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Warp hands-on preview

Nestled in the corner behind a big, crowded box of Battlefield 3, EA and Trapdoor are quietly giving 2011 PAX East attendees the first look and demo of their "sci-fi stealth action" game, Warp, whichwas announced late last year. The ants crawling in lines around the BF3 demonstration may not have noticed, but the downloadable title's brief playable demo is an adorably gory challenge, and it's definitely worth a look. I was genuinely disappointed when it was over.

Warp stars a little alien creature who has been captured by an outfit of not-so-benevolent scientists. The foolish researchers are initially unaware that the Katmari Damacy-esque alien has the power to turn them into gore fireworks with ease. Initially, at least, he can teleport, but not just into empty space - he can also warp into objects, and once he's occupying the interior of a barrel, scientist, or guard, shaking the left analog stick activates his 'frag' ability. Splaught!

The story may remind you of Munch's Oddysee, and the lab setting is reminiscent of 'Splosion Man, but Warp plays unlike either. The strategic possibilities presented by the warping/fragging mechanic are surprisingly varied - in fact, a Trapdoor representative remarked that I solved a section of the demo differently than anyone he'd seen all day. That's probably because things started exploding and I panic warped all over the room until I'd covered everything in guts, but still - the simple concept had me considering strategy more deeply than I'd expected.

The initial rooms in the brief tutorial level were safe. Hapless scientists ran in fear of the escaped test subject, and I, being the cruel virtual overlord I am, invaded their personal space and gutted them. I didn't have to, though - it's possible to play the game with entirely non-violent stealth techniques. I just wanted to see red.

Things got tricky, however, when guards were introduced - one of their booming shots kills the warping alien instantly, and once they spot you, they don't take their time aiming. Even if you've occupied a barrel, scientist, or another guard, you're still vulnerable - when you shake the analog stick to explode, the occupied vessel shakes, and once a guard is alerted to this, he'll go for the kill.

The toughest part of the demo was a room containing two patrolling guards, two scientists, and a couple of barrels. I warped into the room after surveying its contents (the camera can be moved ahead with the analog stick), being sure to land unseen in a barrel. From here, I could have carefully made my way through the room, warping in and out of humans and objects to maintain my cover. Instead, I started shaking the barrel, prompting the guards to investigate. I fragged it before they became suspicious enough to shoot me, and it knocked them to the ground.

At that point, I could have run across the room to teleport away, but I really hate unfinished business, so I quickly teleported into the downed guards and fragged them before they were able to get up. It sounds easier than it was - I tried multiple maneuvers before I settled on the barrel trick, and even then, I ate it a few times for being too slow. And even after clearing the room, I wanted to go back to find a more elegant method.

The demo ends with our alien hero being confronted by an army of very bad-looking dudes (I think there were lasers and stuff), teasing much bigger and more complicated stealth puzzles. Also teased at the booth were three additional powers (aside from warping and fragging), but EA's representative wouldn't tell me what they were, even though I asked reeeeally nicely. EA also declined comment on whether or not the game will feature any co-op or competitive multiplayer support. I can't really see how either would work, but perhaps Trapdoor can?

Warp is scheduled to release this summer for XBLA, PSN, and PC. We should have official screens soon - until then, you'll have to bear with our photos of the booth.

Mar 12, 2011

Associate Editor, Digital at PC Gamer