X-Morph: Defense

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Strategy
Developer: EXOR Studios
Release Date: Aug. 30, 2017


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PC Review - 'X-Morph: Defense'

by Cody Medellin on Jan. 10, 2018 @ 12:15 a.m. PST

X-Morph: Defense is a twin-stick shooter, tower defense hybrid with fully dynamic environments.

Developers have tried to spice up the tower defense genre in a few interesting ways. Some have added local co-op, like the console version of Plants vs. Zombies. Others have added the ability to be active participants in the fight, like South Park: Let's Go Tower Defense Play, and a few have simply reversed the genre like the Anomaly series. X-Morph Defense does all of the above and adds something that makes it stand out among other tower defense titles.

Unlike most tower defense games, or even sci-fi games in general, you aren't playing as the humans. Instead, you play the role of a drone ship from an invading alien force. After doing some analysis, the alien expedition force has concluded that Earth is the best place to harvest resources. As the drone ship pilot, your job is to protect all of the invading harvesters from the humans trying to save their planet.

X-Morph Defense is billed as a tower defense title, but you'll quickly discover that it's more of a twin-stick shooter. Your ship can fly and fire in any direction with a blaster that has significant power. Later upgrades allow you to unleash bombs, missiles and charged shots at enemy forces, all of which come with unlimited ammo caches. Later on, your ship gains the ability to grab debris from fallen enemies to use as extra currency. Your ship is quite powerful on its own, especially after an upgrade or two, so you can take on entire lanes of enemies without having a turret to back you up.

As for the tower defense portion of the game, some of the mechanics are a little deeper than most genre offerings. Your ship places basic turrets in the field, and for the most part, there are few restrictions about the turret placement. Basic turrets can be upgraded to more specialized turrets, like ones that specialize in anti-air, artillery launchers and flamethrowers. The most useful ability of the towers is creating laser fences when at least two towers are within close proximity. Creating laser fences on enemy routes can force them to reroute to the harvester tower, giving you and your towers more time to attack the convoys.

One thing that some people will appreciate is the change to some basic tower defense mechanics. While you can sell your towers, you're better off moving towers to a new spot, since that maneuver is free. The same goes for changing basic towers into more powerful ones, so you never have to choose between upgrading an existing tower or adding another basic one. Between rounds, you're not given a timer, so you can spend as much time as needed to plan your tower placement before calling for the next wave. Finally, although you'll eventually get enough points for almost every new power and upgrade for your harvester, ship and towers, you can always reallocate those points to be better prepared for each of the cities you invade.

However, X-Morph Defense doesn't make everything easy. While pathways are mostly static, one building or structure blowing up can unlock a new pathway for the convoy, forcing you to rearrange your towers on the fly to close off any new pathways that opened up. Also, gathering debris is a nice way to give yourself some extra cash for towers, but overall, you aren't given a large surplus of cash to place more than enough towers to handle the situation.

The combination of tower defense elements and twin-stick shooter elements makes for very frantic action. There's rarely an opportunity to rest, as you're either dealing with a specific enemy lane or panicking when new lanes need to be closed up. At the very least, you won't worry about your towers not doing their jobs, as the firing radius is pretty large, and their destructive capabilities can effortlessly handle most foes. Even though there are only 14 stages, each is long enough that the campaign length can approach the double-digit mark in terms of hours.

There are a few things the game could have done better, though. For all of the firepower you wield between your drone ship and towers, you don't have a very large arsenal. Despite the sci-fi settings, the weapons can be quite boring, so don't expect anything too imaginative. There's also a lack of modes. Unless you're trying to get all of the Achievements, you're pretty much done once the campaign has been completed.

That being said, the game features local split-screen campaign co-op, where you and your partner can pilot your own drone ships and place towers in the field. Both players can manipulate tower placement, no matter who constructs it, and that means field management is easier, but it also means that anyone can mess things up in the heat of battle. There's also Steam Workshop support for custom maps for both co-op and solo games, and a few maps are already available, giving the game some life in lieu of new modes.

The minute you get into gameplay, the presentation is immediately impressive. The cityscapes in each level mean that the color palette leans toward the expected grays and browns, but it still looks well-crafted due to an abundance of particles and details. All plant life reacts to nearby explosions while the amount of debris created by destroyed units is plentiful. Best of all, the frame rate holds steady when the screen is filled with enemies and gunfire is at max settings.

On the audio side, the game is a bit shakier. A few of the voices are fine, but most of them lack any emotion. Whether things are going badly or well, most of the soldiers sound apathetic. There's also the issue of repeating lines, which happens quite early and often, even in the span on one wave. The music, however, is perfect, and the sound effects are quite excellent. It's one of the few games where the effects can rattle walls if your sound system is powerful and configured well.

X-Morph Defense is a pleasant surprise. The blend of shooting action and tower defense fits rather well, and the constant action keeps things at a very frantic pace almost all of the time. It could've used more weapon variety and more modes outside of co-op, but as it stands now, X-Morph Defense is an enjoyable romp for fans of either genre.

Score: 8.0/10

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