STAFF REVIEW of X-Morph: Defense (Xbox One)

Monday, September 18, 2017.
by Adam Dileva

X-Morph: Defense Box art It seems that at one point Tower Defense games were insanely popular. There have always been a lot of them around and there’s no shortage of games in the genre. That being said, if you’re looking for something new and unique, that’s pretty rare these days. It seems EXOR Studios has addressed this shortage though, combining tower defense with a top down twin-stick shooter. Oh, and you’re also the intruder this time around instead being the one who tries to stop the alien invasion. I was expecting another typical tower defense game, but instead I enjoyed what is offered, although it is far from perfect.

You play as an alien race, seeking planets to harvest for resources. Scouring the universe, you happen to come upon that blue planet you see in so many picutres. Yep, you arrive at Earth, a resource rich planet that looks prime for the taking. It’s a shame that humans don’t take lightly to alien races harvesting their planet, so you’re going to need to defeat waves of armies to protect your base as you attempt to terraform the Earth.

You begin your planet takeover going country to country, each one acting as a new level, each one showcasing more human resistance as you progress. You’ll need to deal with ground and air armies, along with a few special surprises along the way, and although playing as the bad guy is a fun take on the genre, it does tend to get a little repetitive after a while. The narrative has a base guideline but there’s no engaging storyline aside from its general premise, which is a shame, but at least some effort was made, unlike most tower defense games that lack any narrative purpose or basis.

The core gameplay takes place is two separate stages. The first stage is where you prepare for the imminent human attack. Pressing ‘Y’ allows your controllable ship to move around in Ghost Mode, making you move very quickly and be invisible to your enemies. This also allows you to use your limited resources that you’ve gained to place turrets nearly anywhere you like on the map in strategic locations. Your superior alien knowledge allows you to visualize and determine the human’s pathway of attacks, allowing you to strategically choose the best attack and choke points.

The other stage of battle is during the actual attack phase, defending against waves of human armies who are trying to destroy your base. Once the armies are wiped clear, and your base is safe, you’ll repeat this process 5 or 6 times per level until you reach the final boss stage. I won’t spoil these end waves though, as they were some of the best moments from X-Morph: Defense. Complete each wave and the level is complete, allowing you to move onto the next country for world domination.

While humans won’t overpower you with weaponry, as you’re an alien lifeform that can shoot lasers (pew-pew), bombs, and other weaponry, what they do well though is overwhelm you with their sheer numbers. Most enemies are easy to destroy on their own, save for some heavy tanks and other vehicles, but when you have dozens coming from all directions simultaneously, you can become quickly overwhelmed. You’ll need quick reaction time and be able to place your limited towers strategically if you want to keep your base intact against humanity.

The routes that the humans use to reach your base can be visually seen on the overview map as you pilot your ship around. If left untouched, the armies will make a quick trek to your base and defeat you quite swiftly, so one of your main goals is to make their path as long as possible to reach your base. Although there is a singular path that can potentially reach your base (or else it would be easy to trap them in a loop), when you have many starting points all around the map, there will almost always be multiple exits for enemies to reach your base.

You’re able to place towers in designated areas of the map, though you’ll always want to place them near the enemies’ set route. Not only do turrets act as automatic fire against the humans, but if you place two nearby each other and you can actually link them together with a light fence, stopping any troops from passing through (unless of course there’s the only one path to your base remaining). These fences force the humans to take a different path, making their journey to your base longer, allowing you more time to destroy them. This is a unique take on the tired turret placing; however, what I really enjoyed was that they can be moved at any time without consequence, and should one become destroyed, you gain back your resources to replace it once again instantaneously.

The combat of X-Morph is a lot of fun, being able to maneuver your ship and shoot in any direction like a decent twin-stick shooter. You’ll have special attacks that can be charged up for more damage and the controls work surprisingly well. You can’t simply rely on your turrets, as they won’t be enough to stop the enemy alone, so the bulk of your gameplay will be controlling your ship and shooting everything that’s attempting to swarm and reach your base.

Between matches you’re able to choose from an array of different upgrades, meant to deal with different situations. These cost in-game points to use, so you’ll need to decide on which upgrades to load for each attempt. This upgrade system allows for varied gameplay when you try the stages again on harder difficulties, allowing you to experiment with different strategies. The number of upgrades is quite surprising, and before selecting each stage you’ll see what types of enemies you’ll be facing to help you better decide which upgrades to focus on, such as changing your turrets to counter air or ground units specifically for example.

Even though X-Morph eventually feels like a grind, there’s many reasons, and options, for you to continue playing and repeat levels numerous times. While I’ve yet to delve deeply into the local split-screen mode, as I don’t generally have friends over to game, it’s worth noting that it does exist, something that many in the genre don't tend to possess. Having one person responsible for attacking and the other dedicated to building and turret maintenance sounds like a ton of fun.

Even on the Easy difficulty, the gameplay can become quite challenging in the later stages, as one wrong turret placement or failure to relocate them quick enough can result in becoming overrun and your base will fall. I never tend to get excited about a new tower defense game, as a majority of the time it’s always results in a 'been-there-done-that' kind of feeling, but X-Morph: Defense did enough to switch things up, adding new mechanics and gameplay, yet still preserving that core Tower Defense feeling.

If you’re a fan of the tower defense genre you’ll no doubt enjoy your time with this game, testing out the upgrades, working on optional objectives and fighting bosses that break up the monotony. Even though fatigue may eventually come quickly for casual fans of the genre, and the difficulty can spike quickly, kudos to EXOR Studios for creating a different tower defense X-Perience.

Overall: 7.5 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 6.5 / 10


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