Morphite Review

By Sam Quirke, 12 days ago
The concept of deep space exploration has gripped popular culture for a long time. The video game industry is littered with attempts to capture both the adventure and the melancholy we imagine might accompany such an expedition. Advances in gaming technology mean that it's becoming cheaper and easier for smaller development teams to push further into the unknown, inviting players to explore randomised or procedurally generated solar systems to their heart's content. The trick lies in maintaining the sense of adventure in the midst of all the randomly assigned busywork. Crescent Moon Games and We're Five Games' Morphite is the latest space exploration adventure to enter the crowded cosmos. The game lacks much in the way of innovation and trips up on more than a few design decisions, but it at least manages to eke out some simple entertainment throughout.

Morphite

Morphite revolves around a basic gameplay loop of investigating the environment and using what you find to craft or finance upgrades to your setup. It manages this competently enough. In each solar system that you visit, you can land on a handful of planets or a space station. Your main source of income is selling the blueprints of flora and fauna that you have scanned on a planet to the space stations. Scans of rare plants and animals can be used to directly upgrade your suit, while common scans can be traded for cash towards ship and weapon upgrades. It's all very simple and intuitive, if a little uninspired — unlike Minecraft there's no complex recipe to follow in order to create your upgrades.

How much you feel like exploring the universe of Morphite will really depend on how much fun you derive from visiting randomised planets and prodding their randomised life-forms, as there is very little else to do besides the occasional choose-your-own-adventure interactions with other spaceships en route to a new destination. These may result in a simplistic dogfight, an asteroid-dodging mini-game or an opportunity to trade, but none of these feel memorable or necessary. There are also randomised side-quests in some locations, but they are for the most part bare-bones fetch quests that are barely worth mentioning. The sense of exploring a massive universe is also scuppered the first time you leave and immediately return to a space station, only to find that the interior has completely changed as the randomiser has already kicked in. It would have been nice if the game had stored the state of your most recent station visit at the very least, to help keep up the pretense of permanence just a little longer.

Morphite screenshot 2

For a casual space-faring experience, Morphite has a fairly focused narrative. Players take on the role of Myrah Kale on her investigations into a mysterious substance called Morphite, and ultimately save the universe from a nefarious plot. Unfortunately, the story doesn't really extend much beyond these basic elements, and any immersion into the narrative is destroyed by blandly irritating voicework and a bad script. Kitcat, the robot companion, earns an immediate place in the terrible sidekick Hall of Fame, boasting a bizarre robotic Northern English accent and an awful sense of humour. It's a genuine shame that there isn't a separate audio slider for voice in the game's menu — the game's sound effects are perfectly passable, but not worth the pain of hearing these characters talk to each other. One saving grace is that the majority of cutcenes and dialogue can be skipped with the press of a button.

There are some benefits to maintaining a central story, however. In the main questline the worlds are fixed rather than randomised, and offer some admittedly simple but moderately entertaining combat and platforming in more detailed and colourful environments. The questline also contains a classic and welcome approach to gameplay progression - most missions unlock a new weapon or tool which in turn opens up the exploration possibilities on your travels, which keeps things relatively interesting as you explore.

Morphite screenshot 4


Sadly, enemies can be circled or trapped in the scenery incredibly easily, so there's really no need for anyone with at least a basic grasp of a first person shooter to upgrade any of these weapons; which in turn is one of the only reasons to bother exploring the universe in the first place. A later tool completely breaks any remaining platforming sections by allowing you to place a single temporary platform in mid-air. This is easily abused by placing a second platform as you jump from the first, effectively negating any environmental peril and even allowing some fights to be skipped in the later sections. The missions are relatively diverting and entertaining in a mindless way, but the sloppy design stops the game from feeling like more than a temporary time-waster; all the more so when the game's framerate drops in the final stages, and poor collision detection has enemies firing straight through walls at you.

The music composed for the game is a welcome blend of sci-fi soundtrack archetypes, mostly leaning towards the airy atmospheric synth we culturally associate with ponderous futuristic dramas. This lends some character to the planets and stations you will explore, which unfortunately suffer from bland design work. The low polygon count and noticeably limited location randomisation can take some of the blame, but even with those elements in mind it should have been possible to pull together a pleasant art style rather than a murky hodge-podge. With no environmental textures to speak of and a patina of low contrast seeming to cover the inside of your screen, everything ends up looking a washed out; each space station is just a dull mess of grey corridors. It feels jarring because the design of each planets' animals is actually quite funky and vibrant, especially when you run into some larger dinosaur-like predators or a psychedelic gorilla. Someone on the development team has got a handle on producing randomised life-forms in a reasonably attractive way; it's just a shame this couldn't extend to the environments themselves.

Morphite


Players won't have a hard time getting the achievements on offer in this game, although hitting fifty side missions and twenty-five space trades may take a little grinding after the main quest is over. Like much of the game, the list is easy enough to grasp but ultimately forgettable. Beyond a few temporary frustrations it won't take you too long to finish it off and move on.

Summary

Morphite's attempts to capture the adventurous spirit of the final frontier mostly fall flat, but its simplicity of approach may win over the casual gamer — possibly more so in its mobile ports than on home consoles. Muddled art direction, abysmal dialogue and uninspired side quests prove to be the greatest obstacles to enjoyment, but the main quest missions have a few moments of classic platforming entertainment. Ultimately the game boils down to exploring randomised planets and scanning the stuff you find there, which some will find pleasantly meditative for a while. Morphite fails to be a shining star in a crowded market, but at least it's an easy-going place to visit for a short refuel on your journey to greater discoveries.
2.5 / 5
Positives
  • Easy to pick up and play
  • Appropriately lightweight and atmospheric sound design
  • Main quest worlds are mostly well designed
  • Decent variety in discoverable flora and fauna
Negatives
  • Horrendous dialogue and a flat narrative
  • Significant clipping and framerate woes
  • Muddled, dreary art direction
  • Just a bit too dull outside of the main quest
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent just over 12 hours zooming around space and probing the locals, earning 22 of 25 achievements along the way. An Xbox One digital code was provided by the publishers for the purposes of this review.
Sam Quirke
Written by Sam Quirke
Sam has been a Newshound since 2016. He's also been gaming long enough to know what a text parser is. When not hopelessly lost in the latest open-world epic, Sam is busy devouring books and podcasts or trading Pokémon with his wife.