It's a big old universe out there.
Blowfish Studios latest game Morphite puts you in the shoes of Myrah, a girl who ends up exploring the universe in search of the titular morphite – a source of massive power in the universe, and a power that is related to her past. Accompanied by Kitcat, a robotic cat who acts as a dry-witted information dispenser through the course of the adventure, she sets off into the stars to investigate a universe full of planets.
The main story spans numerous planets, and each of them is a sizeable environment in which you’ll shoot monsters and solve puzzles to obtain key items and progress the story. Along the way, you’ll need to upgrade your suit so you can land on planets that are too hot or cold for you to visit from the beginning, upgrade your ship to allow you to travel further and survive in combat longer, and upgrade your weapons and scanner. All of these upgrades require currency (chunks, which can be obtained from everything from chests to shooting various hostile aliens) and resources which are obtained by picking up mineral deposits on the hundreds of procedurally generated planets in the game.
Each planet can be visited and farmed for resources and side quests which vary from the straightforward (shooting space ducks that are pestering a lady that lives there) to the unusual (help a merchant build his store) to the bizarre (help some aliens roast marshmallows – seriously!). Scanning animals and plants that you discover on your travels give you scans that you can then sell for more chunks, which you can exchange for more upgrades.
Combat involves shooting at aliens that attack you – which actually doesn’t happen that often unless you stray too close or attack them first. You eventually unlock bombs, but these are generally used for blowing holes in walls to discover hidden areas more often than they are for fighting a la The Legend of Zelda. You’ll spend more time scanning lifeforms than shooting at them – and that was fine by us as it further reinforced the sense of exploration. Platforms invite vertical exploration onto plateaus and into mountainous areas, with the jumping mechanics straightforward and consistent – bringing to mind Metroid Prime more than anything else.
Visually, it’s an intentionally low-res polygon affair with a colour palette that combines pastels and bright neon in stark contrast to one another – a style that appears similar to that of No Man’s Sky, which is a game that Morphite has clearly been inspired by. The music is ambient electronica that brought to mind that of Mass Effect, and which supports the atmosphere of the game very well.
Morphite is a game that unfolds at a pace that is largely dictated by the player, and it was one that let us fall into a lilting, reassuring routine. We played slowly in comparison to some, but that pace allowed us to revel in the sense of exploration and discovery that is, in our opinion, Morphite’s greatest strength. We’d complete a story mission and then explore the surrounding planets in the system, completing side quests and obtaining minerals and materials for upgrades. Once we’d done that for awhile, we’d throw down a beacon to call in the drop pod, hop in and head on to the next system. As your ship doesn’t carry enough fuel to travel directly from one story mission to the next, the game encourages you to explore each system that you visit in a way that feels natural and unobtrusive – and it was in doing this that we had the most fun.
The landing animation, as your pod gently descends to an unknown alien world, gradually reveals the landscape to you and perhaps most importantly builds up a sense of anticipation. When the pod door opens, you’re never really certain of what you’ll find – and that’s really something that only procedural generation can bring. During our travels, we found ice covered misty planets filled with harmless alien penguins, lush forests filled with dinosaurs, deserts, abandoned settlements – never sure what we’d see around the next corner. Once out of the pod you’ll wander, scan new lifeforms, explore mountains and caves and complete side quests until you’ve either seen everything there is to see there, or until curiosity for the next planet or story mission gets the better of you and you set course for the next system. The light combat and the ambient music combine to make it an almost therapeutic experience.
It’s not all plain sailing for Morphite, however. The game suffers from a number of technical issues that we couldn’t overlook. It wasn’t uncommon to see aliens (especially the larger, dinosaur sized ones) walking on the spot into the scenery, or occasionally glitching through it or tumbling in midair. Visiting space stations in particular seemed to cause framerate problems for the game – all the more noticeable because it runs so well so much of the time. Texture pop-in on planets was a common sight. The decision to map the aim button for the pistol on the RB button was one that had us scratching our heads – in combat against moving targets, you’ll be using your middle finger to pull the trigger on RT, which just feels bizarre and is a shame given how well established FPS controller conventions are. The game offers no opportunity to remap controls, so you’re stuck with this strange configuration.
In the context of the scale of the game though, these are small concerns. If you’re looking for an atmospheric change of pace as the end of year first person shooter rush begins, Morphite is worthy of your time.
Morphite will be available on the Xbox Store from 20th September 2017, priced at £11.99.
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