Version tested: Xbox 360
Warp starts with one simple idea and everything cascades organically from there. The idea is summed up by the title: you can warp. This short-range teleport move allows you to spring Zero, an imprisoned alien, from his captivity in an underwater research base. Bypassing walls and doors, it never demands the same radical change in thinking as a Portal gun, but it tugs at the same thread. Traditional navigation must be abandoned as you learn to read the map in a different way.
Zero is a strange sort of hero, a cross between X-Men's Nightcrawler and a jelly baby, speaking only in Mogwai chirps. Don't be fooled by his adorable appearance, however. As well as warping through walls, he can jump into solid objects - including humans. Once inside, jiggling the left stick makes the object explode. Again, including humans. It makes for a tonally jarring experience; the cute, gelatinous critter who turns people into grisly splats of blood and meat.
As you explore the base, guided by another alien entity via psychic messages, you gain additional powers. The first allows you to create a phantom echo, useful for distracting guards and security turrets, but with limited range. The second allows you to swap places with any object the echo touches. The third lets you launch whatever object you've warped into as a projectile. In true Metroidvania style, the more abilities you gain, the more of the map you can access.
It's all very solid and compelling, but is held back by slightly sticky control, an occasionally awkward camera and prehistoric AI, a combination that proves something of a problem for a game that largely relies on stealth. Guards are dimwitted in the extreme, often tangling each other up as they try to navigate the scenery. They also suffer from sporadic peripheral vision, sometimes spotting you when you think you should be hidden and sometimes not noticing you when you appear to be in plain sight.
The result is a game where progress comes from luck and persistence as often as genuine moments of inspiration and skill. Apart from a few head-banging moments, usually requiring speedy reactions that the controls struggle to supply, you're always moving forwards but not always feeling like you've earned it.
Depth comes from a small suite of skills that can be purchased by trading in Grubs, lumpy little alien snacks hidden around the map. Grubs can also be earned by completing special Challenge Rooms, punishing time trials that serve as advanced tutorials for Zero's talents. Finding enough Grubs to unlock the really useful abilities is a long-winded affair however, and certain sections are either frustratingly difficult or insultingly easy depending on which upgrades you've chosen, sight unseen.
The ideas at the heart of Warp are sound and, in general, the game is well paced and introduces its evolutions at just the right time. There's a looseness to the execution though, and it keeps the experience from becoming more than the sum of its parts. Warp is a pleasant enough diversion, but with patchwork design that remixes gameplay ideas and stylistic elements from sources as diverse as Splosion Man, Metal Gear Solid and Portal, it never gels into anything particularly memorable.
7 / 10