Like Portal, Warp challenges you to look at the world through a new set of eyes; walls are doors and doors are a fast-track ticket to an early grave. Its simple premise never gives way to much complexity, but Zero’s (that’s you) natty little ability to teleport five feet ahead of himself provides ample opportunity for the developer to pepper Warp with interesting puzzles.
Zero’s clearly learned a thing or two at the Solid Snake School of Stealth, too. He can warp inside solid objects, both human (with gory consequences) and inanimate, and the barrels peppered throughout the labs provide both sanctuary from the patrolling goons and 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.
Your opponents here are a sect of cowardly scientists and the soldiers tasked with either guarding 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. No second chances here.
Fortunately 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 a comrade’s body. 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. The feeling of outsmarting the dimwitted soldiers is short-lived, but like Splinter Cell and Metal Gear, if the enemies don’t play into your hands to some degree the joys of stealth are snuffed out by over-eager AI.
Verisimilitude takes the backseat then, but the payoff is a game in which luring the enemy into carefully formulated ambushes and stringing together some nifty moves is rewarding and simple on account of their lacking intelligence (though it’s never quite as wonderful as placing explosives under a copy of Playboy ala Metal Gear.)
Problem is though, it’s not always like that. When Zero first wrestles free from his captors he comes away 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 only when he’s fully outfitted that Warp is much fun to play. One of Zero’s later moves, for example, allows him to project out an apparition of himself that aids in luring soldiers into being bushwhacked or hoodwinking turrets into blowing each other into a shower of metal.
But at the onset Zero 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. They simply present an absurd barrier that needs to be hauled down before the game’s signature feature becomes its greatest.
And once you put Warp down it’s easy to forget about it. Zero’s darling to look at but beyond that he’s a personality vacuum; the game plays out to the sound of his bubbly alien chirps but there’s not much else to him. Equally, while the cadre of scientists chime in with various jocular lines, there’s very little character in the underwater labyrinth of identikit labs. Mechanical hums and bullets in abundance, but it’s all a bit dry.
Most of these problems are heightened by a control scheme that makes Zero cumbersome to control. A tap of the A button teleports thee Martian wherever the little orange indicator is placed, but it shakes and stutters and isn’t particularly reliable. Same goes for the camera. In a game anchored in precision and stealth – where every wrong moves results in death – this proves problematic time and time again.
And then there are the requisite boss fights. What’s a stealth game without a raft of boss fights? Warp’s big angry boss-men take the above problems and multiply them by the square root of terrible.
There are the workings of a quality game lurking beneath Warp’s foibles. When it finally shifts into gear (that’s to say, when Zero is fully suited) there’s enough on show to prove that the concept is solid. But all that’s good about the game is swamped beneath baffling design decisions that open up the floodgates for tedium and frustration to annex the party.