Warp first piqued our interest at EA's April Showcase, where this downloadable puzzler stood out against EA's more conventional lineup thanks to its innovative mechanics, eyecatching art style and buckets upon buckets of unexpected gore. Several months on, Trapdoor were proud to show us a new build featuring new abilities, challenge rooms and upgrades, and from what we can see, this unassuming little title is going to be one of the indie highlights of the year.
Players are cast as Zero: an adorable alien test subject who's been captured by the military and is forced to undergo all manner of degrading experiments and horrible vivisections. You'll spend the first few minutes of the game rolling balls through hoops and performing tricks for your sadistic captors in order to earn a meagre ration, getting used to the isometric perspective and controls as you do so. However, after being reached out to by your telepathic fellow inmate Milo (a disconcerting hovering crystal who acts as an omnipresent narrator), you'll eventually come into contact with your dissected organs... and all hell breaks loose. Zero is an incredibly powerful entity who can bend space and matter to his will, and woe betide anyone who stands in the way of his daring escape.
Zero's breakout is played out through a selection of intricate puzzles set in a sprawling and persistent military base. His basic skill, the titular Warp, can instantly teleport him a short distance, allowing him to circumvent impassable barriers and bypass the increasing number of security personnel. A single hit is enough to kill the plucky alien, meaning that stealthily exploiting the AI and the environment is the key to success. Naturally, the warp ability proves more than a match for the more basic puzzles, such as manoeuvring behind enemy vision cones to escape without being detected.
However, Zero can also warp inside objects, which allows him to hide in barrels or detonate explosives to cause a distraction. Warping inside enemies, though, is a very different proposition. Waggling the thumbstick causes him to burst out of his hiding place in a highly volatile manner, so if you're wrapped in a meaty, fleshy shell, your hapless target erupts into a torrent of internal organs and blood. Pacifists will be glad to know that it's possible to complete the game without killing anyone at all, but most players will find the Frag mechanic to be a source of disgusting and delightful satisfaction... as well as a way of thinning out the numbers for when you backtrack through previously-travelled areas. You can read more about Warp and Frag in our earlier preview.
The purpose of this latest build was to demonstrate the Echo ability. Once it's unlocked, Zero can project and control an insubstantial clone of himself to use as a decoy that lures enemies out of position (or better yet, near to an explosive barrel that can be blown up with hilarious consequences). It's a dead simple and intuitive technique, but players will soon discover that it's infinitely more powerful than it first appears. Zero can swap positions with his clone at any time, which provides an advanced method of warping longer distances and outflanking entrenched enemy positions. If you happen to be inhabiting an object, you'll take it with you - allowing you to move heavy items into position, depress pressure plates or create cover from automatic turret fire. Or warp a barrel inside a scientist with horrifyingly graphic results.
The Swap mechanics are then further enhanced by the ability to project a clone of an object that you've warped into. Turrets and enemies won't fire on decoy versions of friendly troops, letting your incorporeal doppelganger infiltrate their positions or prepare a teleport into a safe area. Much like Portal, Warp's simple mechanics can be applied in a host of imaginative and advanced ways depending on the situation.
Oh, and you can also use it to get a little payback. As you explore the facility, you'll stumble across a testing centre where a group of scientists are taking sadistic pleasure in burning, crushing and electrocuting your alien brethren. Unfortunately (for them, at least), the alarm is broken, which lets you warp inside them, project an echo and swap them into their own experiments at leisure. Frankly, they have it coming. Revenge and retribution are set to play a key part in the story, though as mentioned, you don't have to enact it if you're the forgiving type.
Your abilities can be upgraded by finding extraterrestrial grubs: colourful little worms that Zero gluttonously devours by shoving them into his wickedly sharp head blender. No, that black circle isn't just for decoration! A few of these upgrades can be found lying around the base or concealed in hidden areas (many of which can only be accessed by backtracking once you've gained new abilities), but the majority will need to be unlocked by participating in a series of challenge rooms. Each room presents a stiff timed challenge that focuses on a single ability - such as warping to the exit in a short time or exterminating a certain number of scientists against the clock. Gold, silver and bronze par times all yield grub rewards, though the preview build was exceptionally difficult. Even my Trapdoor guide was unable to score higher than a Bronze medal, so here's hoping that the final version will be a little less demanding.
Put simply: Warp is shaping up to be a thoroughly astounding and utterly unique experience that blends cerebral puzzle solving, exploration and stealth into one bloodsoaked package. Trapdoor are hoping for a "winter" release (probably early 2012), and as an EA partner, their corporate big brother will do its best to ensure that the XBLA and PSN versions secure an uncluttered launch window with plenty of publicity. We'll keep you updated with the latest info as we hear it, and without any hyperbole, Warp can't come soon enough.