For years we've played games about alien invasions and the soldiers that risk their life to save all of humanity. Be it as a first-person shooter (Resistance), third-person shooter (Gears of War) or side-scrolling action game (Contra), the idea of mowing down space intruders is an attractive proposition for a video game. But lately I've noticed a twist to this tried and true formula. In just the last couple months we've started to see these blood-thirsty villains become the star of their own games. First it was Mutant Blobs Attack and now it's Warp, the new action/puzzle game from developer Trapdoor.
In Warp you play an unlucky alien who crash lands on Earth and is immediately kidnapped by the government. Before they have a chance to pick, prod and probe, our hero finds a way to escape, sending everybody on a mad dash to not only locate this new life form, but also kill it dead. It's an intriguing concept that is made better with some unique gameplay mechanics and a whole lot of blood.
As the title suggests, this alien's primary power involves warping about the underwater base. He can literally teleport through doors, walls and other solid objects in order to escape the armed soldiers. Unfortunately, our hero doesn't have a gun to shoot back. Knowing that he's as good as dead if he goes head-to-head with the guards, this alien comes up with a strategy: Warp into their bodies and, simply put, explode them into little pieces.
Teleporting into the body of soldiers, scientists and other humans is our hero's main source of attack. And it turns out to be not only an effective way to kill those that wish you harm, but also a great way to scare all of the timid lab coats that had no idea how dangerous their jobs would be. It might not be pretty, but this is what this downed alien has to do in order to get out of this Area 51-like prison.
It doesn't take long for our hero to discover that he's not the only alien being held hostage in this underwater base. From the very beginning he can hear the voice of another unlucky space invader, somebody who is there to guide him through the labyrinthine stages and point out where all of the power-ups are. Along the way this beloved space invader will absorb powers left by other aliens, making him stronger and improving his chances of making it out of this place in one piece.
This little guy can do more than just warp into people's bodies and blow them up. Along the way he'll pick up the ability to teleport objects and even create a holographic image of himself to confuse the stupid guards. But even with these powerful skills, our hero has to be careful of each passing guard. All it takes is one or two bullets to send us back to checkpoint to try the level over again.
In a lot of ways this reminds me of early Metal Gear Solid games, where the player is forced to pay attention to their surroundings and strategize attacks. Sometimes this means hiding in an inanimate object until the guard turns around, other times it's to set up diversions to draw the enemies away from where he needs to go. Things never get as complicated (or silly) as Solid Snake's missions, but fans of the long-running stealth series will get a lot out of Warp.
Because you're so afraid of getting caught, this sets up a number of unique puzzles the player must solve in order to make it out unscathed. Sometimes it's as simple as moving a ball around a maze, while other times you'll have to use the enemy's stupidity to take out explosive power stations. Traversing the game's large world is made even harder thanks to the overabundance of water -- our hero's kryptonite. Thankfully there's always a way around, these obstacles, but the player will have to be smart enough to figure out the best solutions.
The action is seen from an overhead perspective, allowing the player to quickly survey the environment. This works perfectly fine, though might not be the most visually satisfying way to tell the story. Speaking of story, there really isn't much of one in Warp. Outside of the occasional one-sided conversation you have with the other telepathic alien hostage, there really isn't a whole lot of time for character development. The emphasis here is tense action and increasingly difficult puzzles. Still, by the end of the game I felt something for the unlucky alien.
Despite the promise of enemy guards exploding into little pieces, Warp's visuals are modest at best. There are a few graphical tricks tossed in the different parts of the base, but it's not the kind of thing you'll want to tell your friends about. The developer is hoping that the various puzzles (most of which have multiple solutions) will be enough to keep you playing from start to finish. Having said that, it would have been nice to see a little more variety in the backgrounds.
Our hero has more to do than simply escape the prison he got himself into. It turns out that there are a bunch of challenge levels that test your speed, accuracy and knowledge of this alien's moves. These can be picked up along the way (literally stopping the action until you either complete the challenge or die), as well as played later from the main menu. The way these stages look and feel comes directly out of Metal Gear Solid's VR Missions, suggesting that the team that made Warp has a thing for Hideo Kojima games.
While Warp does eventually run out of good ideas, the game is compelling enough to keep your attention for the full running time. It's a nice diversion from all of those games where you play space marine shooting down everything that's not human. I definitely want to see more of this trend, especially if the games are as good as Mutant Blobs Attack and Warp. Despite only being a few years old, Trapdoor is a developer I plan to keep my eyes on.