There's an odd juxtaposition at the heart of Warp. You play as a cute little orange alien, attempting to escape an underwater government facility. After crashing on Earth and being captured by the military, it would seem there's nothing but a lifetime of poking and prodding in store for the little it.
The ability to warp into and through things is the alien's only means of escape, and the central premise of the game. But with such a pleasant, cartoonish presentation, it's pretty jarring the first time he warps inside of a scientist and detonates the unsuspecting human in a shower of crimson blood, which then dries into a gross crust on the floor. It's a touch morbid in contrast with everything else.
It's hard not to compare Warp to Splosion Man -- the two share an "escape the lab" goal and chunky, exaggerated character models. But where Splosion Man emphasizes platforming, Warp concerns itself with stealth and environmental puzzles. You need a crafty martian to dodge laser turrets, soldiers with assault rifles and a bazooka-toting commander on the hunt.
There is no shortage of danger in Warp, thanks to the AI behavior. The second a soldier sees you, he'll open fire and end your escape. If you vanish from his view, he'll investigate the area you were last seen, often accompanied by backup. Even the more passive scientists will sound alarms and call in soldiers to deal with you. And water, essential to all life here on Earth, is fatal to the little Martian -- and that stuff's everywhere.
Warp offered quite a surprising challenge during my half-hour or so of playing time. Relying on objects in the environment is key. I warped into barrels to avoid being spotted and planned my path through dangerous areas well before I leapt into the fray. Warping into things (and people) is a fairly safe act, but discretion is paramount. To make something explode once you're inside of it, you have to move the left analog stick around furiously. It takes about three seconds before you can actually "frag" (in-game term) anything, and the visual state of the object changes as it gets closer to bursting point. Before you can blow up a barrel or a person, then, a nearby soldier might grow suspicious and open fire.
I was also shown another ability, called Echo, that unlocks later in the game. This creates a clone of yourself than can phase through all objects within a certain proximity of your original body. Think of it as a hologram; you can trick soldiers into shooting turrets, important generators or anything else. You can also use it to get a soldier with a shield to turn around, thus exposing him to possession and eventually, if you're cruel like I was, death.
For Trapdoor's very first game, Warp was a polished treat, and a challenging experience that relied as much on intuition as intelligence. And, as I'm sure most of you will, I did manage to get used to those unusual and sudden displays of gore.
Warp launches on Xbox Live Arcade, PSN and the PC this fall.