Trying to pick a new game to play can be tricky, especially in the well-worn fields of tower defense and twin-stick shooters. Even though it may not hold any new ideas of its own for either genre, X-Morph: Defense does tower defense and twin-stick shooting almost perfectly in every single way.
X-Morph puts players into the role of evil aliens trying to take over the Earth and harvest resources from a variety of countries. Your primary antagonist, then, are the humans led by a general who is given permission to throw every one of Earth’s defenses at the new threat. There are two game modes from which to choose initially, Survival and Campaign, and there’s an additional campaign that can be added with the recently-released paid DLC, European Assault. No matter which mode you choose, the basic gameplay is the same.
Each mission starts with players building towers to defend their home base - a giant alien pillar that is harvesting the Earth’s resources. The tower defense formula is pretty simple from the start; build towers to take down the enemies that are sent at you in discreet waves. There are different styles of towers depending on if you want long-range heavy-hitting artillery, close range flamethrowers, basic towers that are medium on range and damage or anti-aircraft; all of this is your choice based on the foes you’ll face for that wave and how you plan to stop them. In between waves you have time to build, but you’re given maximum points for finishing missions quickly, so lingering on building does not behove the player if the goal is getting the high score. The point system only affects leaderboard rankings and nothing in the game itself, so while it’s a nice feature, it’s also fairly unimportant if you don’t care about the scores.
Aside from building towers for defense, the player also has the option of defending their base personally using the alien ship provided to them. The ship controls in twin-stick shooter fashion and starts with plasma cannons - an attack that damages both air and ground forces - as well as a chargeable beam attack that does massive damage in a straight line. This balance of ship combat and towers is a beautiful blend that starts on the very first mission. If you’re a more hands-on player you can take out foes personally or you can scramble to place towers and let your automated defenses do the heavy lifting - doing either or, or a blend of the two, is up to you. This mix of building, shooting, and flying around enemies creates a feeling of beautiful chaos on each map, which is made even more enjoyable in every way in co-op.
The co-op fits perfectly into every mission. You have limited resources with which to build your defenses before a wave starts, but killing foes grants more harvestable resources so you are better prepared to build towers as the wave goes on. This usually means one member of the team will be frantically building while the other is trying to fend off the unyielding human meat bags, but both players know that their roles are vital to survival. Past building, if one player enjoys a weapon (I found myself infatuated with dropping bombs on pesky humans) and the other player enjoys a different weapon (my partner prefered the lasers) the co-op is very accommodating. My partner would let me know when they had too many ground forces and I would swing by and bomb them into next Tuesday, and I would notify my partner if I needed help with very strong aircraft that needed to be shot down. This relationship between co-op partners is cemented early on and built upon extremely well as failure on either player’s part is complete failure. This co-op experience is only made better in later levels as players earn more upgrades and figure out the best way to use them for their preferred roles.
Upgrades are purchased in between missions, starting with the second mission, using upgrade points that are awarded after each mission. Further, every upgrade is shared, meaning if you choose to invest in bombs, you and your partner are both getting to use bombs. Once they to come into play it is up to the players to use them wisely, since the game tells you what kinds of forces you will encounter but it’s up to you to decide how to handle them. Thankfully, you can respec between missions, meaning you’re never locked into chosen upgrades that won’t help you in a particular level.
The things you can upgrade range from different types of attacks the player can use, such as anti-air missiles that make easy work of airborne foes or bombs that are deadly to ground forces, to…?. Players can freely swap between different attacks during missions, so again, it’s up to you and your co-op partner to decide how to employ them. Enhancements to your ship are called “Technologies,” while “Upgrades” are used for improvements like upping your base’s shields, buying different types of towers (such as the aforementioned artillery and flamethrowers), and so on. Since I enjoyed the twin-stick shooting I often opted for buying the different ammunition types, such as anti-air missiles and bombs, while my partner got to choose what tower types we invested in. Splitting the enhancements into Upgrades and Technologies only furthers the great co-op feel that the moment-to-moment gameplay provides. It’s a great system that never feels like players are giving up their ship to upgrade towers or vice versa, but it also allowed my partner and I to both have input on what we wanted and why.
X-Morph: Defense does everything it does well for the entirety of the campaign and right into the Survival mode, which is exactly what it sounds like. Wave after wave of foes try to kill you and your partner as you fight them off as long as possible. At the end of each wave in survival you are given your choice of upgrade (the same upgrades mentioned earlier) and then you start the next round where you face (you guessed it) more bad guys; survive that wave, rinse, repeat. While there is nothing revolutionary about survival, it’s a good addition to have, since it just takes the things that are already great about the game and serves them up without changing the formula. Also, the leaderboards are in this mode too, meaning that even though my partner and I only lasted five rounds it told us we did better than 19% of other players - a solid pat on the back.
For everything X-Morph: Defense does right, though, there are two major drawbacks to the game. First, the difficulty is insane, especially on single player. The humans you face will storm past your towers and relentlessly rip your base to shreds in mere moments, especially in later levels. Even with a partner and on normal difficulty there were certain levels that required starting over multiple times. This is not an easy game, but since I’m a human in real life and not an X-Morph, it’s good to know the earth has such solid defenses. The other issue with the game comes in collecting resources mid-wave, which is frustrating at best. In order to pick up debris off fallen foes, which is an ability you don't start with but have to acquire via the appropriate purchasable "Technology," you have to push a button that effectively drops you out of combat and then another button to suck up the resources. In single player this means having to make a choice between helping your towers to fight off enemies, or gathering a handful of resources to try and build more defenses. In multiplayer, however, picking up debris is worse. Resources are not shared between players, so leaving combat to collect debris for your own personal pool leaves your partner all alone to defend the base; which often felt like a selfish maneuver. By the end of our time with the game, picking up resources was a running joke between my partner and I; it’s tacky, awkward and makes your teammate feel completely alone.
Since the time of X-Morph: Defense’s release, it has since gained its first DLC: European Assault. The DLC features three new maps - Finland, Netherlands and France - and sees a different general take control of the humans as they try to stop your alien invasion. Although there is nothing in the DLC that changes the gameplay altogether, there are some different enemy types and the humans will use different technologies as they try to stop your invasion. It should be said, however, that this DLC is hard. While upgrades here are completely compatible with the standard campaign, and the additional levels feel great, missions found in the European Assault DLC are not for the faint of heart.
X-Morph: Defense does a lot well. From beautiful explosions to the smooth handling of the ship, playing the game looks and feels great from the start. Setting up strong defenses, switching your ships weapons on the fly, buying new upgrades, and watching bad guys get pounded into dust at your hand is simply thrilling from the first mission. The game is unforgiving and hard, however, and feels like it needs to be played with a partner if you hope to survive. While debris collecting is an awkward break from combat, this is a game that is easy to pick up as it sets the bar high for tower defense titles.
The Co-Op Experience: X-Morph: Defense includes a split screen co-op mode. All missions have different gameplay scenarios designed specifically for co-op play. Enemies attack in larger numbers and from new directions making good cooperation essential to winning. In this mode the game can be played in many different ways, one player can focus on optimizing tower placement while the other shoots at enemies, or they can both focus their firepower on the strongest attackers. Additional campaign missions are available in the European Assault DLC, and a co-op Survival mode was added with the Survival Of The Fittest DLC.
Co-Optimus game reviews focus on the cooperative experience of a game, our final score graphic represents this experience along with an average score for the game overall. For an explanation of our scores please check our Review Score Explanation Guide.