Warp updated hands-on preview

In case you were worried EA’s lost its taste for publishing oddball titles, five minutes spent with Warp should reassure you. Top-down and sitting somewhere at the intersection of Metal Gear and ‘Splosion Man, Warp is a stealth-puzzle game that follows the adventures of an adorably rotund little alien named Zero, who can teleport through (and sometimes into) walls and other solid objects. And also into people, who he can then make explode into flying bloody chunks as those around him scream profanities and try to escape.

Or at least, he could do all that stuff, until he got hauled off by human scientists and imprisoned in a sprawling underwater research facility. Stripped of his powers, he’s forced to perform humiliating tests for the edification of his Earthling captors – and that’s about where our time with the game started. At first, Zero was slow, gray and slouched his way through the tutorial “tests,” which included moving around, walking up ramps, playing a Simon-style music game and navigating a maze that sprung up out of the floor.

Before long, however, Zero found a ring-shaped object sitting in a display case – and after a moment of staring, it flew through the glass and attached itself to his waist. Re-energized and orange, he gained a new ability as the scientists panicked and tried to lock down the facility: the ability to teleport a few feet in whatever direction he was facing.

As we were figuring this out, the scientists turned the floor-maze into a series of enclosed squares, which we were able to easily escape by hammering on our new warp ability until we’d escaped every box and were out of the room. (Aiming our teleports was easy, thanks to a little reticule that’s always floating just in front of Zero.)

As we continued our escape, we learned a new ability: “frag.” In addition to warping through walls, Zero can also hide in things like barrels, automated turrets and people, and jump directly from one to the next in order to stay hidden. By wiggling the thumbstick while he’s inside, however, he can make those things bulge and explode, dealing out splash damage to whatever’s close by. It can get pretty messy when the “objects” he’s hiding in are people, although if you’d prefer to take a more pacifistic good-guy route, you can wiggle the stick just a little bit – making them bulge – and then jump out, which will make the humans pass out for a few seconds before resuming their patrols. We’re told it’s possible to make it through the game killing absolutely everyone or absolutely nobody, and players will be rewarded depending on how they play.

Exploding and stunning is just the tip of what’s possible, though. Later in the demo, after we’d crept through a few vents and been introduced to our first soldier, we learned that we could warp into a soldier, make him bulge just enough to get one of his friends to shoot, and then quickly warp out before the bullet hits. It’s a devious move, although we could never quite get the timing right.

Tricking guards will also play a big role later in the game, apparently. After our demo ended with Zero running desperately from a big, seemingly invincible armored soldier, the reins were taken away and we had a chance to see one of Zero’s other powers, Echo, in action. Activating Echo sends out a remote-controlled, limited-range ghost image of Zero to draw the attention of soldiers, which is useful if you want to misdirect them into investigating the wrong area, or shooting out obstacles between you and a door switch.

However, it’s not like the humans are pushovers. In addition to guns, some guards will carry energy shields, which can depower Zero for a few seconds, reverting him to his gray, slouchy state.

While we didn’t see any of them during the demo, we learned that four more of Zero’s powers will be revealed soon, including two named “swap” and “launch.” Even with those nowhere to be seen, however, Warp already looks like an inventive and clever game, and our time skittering around its corridors was enjoyably challenging. Assuming your wallet isn’t completely tapped dry this winter, keep an eye out for this one to show up on XBLA and PSN sometime around then.

Aug 31, 2011

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