Had EA deigned to generate any noticeable buzz for Warp, there would have been a risk of the game mis-selling itself. First glance suggests a near-top-down stealth game, much like the early Metal Gear Solid titles: your burbling, orange alien outmanoeuvres scientists and soldiers as he attempts to escape from a secret submarine base. But few definitions of stealth leave such a trail of offal and dismembered limbs. While Zero, the cuddly ET in question, is felled by a single shot, he’s not one to shy from confrontation. Careful stalking lasts only as long as it takes you to close the distance, teleporting the last few feet to materialise inside your wailing victim, and then popping him like an overripe fruit. Warp’s mascot may look like a family-friendly figure, but the game’s cuteness is cut with black-humoured grotesquery, and no shortage of four-letter words.
Here are some of the game’s four-letter words that are fit to print in a family publication: warp, echo and swap. These are your alien powers, accrued over the course of the game, and the key to solving the environments’ mild puzzles and outwitting the pretty witless AI enemies. Warp is your earliest ability, allowing Zero to zip a few feet in front of him. By doing so, you can circumvent many of the research facility’s locked doors and walls. You can also materialise inside barrels, where you can remain hidden, or inside enemies’ guts, whereupon some frantic analogue-stick waggling lets you do a John Hurt on your hapless host.
Echo lets you project an ethereal version of yourself that can pass through any objects to roam within a wide radius. At first, this is only useful to distract guards, tricking them into shooting one another or blowing up vital door-powering gizmos. Later, the addition of Swap lets you exchange places with objects of a similar mass, so long as your echo can reach them.
One further ability lets you launch objects, and it’s only at this point that the game delivers puzzles that are more than minor distractions: you might have to launch an object across a chasm and onto a conveyor belt, use your echo to swap places with it, before warping inside an invulnerable barrel to avoid some lasers, and then use your ghost to once again switch places to avoid tumbling from the conveyor into a pit.
Zero loses his powers when in contact with water, and some enemies outfit themselves with shields which are somehow made of the stuff – forcing Zero to either avoid them or find other ways of dealing with them. A launched barrel will take out their shield and knock them off their feet, letting you close in for the kill, or there may be a laser you can turn on to vaporise them.
On the whole, it’s not taxing stuff, and only a few puzzles had us stroking our chin for more than a moment or two. But it doesn’t really matter: the puzzles are the brief beats of a frantic, thrilling rhythm – this is a stealth game with the pace and bloody intent of a brawler. If that also means it’s over relatively quickly, then the abstract challenge rooms give the game a second wind as score attack – all quite a deal for the asking price.
But there are things which just take the sheen off what would otherwise be a chirpy, delightful distraction. Collision detection is a bit squiffy and the controls can be fussy and erratic – making for an unfortunate combination with the game’s penchant for instant death, and the inexplicable blasphemy of putting cutscenes after checkpoints. The game closes with a genuinely dreadful boss-fight, too, which somehow distils all the game’s minor failings into a high-concentrate shot of misery. But, once it’s over, such a bum note is lost amid the rapidfire beat of challenge room chaos. Warp tends to the lightweight – almost a confection – but as with anything that offers this sort of energetic sugary high, sometimes it’s good to be left wanting more.