Warp: From a hypothetical question to an interesting puzzle game

Warp is one of those instances in which one "What if" question has blossomed into an entire game. In this case, the question is, "What if we had the power to teleport through objects at will? Wouldn't that be cool?"

Yes, I do think it's pretty cool, even if I'd rather be able to forgo the twelve hour flight to Europe than warp around my house. But then, I'm not in a Martian lab desperately trying to escape annihilation, in which case I imagine even short-range teleportation would be preferable to nothing at all. That's the premise of Warp, though that wasn't the case from the beginning.

"The inception point had nothing to do with stealth," Trapdoor founder Ken Schacter told me during the demo. "Our prototype was a cylinder where we just played around with warping."

Once the basic concept was nailed down, Schacter and company built a gym of sorts to try out different variations on warping. One early idea was to have the alien Zero be able to launch himself and ricochet around the room, but that was nixed in favor of the somewhat simpler idea of launching items instead. "It's easy to let the scope go nuts on a game like this," Schacter said.

Nevertheless, Trapdoor's main goal is to make it possible to solve each room in a variety of ways, which practically demands that each power have multiple uses. Hence, the "Echo" ability can be used to create a distraction, trick guards into shooting at the wrong thing -- such as themselves.

Mirroring the development of the concept itself, the puzzles start out quite easy. I used Zero's teleportation ability to warp through doors, into objects, and more often than not, into people. If I wanted, I could even use cause the scientists to explode into a shower of gruesome giblets with the first-person shooter staple telefrag. It was a trick that I ended up using quite a bit, despite Schacter's assertion that it's possible to finish the game without killing anyone. I never was much of a pacifist.

As the powers pile up, the puzzles naturally begin to get that much more complicated. Aside from the "Echo" ability, it's possible to swap Zero with certain objects using a copy, then launch them across gaps. Those powers alone expand the puzzle possibilities exponentially.

A typical sequence had me walking into a room, taking in all of the elements, then trying to figure out how my powers might apply to them. Is there a generator that needs to be blown up? Do I need to distract any guards? Are there any gaps that need to be crossed? All of these elements need to be dealt with in turn, often with the use of multiple powers.

One of the tougher puzzles required exact timing in activating a crane, swapping into a bomb, and launching myself before it exploded. Another had me carefully maneuvering a crate into place for use as an extra step across a dangerous body of water using my swapping and launching powers. Many of the rooms incorporated all of these elements at once, including guards.

The methodical way in which the puzzles build upon the main character's abilities reminds me of Portal, and I think the two games have a fair amount in common. In addition to sharing the same sterile laboratory setting, both Warp and Portal are essentially giant traversal puzzles that rely on the possibilities imparted by the main character's special power. Even the names sound similar.

As much as they have in common though, Warp is very much its own game. It's Warp's stealth component, gullible guards and wide array of abilities that set it apart from Valve's opus and make it worth playing in its own right. It lacks Portal's sharp wit, but Zero is as cute as any Companion Cube.

Trapdoor seems to be taking a great deal of care in designing its puzzles and its powers. If Jumper had put half as much in thought into the application of teleportation as Warp seems to, it might have actually been a good movie. Assuming it lives up to its initial promise, it'll be well worth a look when it arrives on XBLA next month, and PC and PSN in March.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.