X-Morph Defense by Polish based EXOR studios, who are responsible for the title Zombie Driver, is a tower defence game crossed with a top down shooter where (plot twist) you get to destroy planet Earth. Available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One, X-Morph Defense has been in development since 2013 and unlike many games that use the Unreal engine, EXOR have created their own called Schmetterling which when translated isn’t an alcoholic beverage for an elf but infact means “butterfly”.
Taking to the PS4 controller I was intrigued to see how this twin stick hybrid concoction would turn out!
The opening visuals are pretty cool as your alien race decide upon which planet in the universe is best suited for their needs. Through a robotic sequence of events, Earth gets chosen and the harvester cores are deployed. I couldn’t help but think that I was being spoken to by a slightly agitated Optimus Prime from Transformers.
As the city level loads up, a helpful tutorial video gives you a brief overview of how to deploy towers however if you were too busy having a quick slurp of tea, you will be happy to know that you are guided throughout the first level and any subsequent levels where new power-ups and abilities are unlocked.
Being a tower defence game, your harvester core which consists of a large vertical shard like space ship, is the object that you want to defend as it slowly begins to terraform the surface. Once it roots onto the Earth’s surface you naturally attract attention from the locals who are keen to find out what it is. You are required to drive the locals away using your pretty awesome looking X-Morph fighter ship. No diplomacy here, detering the locals involves some mean firepower and a lot of wrecked hopes and dreams for the targets on the ground as you dust them away.
Flying around in your X-Morph fighter is a fluid affair and felt very responsive as I avoided bullet fire while hurtling around the cityscape. As well as the primary rapid laser gun you also have a cannon that is charged up by holding a trigger button, unleashing a ball of energy that wipes out anything in its path. To help you find time to charge your weapon a handy shield appears at the front of your ship to deflect enemy fire as you giggle to yourself knowingly that they will soon be obliterated.
So far I have described to you the shooter element of X-Morph however I did promise you that there was also a tower element! Before each enemy wave begins you have as much time as you need to construct your gun towers. The amount of towers that you can build are denoted by your resources in the bottom left of the screen and where you place them are dictated by the pulsating paths through the city that the enemy will take to reach your precious harvester core. You do infact have free roam to place them where you want however you will find out very quickly that this is not the way to win! Placing two towers either side of a road allows a laser fence to appear between them, and by strategically building them across the path lines, forces the enemy route to be diverted. The plan is to obstruct the enemy paths enough that they take longer to reach the harvester core, giving you a) more time to weaken them with the tower gun turrets and b) destroy them with your fighter ship.
The gun towers can be moved around, redeployed and even morphed into a different structure such as a rocket launcher for air attacks if you have enough resource during play. While on-the-fly editing, your fighter ship enters a “ghost mode” where it becomes invincible and moves across the city at high speed. Invincible you say? well don’t get too excited, your fighter ship cannot shoot while in this mode! If morphing gun turrets sounds cool, your fighter ship can also morph into one of four different hell bringing vehicles!
Playing as the enemy can appear brutal however you soon start to show no remorse as waves of earthlings in their primitive helicopters, fighter jets and tanks begin to make a bee line towards your harvester cores.
Levels consist of a multitude of enemy waves each growing in strength and number of troops, tanks, jets and attack helicopters culminating in the humans unleashing a huge mech to take you on. Your tactics need to vary and quite quickly you will learn that blowing up buildings in the fully destructible environment will hinder the mech’s explosive approach. If your fighter ship is destroyed, which will happen, there is a brief time delay as a new ship is generated. Your reward for successfully defending the harvester core is the unlocking of new abilities for both your fighter ship and the towers however it is still down to you to strategise and deploy your arsenal efficiently.
The entire story campaign has three difficulty settings and is available to play in split screen co-op mode which then increases the amounts of enemy waves as you both attempt to take over planet Earth. Locations in the base game include South Africa, Russia, USA, China, Britain and Argentina however the new European Assault DLC (£3.99) adds additional cities into the mix namely; Finland, Holland and France and are playable as a mini campaign that takes place in parallel to the main story. I would add that the European Assault campaign should only be attempted after playing atleast the first few missions of the base game as it is relentless! The size and determination of the enemy is brutal with long range and short range ground vehicles appearing from all sides of the city along with stealth bombers flying in from the skies above. Thankfully there are some cool abilities that allow the harvester core to retaliate and buy you some more time however the onus is on you to effectively plan your defence prior to the wave beginning.
Another new mode that was part of a free update is the Survival mode. The feature adds a further ten adrenaline fuelled levels of endless gameplay where you can checkout your highscores against the rest of the world. With dynamic changing environments as seen in the campaign, it is down to your quick thinking and rapid button pressing skills to defend your harvester core for as long as you can.
X-Morph Defense looked amazing on my PS4 Pro playing in 4K graphical glory. The movement was fluid with no judder despite the chaos going on and great destructive detail accompanied explosions. The cities are rich with colour and give a great sense of depth. The addition of key landmarks such as the Eiffel tower when playing the France mission on the new European Assault DLC is a good touch and alongside the building architecture adds a touch of authenticity to the city.
A fantastic soundtrack accompanies your city missions as you try and take over the world. The robotic narration of your exploits is documented as mentioned earlier by a deep Optimus Prime style voice over while gun fire, explosions and toppling buildings blast all around your room. I could not find any negatives here, despite the amount of action going on there was not any distortion or lag to be found.
X-Morph Defense certainly has a lot of replayability in that it is by no means an easy game to smash the campaign on first time around. Add to that the new European Assault DLC and survival mode along with the ability to also play the whole thing split screen co-op then this can be a massively fun game to play for many hours.
The large amount of abilities that you can unlock through the skill tree alters your strategies and gives you many options when taking on the ensuing enemy waves. I enjoyed what I saw and now is time to allocate the eagerly anticipated Thumb Culture trophy.
I give X-Morph Defense and European Assault DLC the Gold Thumb Culture Trophy! Well done devs for creating a massively immersive and action packed game.
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this gaming review. If you are reading this then I have not taken over the world yet.