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Wednesday
Feb222012

Warp - XBLA Review

Some of my favourite games of recent years have been downloadable titles, from Super Meat Boy to Limbo to Castle Crashers, they (more often than not) offer something different than the usual first-person shooter or third-person action game, tending to push the envelope and do something that little bit more risky and unconventional. As such, I'm sure you can imagine that I always look forward to promotions like Microsoft's XBLA House Party (a selection of 4 eagerly anticipated downloadable titles), which kicked off last week with Warp, an action puzzle-game.

In Warp you play as an alien, crash landed on Earth and How Warpy got his groove backcaptured by douchebag scientists. They somehow sap you of your inner, I guess I'd call it, "juicyness", leaving you sad and devoid of colour. During the course of their experiments though you manage to reacquire your harvested alien ability, which was to 'warp' (hence the name! Aha!) to about a metre in front of you. Doesn't sound like very far, but it's more than enough for our little alien to start making his daring escape from the underwater, alien-poking laboratory. Along the way you'll encounter a few other aliens as you add new powers to your repertoire, and exact revenge on the scientists that wronged you and your alien buddies.

The facility you've been trapped in is a pretty standard looking place: Concrete walls, big steel doors and the occasional bright yellow railing. The art style of the game is very uninspired, even your alien isn't particularly interesting looking, with most of the other aliens in the game getting represented as nothing more than blob creatures. The enemies you'll face are basically just guys with guns, and the scientists are torn straight out of 'Splosion man. With the exception of a few admittedly nice views of the ocean floor outside, it's a very bland game to look at.

Fortunately it plays better than it looks, with your main warping power being surprisingly satisfying to utilise. How do I get through this door? Just warp through it. How do I make at across this hallway without getting spotted? Oh yeah I can just appear on the other side. How will I get past this enemy? Oh yeah, warp inside him and explode him from the inside-out. Yeah you read that right. Enemies expand and turn into meaty chunks if you teleport yourself inside them and give the analog stick a good wiggle. You can do the same to various barrels and objects strew around the map, with barrels wiggling as you do the same to the analog stick, leading to situations where you can attract a bunch of enemies towards the vibrating barrel you're hiding in and exploding it in their face, stunning them all long enough to make some man-size dog food. The alien is very squishy, only needing one bullet to kill him, so you'll be needing to use these kind of devious tactics alot... well, either that or just run around a room like a mad man, dodging bullets and exploding guys like a mad man. Both strategies are more than acceptable.

Sure, why NOT jump in thereAs far as puzzle design goes Warp is competent, but far from the most challenging game I've ever played. Later levels introduce puddles which will sap you of your powers, leading to the scientists developing water shields for the troops and water traps to stop you going places you shouldn't. They serve as unwarpable walls, and largely justify the underwater setting (it would be a very boring game if you could just warp through a few walls and escape) but mainly they're there to keep the puzzles going. kind of wish these 'water walls' hadn't been introduced and they had made the game harder in other ways. The joy in the game largely comes from warping from object-to-object, zipping in and out of rooms through the walls and fucking with the enemies therein, but too many of the later rooms just contain a bad guy with a water shield all around him and 1 barrel, almost as if they ran out of ideas and had to throw some extra rooms in to pad out the game time. It's frustrating because there's alot of potential in the idea I just wish had been explored a bit more.

There are boss fights in the game, and they're all bad. The first boss fight forces you to warp between multiple barrels in a row (as it's faster than running) to escape a beefy military guy, but halfway through the fight the direction you're supposed to warp is off the bottom of the screen, which means that you only realise that was the direction you were supposed to go when you get upto that bit for a 2nd time and have a quick (literally, like 1 second) run around in that area before getting murdered. Trial and error is only really fun when you get multiple attempts at something and then the time to think about it and why it might not have worked, like combining items in Monkey Island or trying out every available option on every available object in the game in Broken Sword. When you're running from an enemy you don't want to rely on dumb luck on the uncommunicated path you were supposed to take. The boss battles are pretty needless and terrible across the board.

The game contains challenge rooms (because hey, it's a It's a surprisingly violent game, pleasantly surprising.video game) that pop up in various places in the single player. You can go into them and attempt the challenge whenever you see them in the game world, but after about 3 of them I started ignoring them all together. They're boring and the time constraints are far too harsh. I'm all for a challenge, but if it's not fun then I'm not gonna work tirelessly to figure out how to shave 20 seconds off my time, it's just not gonna happen. The game's achievements are atrocious too. I know not everybody cares about that too much but to me, it definitely affects the amount I enjoy a game. I played the game through from start to finish in about 6 to 7 hours, and got 2 achievements: 1 for starting the game, and 1 for completing it. I guess you could argue that harder to get achievements add replay value, but this isn't a game you'll want to replay anyway. If you're anything like me you'll have had your fill after the main game finishes. The game doesn't have any subtitle option either, so be sure not to play the game in a loud room... like I did.

So it's not a home run for Warp, although it definitely earns it's 'House Party' place by being fairly unique. Unfortunately, In the pantheon of great XBLA games of the past it doesn't really come close, and while a few minor issues certainly do drag it down it's by no means bad. It has an original idea and it executes on it well, if a little generically.

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Warp is available via Xbox Live for 800 Microsoft Points and, I believe, is also on PSN.

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