If Hollywood has taught us anything, it's that the United States is the only country extraterrestrials will ever consider worth invading. But since each and every one of those invasions eventually gets knocked down, Exor Studios chose South Africa as their insertion point for X-Morph: Defense. Clearly, they never saw District 9. If they did they'd know that South Africans are badass and instead of getting overrun by a superior alien race, they would instead put them in concentration camps and feed them cat food. (Don't watch the movie, it cannot be unseen).
Nevertheless, X-Morph: Defense is an alien invasion game with elements from both twin-stick shooter, and tower defense genres, where you play the green-faced invaders rather than the helpless humans. The blend of genres gives this game a fantastic mix of strategy and action which is highly exciting, while also requiring some serious thinking.
X-Morph: Defense is currently available on Steam for $19,99. Watch Launch and recent DLC trailers below:
X-Morph: Defense features a story, but there's not much to it. You're a technologically advanced alien race who came to earth to expand your empire and harvest the resources available, all the usual la-di-da. Somehow though, you failed to notice the billions of lifeforms on this planet before invading and what was supposed to be a simple colonization mission, turned into conquest, whoops.
In another clever break from the norm, you don't have an armada at your disposal to quickly wipe out the resistance, all you have is one tiny ship. So instead of rushing headfirst into battle, you wait for the puny humans to come to your base, where you've planted a maze of destructive towers that'll soften them up nicely before you sink your teeth into them.
In true tower defense fashion, every level features a series of enemy waves you have to fend off, each stronger than the last. You place your towers in strategic locations to deal as much damage as possible and keep them from destroying your core. The game provides you with loads of information to help you set up your defenses. You know exactly where enemies will approach from as well as what kind of enemy units will be sent. You are also shown the exact path they'll take to get to your core which you can then manipulate by placing fences to direct them elsewhere and create bottlenecks. You can also try destroying tall buildings to block certain paths but this is rather difficult to do accurately and if you block the wrong path, there's no way to open it up again. All these elements make the buildup for each wave a thought-provoking, strategic experience that is almost a complete game in itself.
You can also relocate your towers, or simply sell them and build something else. When a tower is sold or destroyed all the resources used to build it are returned to you so your bank account is never left empty. All the tower manipulation is done when your ship enters "ghost mode" which can be done at any time, so even when the screen is filled with enemy tanks, you can still move towers around to where they're most needed. This is difficult to do while you're fending off an enemy wave but with some practice, it will make things even more exciting.
As mentioned before, X-Morph: Defense doesn't just expect you to erect a few towers and then sit back to wait for the chaos to pass like most tower defense games, oh no. During the enemy attacks, you can fly around, rain your hellfire down on your foes and watch them burn. The mixture of mechanics keeps you thinking every single second about what the best approach to victory will be. You can either collect debris from the fallen enemies to increase your income and build more towers, or you can monitor the paths to see which routes have insufficient defenses and spend your time focus firing those enemies with your ship. These options are what makes this game appealing to those who love strategy games as well as the hard worker who wants to unwind at the end of a long day by mindlessly killing some humans, in a completely legal way.
Your ship's weapons and towers all come in 4 variants. Plasma fire can be used on both land and air units, missiles are great for anti-air, bombardments only for ground and lasers do more damage the longer you fire on a single foe which is great for large enemies with a lot of armor. When using your ship's weapons, you also have an alternative fire which utilizes the same weapon but requires charging and does damage in a greater area.
Not all these weapons are available at the start though, they have to be unlocked with points which are earned during missions. Additionally, the mission briefing tells you exactly what kind of foes you'll be encountering and you can then reset previously spent points to unlock something else you'll need more. In addition to your weapons and towers, there are also some other benefits you can unlock with your reward points such as giving your core a shockwave ability that will fire whenever it loses 25% of its health or adding a drone to your ship that automatically shoots down enemy projectiles. This all means that even when being briefed on your mission, you can still spend an obscene amount of time planning to get things just right, and with 4 difficulty settings at your disposal, you might just need to.
A really nice touch in X-Morph: Defense is the ability to play the entire campaign in co-op mode so you can get your best friend to help you conquer the earth. I did encounter one bug during my review though, which saw the game freeze when my ship was destroyed. This only happened once so I'm writing it up as a freak occurrence.
The design department at Exor Studios has done a stellar job, both on visuals as well as the audio. Despite using only a small number of actors, the voice acting was done brilliantly and makes the rather bland storyline seem somewhat interesting. Sound effects are equally impressive, down to the simple dings you get when browsing a menu.
However, impressive as the audio is, it's the visuals that really shine. The developers have come a long way from developing Half-Life mods in the early 2000's and I have to tip my hat to what they've done here. Everything looks phenomenal, the terrain, the cities, the units, even the HUD, it all just works.
The weakest link is the story, which really is nothing special and does exactly what every b-list alien invasion tale in the history of storytelling did. However, this did not damper my play experience one bit as I didn't need an intense drama to tug at my heartstrings to be able to appreciate everything this game had to offer.
X-Morph: Defense is immensely fun. The combination of tower defense strategy and twin stick action mechanics make this a game that various types of players will enjoy. If you like planning things down to a tee and making sure there are no cracks in your strategy then you can spend hours doing just that. However, if you're just in the mood to do some killing, there's plenty of that to be found here too.
The designers also did not disappoint. I was blown away by every color, every curve and, all those beautiful sounds. This game is stunning to behold in every sense of the word.
While the story wasn't much to write home about, it was nice not to have yet another alien ship blow up the White House or Golden Gate bridge, although you still have some Southern General pick up the phone and tell his men to "hit'em with all you got". The one huge flaw I found in X-Morph: Defense is the short campaign. There are only 14 missions available which you'll finish in only a few hours if you put your mind to it. Several of the missions are even optional and are not required to complete the campaign. Even though there are some DLC's available, they won't do much to remedy this problem. I was given access to the European Assault DLC which only provides 3 additional missions.
In the end, I loved playing X-Morph: Defense. Due to time constraints, I was not able to finish the campaign just yet, but I believe this will be one of the few games I'll continue playing after I'm done reviewing it, which is saying something. I just wish they gave you the full campaign with the base game instead of jumping on the DLC bandwagon.