By Michael Fontanini / April 20th, 2018
|Release Date||August 30th, 2017|
|Genre||Shooter, Tower Defense, Strategy, Indie|
|Platform||PC (Steam), Xbox One, PlayStation 4|
|Age Rating||ESRB T for Teen, PEGI 12|
X-Morph: Defense puts you in command of the defense efforts of an alien invasion force taking over the Earth one location at a time. Crush the puny Earthlings’ attacks and soon the Earth’s buried resources will be yours for the taking! Can you survive their desperate attacks and conquer their world?
X-Morph: Defense has an interesting twist, as it’s not just a shooter or a tower defense game. Instead, it’s a little of both. You’ll have to fend off waves of human attacks in the form of various types of tanks, jets, copters, and more. In between each wave of attacks, you get an intermission phase where you can modify your defenses and build new ones. There is no time limit so the next wave doesn’t start until you’re ready.
The game includes several different game modes. There is the main campaign, which sees you progressing through the story across a series of missions. There is also a survival mode with a number of unlockable maps. Each one is unlocked by getting at least a bronze on the previous map. You can also play levels created by other players via Steam Workshop.
In each mission, you must protect the X-Morph core. Should the humans destroy it, the battle is lost. If this happens, the game is nice enough to restart you in the intermission phase just prior to the wave you were defeated in. This gives you a chance to rethink your defenses and modify them accordingly before trying again. You can also modify your defenses in the heat of battle, but this must be done carefully since enemies keep coming while you’re doing so. You must switch your ship into Ghost Mode to build/modify defenses. Ghost mode also makes it invulnerable and invisible to your foes, making it useful in battle for dodging huge amounts of projectiles. However, you cannot use your weapons in Ghost mode.
Each environment contains lots of destructible objects, like buildings. In some cases, these can be knocked down across a path to force your foes to take a different route. This can also be accomplished by setting up a laser fence between two of your defensive towers, though laser fences have a limit on how long of distance they can span.
In X-Morph: Defense, you don’t improve your defenses simply by building more towers, though that is important to do. There is a tech tree divided into three separate trees. One is for your small alien fighter ship, another one for tower tech, and the last one for the core’s tech. You cannot increase the HP or attack damage of a tower, but you can unlock better types. There are only a handful of tower types, but each is specialized for certain types of foes.
Tech upgrades for the core include things like defensive attacks, a stronger shield, and more. Each mission cleared earns you points you can use to unlock new technologies. For your little ship, you can get some defensive improvements, like a drone that flies around you and helps protect you from attacks. One very important ship tech is the one that allows you to collect debris from fallen enemies. A second upgrade improves its efficiency. The collected debris provides you resources that allow you to build more towers. Changing a tower to a better tower type also costs one resource bar (lower-left bar in the image above). You can always change it back or sell the tower to regain the resources you put into it.
You can see in the image above from the ship’s tech tree that there are four columns. Your little alien fighter has four weapon systems available. You can switch between them in battle, though this can be annoying at times when you have to do it frequently. You have your standard attack, which is fairly weak. There’s also a missile system you can unlock, which is specialized for attacking aerial foes and it won’t affect ground enemies.
A few of the missions include a boss fight against a huge human war machine. This usually still involves setting up defenses, as normal units will come in during most boss fights to try to attack the core while you’re busy battling the boss. When the humans send these huge war machines your way, they often have numerous different parts that can be destroyed, and tons of HP. Bosses often have at least one over-powered weapon that can blast you to bits really fast if you’re not careful. In some cases, the boss advances on your core, and you must defeat it before it gets there and destroys it! You can slow it down by destroying certain parts like wheels.
EXOR Studios were nice enough to give us a code for the European Assault DLC that just came out, too. It has three new missions, and they are harder than the main campaign. The humans get some new weapons, such as an annoying orbital ice cannon that can temporarily disable your towers in the impact zone for a short while.
At the end of a mission in both campaign modes, you get scored in four categories, like how damaged the core was at the end. The core can heal itself some during battle on most difficulty levels. Your scores in these four categories determine if you get bronze, silver, gold, or nothing. However, you can only get a gold victory on normal or hard mode, which is a bit of a pointless restriction. In general, doing better than bronze is very difficult on normal mode after mission #1 (and probably not worth it unless you’re going for achievements).
The game has four difficulty levels from very easy up to hard. Most games would call this one’s normal mode hard or very hard. New players should start no higher than easy mode, as normal mode will start pounding you into the ground as early as mission #2. By mission #5, it seems all but impossible with the amount of units swarming you. New players on normal mode will find themselves ill equipped for the scenarios they’re thrown into after the tutorial mission and likely will be forced to knock down the difficulty setting to have a fighting chance.
In general, the challenge in X-Morph: Defense comes not from well-thought-out game design, but from simply swarming the player with insane amounts of enemies. This also sometimes transforms the shooter aspect of the game into a bullet hell! The survival mode adds a little more difficulty with its own little twist. Like the campaign modes, it has the intermission phases between enemy waves. In the other modes, there is no time limit so you can plan your defenses as long as you like before starting the next wave. In survival mode, the intermission phases have completely unnecessary time limits. This mode is already heavily stacked against the player anyway, like campaign mode on normal difficulty.
The sound effects are pretty good. The explosions and destruction are indeed satisfying in terms of both the sound effects and the graphics. However, sometimes when there is too much going on, the sound gets poppy and messed up for some reason. I think the game was trying to play too many sound effects at once. This only happened when there was lots of stuff getting blown up all at once by both me and numerous on-screen defensive towers.
X-Morph: Defense‘s blending of shooter and tower defense is a cool idea that works well on its own. However, the game often feels frantic, as it’s not uncommon for it to make the player feel spread too thin and unable to deal with everything that’s happening all at once. You have to watch your map for new attacks, patch your defenses mid-battle sometimes, regularly collect debris of fallen enemies in the heat of battle to get more resources, and also keep an eye on the map for incoming artillery that will destroy your towers and generally be a big pain in your behind. So you’ve got a lot to manage at times! The game can be a blast when its fun, but other times it can feel quite unfair. It took me about 20 hours to get through both the main campaign and the DLC campaign. If you like a challenge, there is plenty more play time to be had on higher difficulties, and even more if you go for a gold victory on every mission. X-Morph: Defense is available on Steam for $19.99, and it is also on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. The European Assault DLC campaign is $4.99. Do you have what it takes to hold off the human assaults and secure the resources buried deep in the Earth for the benefit of alien kind?
Review copy provided by publisher.
EXOR StudiosX-Morph DefenseXMorph DefenseZombie Driver