Space: the Warp Frontier. An out-of-this-world point-and-click voyage that boldly explores sci-fi concepts.
Release date: 28 Sept, 2021
Warp Frontier is Australian developer Brawsome’s first game in over ten years, but they definitely didn’t rest on their laurels in the interim, delivering a masterful science fiction creation in the point-and-click genre. The game is probably the best of the genre that I have personally played this year, worthy of inclusion in any point-and-click fan’s library as well as a great jumping off point for those wanting to experience what the genre has to offer.
Following a cataclysmic event called the Reset, humanity expanded from Earth and returned to chipping and augmenting people, creating a present where people are divided based on their planet. Vince Cassini, COP (Cetus Orbital Police), nicknamed Tin Man for his mechanical heart, has spent the last ten years searching for people who went missing after an interplanetary war. His intense focus on this task has complicated his family relationships, and he realizes he’s forgotten his stepdaughter’s birthday just before his ship’s hull is breached by two fighting ships flying by. As Vince investigates this occurrence, he gets pulled into a discovery of massive scale and must navigate the far-reaching consequences of what he’s learned along with his personal life.
Although more realistic and serious in tone rather than comedic, there are enough jokes and puns to keep the mood from getting too dark. Since Vince has chosen not to be chipped or augmented, he operates alone out in the field except for his MAC (Machine Assisted Controller), and the recurring joke poking fun at the fourth wall that MAC makes about Vince thinking out loud is my personal favorite. There’s also a fun homage to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in one of the puzzle solutions.
Gameplay and Mechanics
In many ways Warp Frontier is a traditional point-and-click adventure game. Vince picks up items for his inventory, and those items can be used with characters and objects to progress the story. Rather than having Vince choose from different actions whether to look at or use an item, the player must use the item with Vince (just as if they were combining two inventory items) in order for Vince to look at or interact with it. One nice feature is that if the player hovers over an object, it will display the flavor text or available actions without needing to click on it, so the player can get the worldbuilding details without needing to click on objects that aren’t going to be used.
Warp Frontier manages to avoid the idiosyncratic puzzle solutions that are often a feature of classic point-and-click games. Most puzzle solutions are logical, although it was tricky at times to figure out how to cue the game to move forward. It’s nice to have many items be utilized in multiple puzzles rather than having to find similar items or items with similar functions multiple times because the character abandoned a perfectly functional multi-use tool. Sometimes what this means is that the game will create a third inventory item when the player combines two items. For example, if the player has Vince use glue on an item, the glue and original item will still be separate in the inventory, as well as a new glue+item object. It took me until almost the end of my first playthrough to get the hang of checking my inventory for the newly created combination item.
Whether or not Vince picks up certain items and has them available to use at the right times influences the outcomes of different parts of the game, as does which dialogue options are chosen. Some dialogue or action options will time out if the player waits too long to make a choice, and unfortunately there’s nothing that lets the player know a particular sequence is time-sensitive other than the dialogue options disappearing or the story moving forward in a decisive way.
In addition to being able to work with MAC, Vince’s ship plays a role in many puzzle solutions. I loved how immersive and realistic it felt to use different functions of the ship. The player needs to consider whether the cargo ramp is up or down, the atmospheric pressure outside compared to inside the ship, and other engineering and mechanical considerations. There was so much great technical attention to detail!
The game provides many ways for players to get clues if they are stuck. Often hovering over or clicking on Vince shows the current goal, and talking to MAC gives additional details on the current objective. There’s a button the player can use to show hotspots and whether each hotspot is merely flavor text (e.g., just a dot) or if an action can be performed (e.g., a speech bubble or a hand icon). If all that fails to get the player’s creative juices flowing, there’s a well-designed and robust leveled hint system. If the player does need to resort to clicking on the hint button, it starts by providing a very basic clue, then the player can click arrows to get more and more information if they’re still stuck, ensuring the player gets enough assistance to get unstuck but avoids spoilers as much as possible.
Art Style and Graphics
The overall feel of the art style and graphics will probably seem familiar to point-and-click veterans, but although they aren’t particularly innovative, the realism is exceptional. This can be seen in the technical appearance of the ship’s dashboard and airlock control and the detailed paintings in the backgrounds of some scenes, but can sometimes be disturbing depending on the content. The overall dark color palette is well-suited to the sci-fi world of the game. If there is one flaw in terms of aesthetics, using all capital letters in the text for location names and certain reports would be it. While the font itself is in keeping with the sci-fi ambience, the challenge to readability can be a detractor for immersion. For the more critical dialogue, however, the font is just fine, so the all-caps is a minor detail in an otherwise impressive sci-fi experience.
Sound and Music
The majority Australian voice acting cast is solid, and the sound effects enrich the details of each scene (e.g., breathing sounds when Vince is using his space suit, alarms). The music evokes the ambience at every part of the game, from mysterious to noir to eerie, although I wouldn’t say it crosses over into memorable.
Warp Frontier offers Steam trading cards and 69 possible achievements. Since there are multiple choices and endings, a player won’t be able to get all achievements in a single playthrough, but there is a manual save function in addition to an auto-save. On Oct. 4, 2021, the developer increased the amount of manual save slots from four to fifteen, which will make it easier to explore all of the possible narrative branches while avoiding repetitiveness. The game also offers a commentary feature which I’m excited to use in my next playthrough to get insight into choices made in the game design process.
At $14.99 at the time of review and approximately 7.5 hours for an initial playthrough, plus extras for replayability, Warp Frontier provides great value at full price. Brawsome has built a detailed and immersive sci-fi universe. Although Warp Frontier perhaps isn’t the most artsy of games I’ve played in 2021, it is superb craftsmanship when it comes to worldbuilding and point-and-click gameplay. While the first ending I unlocked surprised me with how quickly it wrapped up, I hope the other endings give insight into my lingering questions and resolve plot points that seemed like loose ends in my initial playthrough. Hopefully it won’t take Brawsome as long to release another game, but if it takes place in this game universe, I’m definitely in.