend the game quite a bit if you’re dedicated.
Warp isn’t a bad little game by any means, and in its better moments it can be easy to forget all the surrounding problems. But it’s a hard game to get really enthusiastic about, and all too easy to walk away from when you hit a frustrating section.