Games review : X-Morph: Defense
I've always enjoyed a good tower-defense title, but those that have really stood out are the few that merge other genres.
Sanctum 2 gave an FPS direction, Toy soldiers with in-turret controls and now X-Morph Defense adds twin-stick SHMUP to the fray.
Emergency services rush to the scene as an alien craft known as a 'core' lands in a South African town. The aliens release an aircraft known as the X-morph and you take control of this ship, shooting at the nearby helicopter.
The police flee as a call goes out for the army to assist. Initially there are just a few trucks but soon enough you'll be protecting the core from tanks, jet planes and giant mechanical spiders.
The first level (South Africa) plays out as a tutorial but there is still enough of a challenge as you are gradually introduced to increasing strength defences. Your core needs time to grow and harvest energy so you'll have to protect it. Initially, flying around and shooting enemies will do the job but soon enough you will be given resources to create towers to defend against more substantial numbers.
You will visit 14 countries including Great Britain, Russia and China. It's nice to see a variation of locations across the globe and, while enemy units don't change much except for the more powerful variants introduced as you progress, there's an authentic vibe to the surrounding area from the sandy pyramids of Egypt to the busy cities of Japan.
X-Morph is mostly very well-paced and balanced. Sometimes you can merge paths to keep all the enemies attacking from a single direction, whereas even with multiple points, your craft is mobile enough to cover every angle without feeling overpowered.
Changing to ghost mode (Y) you move to the strategical side where you can lay down various towers dependent on the arsenal you've unlocked. Tower placement is important when you start linking towers with an electric fence to force units along certain paths and utilising this technique can more than quadruple the paths some units will have to take. Thankfully you won't be selling off towers every time insertion points move because you can move towers without penalty.
Using RT when in ghost mode picks up scraps from downed enemies which is the currency used for creating more towers, progressing through the levels will earn you Technologies and Upgrades to buy stronger arms such as the impressive dark-matter bomb which is capable of destroying bridges and flattening buildings to help divert your assailants.
Graphically, X-Morph is one of the better-looking tower-defense games I've played. There is an impressive level of detail to the surrounding area, enemy units are mostly easy to spot due to distinctive (yet still discreet) markings, and while the weapon effects are sometimes a little simple, it keeps the screen tidy.
Occasionally it's sometimes a little awkward to decipher exactly which turret is raining down fire on your opponents which can be an annoyance later in the game when you are moving around turrets but trying to keep air defense in one area.
Audio complements the aesthetics with a soundtrack you might to hear in a disaster movie. Things could look and sound a little better in places but there has still been some great work put into X-Morph which is a level we don't often see for this genre. There is plenty of voice acting both from the human forces and the alien commander which is more than adequate.
There are a few question marks over the longevity. Most of the 14 levels will take about 20 minutes to work through but do not be surprised if you are forced to retry a couple. X-Morph might only last about four or five hours, but you can thankfully retread your footsteps to battle for a leaderboard position. The local co-op play which works incredibly well, but I would have liked to see a little more base content. Thankfully, at around the £15 mark, X-Morph represents fairly good value but you may find yourself replaying missions to fulfil more than an evening.
It's worth noting that European Assault DLC is also on its way which will add three new locations to attack. Holland, Finland and France sound like interesting locations, especially the promise of a final showdown at the Eiffel Tower.
It is expected that the DLC will cost around £5, which brings the total for both the main game and DLC to £20. However, 17 levels in total still doesn't represent the greatest value for money when titles like Halo Wars 2 are available free on Microsoft's Game Pass.
X-Morph Defense is a fantastic mix of tower defense and twin-stick SHMUP. There is a great variety of locations, enemies, towers and weapons to master with co-op play and very replayable missions. With only 14 levels in total, there is a question mark over value, but it's worth every penny if you are a fan of top quality tower-defense games.