Warp was developed by Trapdoor and published by Electronic Arts. It was released February 15, 2012 for 800 MSP. A copy was provided for review purposes.

Kicking off Microsoft’s House Party event, Trapdoor’s Warp is a stealth/ puzzle game that draws from some of the most celebrated franchises in the gaming library (Portal and Metal Gear Solid come to mind). Players take control of Zero; an ostensibly adorable alien held captive by human scientists in an underwater labyrinth of labs and curious mechanical contraptions. The dastardly men of science are performing all manner of foul experiments on the little fella, but it’s not long before Zero’s harnessed the power of his titular talent and is embarking on a violent quest through the belly of the science facility in a bid to retrieve his lost abilities and unite with an enigmatic alien life form that contacts him telepathically (and acts as a handy guide).

While he looks all cuddles and kisses on the outside, Zero’s a bit of a barbarian; capable of teleporting inside of his human captors, causing them to burst in a crimson shower and just about everything in Warp is anchored by Zero’s natty teleporting ability.

What we liked:

Concept – Like Valve’s revered puzzler Portal, Warp challenges players to look at the world through a new set of eyes; walls are doors and doors are, more often than not, a quick ticket to an early grave. Zero can’t warp very far, just five feet or so, but it’s enough to significantly alter the way you’re required to think about the world. It’s a neat concept that affords the developer ample opportunity to throw up interesting puzzles, particularly when Zero has access to his full suite of warping talents.

Stealth – Zero might be an extra terrestrial, but he’s learned a thing or two at the Solid Snake School of Stealth. He can warp into solid objects and the barrels peppered throughout the labs provide sanctuary from the patrolling goons or, alternatively, a convenient spot from which to mount an ambush. There’s great satisfaction to be had in whizzing through a room in a haze of quick-fire warps, grotesque human-explosions and slick tricks that have your adversaries scratching their heads seconds before the sterile labs are redecorated in violent red hues. Coupled with Zero’s ability to teleport through thin walls, the stealth element of Warp is one of its greatest assets.

The AI – The labs are home to a sect of cowardly scientists and the soldiers tasked with either defending them or preventing them from leaving. Either way, the armed guards don’t take kindly to Zero interrupting the ebb and flow of daily science. Violence is the soldiers’ only diplomacy and with one shot the little jelly-alien is splayed out across the floor without a pulse. Luckily the firearm-wielding guards aren’t exactly packing the smarts to match their firepower; they’ll cheerfully ignore the mutilated corpses of their buddies or even fire wildly on one-another if they believe that the savage alien has taken up residence in one of their bodies. They’ll forget about Zero should he cross their line of sight and disappear again, and breezily wade through a puddle of gloopy human viscera. In another game this might be cause for concern, but with Warp’s stealth-centric ways it’s a boon.

When Zero’s finally fully-suited – When Zero first absconds from his captors he’s a somewhat adulterated version of his former self. He can warp and he’ll plod along at a comfortable pace but that’s about all you can coax out of the chap. Across the course of the game – which clocks in at a generous five or six hours – the cutthroat Martian procures his full suite of talents and it’s when he’s fully outfitted that Warp excels. One of Zero’s later moves, for example, allows him to project out an apparition of himself that aids enormously in luring soldiers into being bushwhacked or hoodwinking turrets into blowing each other into a shower of metal. Another talent allows Zero to lodge himself inside and then fling barrels across the chambers, handy for destroying out-of-the-way energy supplies. These advanced moves pave the way for a string of puzzles that are both more complex and more rewarding than those found earlier on in the game where warping is the apex of Zero’s meager catalog of talents.

Similarly, by the midpoint you’re likely to have procured enough of the requisite collectibles to upgrade a few of the little guy’s abilities. With the right amount of grubs (the game’s hidden items) Zero can be transformed into a speedier, quieter and more deadly extraterrestrial and bereft of his leisurely pace and a vexing pause between warps, controlling him becomes more enjoyable.

Here’s what we didn’t like:

Likes long walks on the beach – It takes far, far too long for Zero to be any fun to control. At the onset he trawls along at glacial speed and his warp is shackled by a brief cool-down spell that leaves him vulnerable to the thundering jurisdiction of a shotgun blast. It’s sluggish when it needs to live up to its name and be brisk. With the right amount of collectables Zero speeds up, but there’s no good reason for the collectables to exist, all they do is present an absurd barrier that needs to be hauled down before the game’s signature feature becomes its greatest. The procedure of unlocking genuinely new abilities makes sense from both a narrative and a gameplay perspective and allows for the puzzles to evolve at a steady pace over time, but by lessening Zero’s core abilities the developer has only reduced the amount of time that Warp is at its best with very little payoff.

Loading! – Having grown accustomed to the likes of Limbo, Trials HD and Super Meat Boy (all games that thrive on player-failure) over recent years, it’s beyond annoying that death in Warp is greeted by a five second loading screen followed by a little animation. Sure, Zero’s cursory dance is cute the first time, but as the puzzles intensify and the boundaries for failure grow tighter resulting in deaths aplenty, the constant downtime proves obnoxious enough to put Warp down.

Soul – Once you put Warp down it’s easy to forget about it, too. Zero’s darling to look at but beyond that he’s a personality vacuum; the game plays to the sound of his bubbly alien chirps but there’s not much else to him. Equally, the enigmatic alien guiding you through the sterile labs is hardly memorable and, while the cadre of scientists chime in with various funny lines, there’s very little character here. Mechanical hums and bullets in abundance, but it’s all a bit dry.

Challenges – Challenge areas are littered throughout the world and once found can be accessed from the main menu. They provide a quasi-side campaign and dole out additional grubs based on how well you perform. More importantly, they act as the game’s only real endeavor into social territory. Scores are uploaded to leaderboards and at the start of each challenge the times or scores of your Xbox Live friends are flaunted, goading you into trying to notch leaderboard spots. They are actually quite fun but like the core game they’re plagued by prolonged loading times and other clutter obstructing the part where you actually play. Notching gold medals is pretty tough and requires learning the best routes through trial and error. Those acquainted with Super Meat Boy, with its snappy restarts and criminally addictive just-one-more-go nature, will find Warp harder to stomach.

Controls – Most of Warp’s problems are heightened by its controls. They’re just not precise enough. A tap of the A button sends Zero warping wherever the little orange indicator is placed, but it shakes and stutters and isn’t 100% reliable. In a game so reliant on stealth and making a quick getaway when things get hairy, this proves problematic (even more so when puzzles become more pernickety about placing barrels and such.)

Boss fights – The boss fights in Warp take most of the above problems and ratchet them up to eleven. Just about every wrong step in the game results in Zero’s vital organs making a hasty exit from his body, which is fine when you’re able to inflict the same kind of instant-kill on your enemies, but when you’re trying to coax Big Armoured General Man into punching out his own energy supplies by lining Zero up as bait six times in a row, repeating the whole merry jig on account of one mistake is exasperating.

There are the workings of a quality game lurking beneath Warp’s foibles, I’d love to see Trapdoor have another crack at it because so few games bother subverting that most fundamental of gameplay mechanics: movement. When it finally shifts into gear (that’s to say, when Zero is fully suited) there’s enough to prove that the concept is solid, but all that’s good about the game is swamped beneath baffling design decisions that open the doors for tedium and frustration to annex the party.

Score: Try It