Xbox Live Arcade’s House Party kicks off with Electronic Arts’ puzzle game Warp. Warp follows the antics of a small alien who tries to escape a subterranean base where it had been held captive and experimented on by humans. The core gameplay of Warp is similar to Portal 2 in the respect that traversing the environment is the main obstacle, not combat.
The alien is given a set of abilities that allow it to manipulate objects in order to proceed to the next area. As you progress through the game additional abilities are unlocked that allow for increased experimentation and alternative solutions to the puzzles the game presents. At the beginning of the game the only unlocked power is the alien’s ability to teleport or warp a short distance. Aside from simply teleporting around a level, the warp ability is useful for both offense and defence. The alien can warp into objects to allow it to evade detection. The alien can also warp into humans in order to draw the attention of other enemies or to explode the human’s body.
The alien eventually gains the ability to project an image of itself into the environment. This ability is called echo and allows the alien to distract guards or interact with objects at a distance greater than it can teleport. While using echo the alien can switch places with any object or human it enters. The ability to propel an object in any direction is gained later in the game.
Scattered throughout each level are collectible items referred to as grubs that accumulate towards upgrading the abilities mentioned above. Once a specific number of grubs are attained the alien’s abilities can be modified in various ways such as faster power regeneration and silent or faster warping.
The abilities facilitate the core mechanic of avoiding or trapping humans and manipulating the environment in order to progress through a level. In most instances avoiding engaging with humans is possible but there are times when only direct confrontation will allow you to proceed to the next area. During these situations the alien can shoot an object at an enemy, warp into an enemy’s body and explode or warp out just before another enemy shoots the body.
During these combat scenarios Warp can actually become a fairly violent game. While not on the same level of violence as a shooter like Modern Warfare 3, warping into a human body and making them explode from the inside results in bloodied walls and floors. Albeit the violence is not animated in a realistic fashion like other games but is cartoon violence, which is due in large part to Warp’s art direction. The character models of both the humans and aliens are reminiscent of the style of animation of a Pixar movie. This art style also bleeds through into the level design featured throughout the entire game. The various corridors, experimentation laboratories, and ocean life help flesh out the realism of an underwater facility but the cartoon aesthetics also help to create the Pixar-like experience.
While the team did a great job of bringing an underwater facility to life, the same areas are used numerous times throughout the game. Warp relies heavily on backtracking in order to increase the longevity of the single player. There are often areas that cannot be reached until later in the game, once the alien has gained new abilities. These areas can be extensive but they are often simply a means of making the player traverse back through areas they have already played.
Warp will often make the player proceed through an entire level only to hit a dead end where they must hit a switch. They then must make their way back through the entire level to another point that was previously blocked. The inclusion of backtracking is annoying but doesn’t detract greatly from the entire experience.
The backtracking will usually create new puzzles for the player to solve in areas that have already been explored. The puzzle solving element of Warp is very fun and makes use of all of the abilities available to the alien. Most of the puzzles range from fairy straight forward to mildly challenging. The majority of the puzzles will not require too much mental dexterity to solve and will often have multiple solutions given the player’s creativity with the alien’s abilities. The most difficult puzzles are those that require quick movements to succeed. The puzzles do get more challenging towards the end of the game but as a seasoned player of Portal I would have loved an increase in difficulty throughout the entire game.
Those out there like me looking for a challenge from Warp will be interested in the inclusion of the challenge mode. Challenge rooms pop up throughout the single player, which unlock their playback from the main menu. Completing these challenges will unlock new upgrades to abilities for the alien. The upgrades will differ depending on the level of success the player has in a challenge. Each challenge is timed and is ranked by a bronze, silver or gold medal. The challenges range from moving across a level quickly to eliminating humans as quickly as possible. The challenges prove to be quite difficult and the constant feedback of the online leader board make failure that much more painful.
Warp is a very fun puzzle action game that is a great way to kick off Xbox Live Arcade’s 2012 House Party. The unique art style helps to create a world that seems almost “kid friendly” if not for the hilarious cartoon violence. The different abilities available to the alien lead to some creative mechanics that really make Warp standout on XBLA. The limited challenge of the single player is made up for by the incredibly difficult challenge mode that is sure to keep people playing. In addition to the recent release of Shank 2, Warp has proven that Electronic Arts puts out some of the best titles on Xbox Live Arcade.
This review is based on a downloadable copy of the 360 version of Warp.