by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
A Whole New World
I’ve been doing a lot of exploring in real life this year. After quitting my day job in the US and accepting one in Southeast Asia, I’ve taken every opportunity to explore new places, try new activities, and interact with new people. It’s been a little bit scary, a little bit confusing, and incredibly rewarding. While exploring the real world, it only makes sense that I do some exploring in the digital one too. It’s a good time to be an exploration game fan these days with the plethora of massive, detailed sandbox games hitting the market faster than anyone could reasonably play through them, and Morphite deserves to be in the conversation for one of the year’s most entertaining. Though not as time consuming or physically vast as others in the genre, Morphite succeeds in creating a tight, focused, enjoyable romp through its fictionalized galaxy.
In Morphite you play as a young explorer traversing the universe. As a child, Myrah heard stories of a mysterious substance, the titular morphite. On a mission to gather some resources she finds the the morphite symbol carved into the floor of an old ruin, and decides to head out looking for more signs. Following a strange energy signature, Myrah lands on another planet in a different solar system and actually finds a large sample of morphite in a glass encasing. Strangely, after breaking its case, the morphite seems to be sentient - intelligent, even. It follows her around, unlocks a few doors, and then transforms into an ion grenade. After her stint with the morphite, Myrah encounters some heavily armed strangers that seem up to no good. Who are these strangers? Are they following her or searching for morphite, or was their appearance a coincidence? Why was the morphite sealed up in an abandoned ruin? Why does the professor, her father figure and science partner, seem so coy about giving her any information? This is the journey of Morphite, and it’s an entertaining one. You won’t find a giant space opera or deeply moving, emotional cinematics, but it did its job of keeping me interested enough to want to know what happens next and provided a solid skeleton for the rest of the game to rest upon.
Plenty of Bang for your Buck
What’s surprising is the staggering amount of content that’s packed into this little, cute looking game. There’s shooting. There’s environmental exploration and scanning. By scanning certain plants and animals, upgrades can be found for your equipment that require resources which you also find through exploration. While bouncing around from one solar system to the next, you have to manage your route and fuel consumption. While traveling, random encounters with hostiles can result in space combat. There’s the aforementioned main quest stretched across 15 planets that are a bit more fleshed out than the others, but NPCs at space stations will also give you side missions, and other planets can be explored at your leisure. There’s just a ton going on; way more than I was expecting when I jumped in. It seems like every space game of recent memory, from Elite Dangerous, to Mass Effect, FTL, No Man’s Sky, and beyond were sampled. Even more impressive is that it never feels overwhelming. Everything flows logically, and I never once felt confused about where to go or what to do next. Now, it’s true that this isn’t a big, huge, AAA budget game. Though it samples a lot of games and has a lot going on, you aren’t going to get the depth of any one of the listed games here.
Looking Good, Sounding Good
I need to take some time now to rave a bit about the presentation in Morphite, because it’s nothing short of fantastic. Created entirely of incredibly low-poly shapes and structures, every area I explored was a delight to be in. It’s definitely inspired by the future through the lense of 1985; the physical embodiment of synthwave music. Gone are clean whites or dingy ruins of most sci-fi, replaced by the vibrant neon purples and greens that make up everything from the ships to the alien beings, flora, and fauna. The soundtrack matches, comprised of simple, but effective atmospheric electronic that worked well for me. I’m sure some people are going to have a hard time getting into the minimalist feel, but I think the game would lose quite a bit of its atmosphere without it.
The choices in visual style are bolstered by the actual design choices for planets and creatures. Each area feels alien and different thanks to the biomes and array of lifeforms present. One planet I explored was filled with nothing but ankylosaur-like brutes. Another, perhaps the most bizarre, had apatosaurus, large flying fish in the sky, living metallic colored dreidel-shapes that bounced around without paying much attention to gravity, and giant sentient rocks with spikes that would chase me down any time I got reasonably close. Some planets appear arid, many are covered in plants both strange and familiar. Some are iced over. Some have futuristic caves to explore and giant, beautiful statues carved into the landscape. Even space stations where you can fill up on fuel and sell extra resources are filled with aliens and personality. My favorite station just had a bunch of humanoids gathered around a tiny alien rocking his heart out on a saxophone. These don’t just make things fun to looks at: they are fundamental to my time spent with the game. They made me want to explore to find what new planets and stations were like beyond the central narrative. To lose them would be for the game to lose its heart.
Morphite is an interesting experience. Though it borrows heavily from some of the biggest and most ambitious sci-fi games of the last few years, it presents its package in an undeniably “indie” wrapping and scale. This isn’t a game you’ll dump hundreds of hours into, but it’s one that you’ll enjoy for the time it does run. It’s not a game with flashy graphics or pages of codex entries, but it’s one that uses it’s unique visual style to build an interesting world that’s still worth exploring.
Quite a bit of varied content, fantastic visual style, diverse planets to explore.
Some places outside the main quest can get a bit repetitive.