You’ve got to wonder what really will happen if we meet an intelligent alien species, invite them down to earth for a bit of a shindig, then decide that they’d look far better strapped to a lab table having their bits and bobs prodded and poked.
What would happen if that same intelligent alien species couldn’t communicate effectively that they really didn’t like their bits prodded and poked, and would rather galavant freely around Earth, do a bit of sightseeing and then go home (probably with a couple of sets of Mickey Mouse ears from Disneyland in tow).
Developers Trapdoor might well lull you into a false sense of security with Warp, their latest game now appearing on the Xbox Live Arcade. You’ll figure that Zero, the expressionless little blob on legs is a cutesy little alien, suffering at the hands of a bunch of nefarious government scientists who want to unlock his secrets, but you’d be wrong. Zero wants out, and it’s up to you to help him escape the labyrinthine confines of the top secret research facility he finds himself in.
Zero’s not your ordinary everyday defenceless alien. Well he is defenceless but he has one rather neat trick up his sleeve. Zero can teleport short distances by focusing his energy. While scientists test out his basic cognitive skills and movement, Zero decides to make a run for it and uses his teleport ability to break out of the maze they’ve trapped him in. Only, this is just the start of Zero’s adventures – and great danger and nastiness lies ahead.
At its core, Warp looks like a fairly simple (and some might even venture, fairly tedious) puzzle game. Once you’ve got a handle on how Zero moves, and the fact that he can zip a couple of blocks in any direction with his teleportation ability, you think you’ve pretty much seen all there is to see of Warp. But you couldn’t be more wrong. The way Trapdoor have rigged the traps, constructed the puzzles and come up with a myriad ways for Zero to shuffle off his mortal coil is almost reminiscent of that other cult XBLA classic Limbo. Sure, Warp lacks the sombre monochrome graphics and funereal atmosphere of Limbo but the same sense of trial and error, and the same overbearing sense that you’re really trying to save Zero from several fates worse than death is extremely prevalent throughout Warp’s (short but sweet) lifespan.
Zero’s reward for exploration comes in the shap of bonus alien grubs. These collectables allow you to upgrade Zero’s limited abilities a little, giving you a bit of extra warp distance and the like.
What makes Warp stand out from the usual collection of samey puzzlers lingering on XBLA is the art direction. It’s like a shiny co-creation between 50s B-Movies and Area 51 conspiracy flicks, with all manner of little details kicking off around your character as you make your way through the complex. There’s a lot of stuff in the place that makes you really bond with Zero and delight when his actions result in the rather messy death of a government goon or a research scientist (energy beam to the face? Ha! Serves you right!) but careless tourism can result in instant death so once you’re done with Warp you’ll probably want to go through all over again just to hoover up those bonus grubs, grab the achievements and pick out all the little delicious set-pieces and distractions you missed the first time around.
Shot through with dark humour, beautifully playable and yet at times slightly repetitive, Warp isn’t perfect but it’s certainly one of the standout titles of this year’s XBLA offerings to date.