Earth is under attack once again, with pesky aliens wanting to strip the planet of it’s natural resources. This time though, just for a change, it’s you who are the invading force. Huge harvester spires are dropping across the planet and it’s up to you to defend them as the humans mount attacks by air and land, and occasionally throw in a huge boss mech as a last resort.
X-Morph: Defense is an ingenious hybrid of a top down shooter and tower defence, with the game alternating between an attack phase in which you race about shooting the enemies and a planning stage where you can place towers to block the paths of attack. Towers come in various flavours including aerial defence rocket launchers and mortars, but their most important feature lets you create a laser fence between two towers and block off a route of attack.
Your X-Morph ship, which looks rather like Michael Bay’s version of Megatron stuck mid-transformation, has four modes to help you battle. The first includes a giant power shot that attacks all enemies, the second mode is only deadly to aerial enemies, the third fires bombs and the fourth lets you detonate a massive explosion that can bring down tower blocks to stop the advancing enemy. Your ship also has a ghost mode that makes it invulnerable and can be used to hoover up crystals to spend on building more towers. Later on in the game, you really have to use your time strategically in battle, alternating between attacking, hoovering up crystals, and then placing new towers mid-battle.
Each of the fourteen landing sites across the globe, some of which are optional, are split in five or six stages and can take over an hour or to beat. By completing them you unlock new tech to use, such as shields for you harvester core or new turret designs. Enemies may also change their attack strategy between each stage so you have to spend time altering your existing tower layout and deciding where to redeploy your resources. Even on the easiest of the three difficulty levels the game is incredibly challenging by the fifth landing zone and one mis-placed tower can cost you the game.
However, help is at hand as the game comes with a very welcome split-screen local co-op mode. During the attack phases both players can do their own thing, but in the planning stage you really do need to work together as you can move and replace towers created by the other player which can lead to some heated arguments!
The graphics are quite detailed and there’s some great environmental destruction, with tower blocks crumbling into huge piles of rubble. Coming over the speakers, there is also some decent voice work from your growling alien commander, and the leader of the human forces who helpfully tells you where and how they are going to attack next. However, the game does suffer from long loading times and has crashed on me a couple of times.
My biggest problem with the game is the in-game logic that’s common to all tower defence games. You are playing as an invading alien force and have to protect your core, so you really should be able to do anything to achieve your goal. However, for gameplay purposes you cannot completely block the routes the enemies take towards your core. If you have carefully placed towers so the humans are funnelled down one route and then try and block that route your alien commander will growl “Impossible!” and stop you. For an invading force intent on destroying the humans, it seems very odd that your commander wants to give the enemy a fair chance. I can see why they have enforced this rule but it’s an odd way of implementing it and perhaps a better solution could have been found.
The levels are also fairly repetitive, as every map requires you to follow the same procedure. You build towers, defend the base, move towers, build some more, and repeat. The game gradually introduces new enemy designs and you unlock new tech, but there’s nothing particularly original. Although the buildings and land change between locations they’re all pretty similar, it would have been nice to have some famous landmarks to blow up Independence Day style, or perhaps drop some temporary power ups for your ship. The game also insists that you have to build a standard tower before upgrading it, which is a little tiresome as you have to click through the same menu twice.
X-Morph: Defense successfully mashes up the shoot ’em up and tower defence genres which is no mean feat. and the co-op mode is a really great addition and helps alleviate the repetitive nature of the tasks. There is at least fifteen hours of gameplay on the easiest difficulty level and as you are ranked at the end of each battle there’s a good reason to go back and try again. If you like tower defence and big explosions it’s well worth a look, especially if you have a friend to join the battle.
Version tested: PlayStation 4