Occasionally here at Player2.net.au, we will play something that deserves your attention but probably doesn’t need a full review written for it. Be it DLC for the latest AAA title, a little indie game or even an Android/iOS title. We play these titles for a blockbusting amount of time (2 – 5 hours) and report back to you the reader on what we found. So grab your popcorn and settle in for the latest episode of Blockbuster Gaming.
Blockbuster Gaming – Morphite
Morphite is the little indie game taking on the supremely polarising No Man’s Sky, and bless its cotton socks it certainly tries to emulate that same polarising feeling that we had about its spiritual predecessor.
I had high hopes for you, Morphite, and you do actually get some stuff right.
There is something to be said for having an actual avatar – a girl called Myrah who is super dooper excited about finding ancient elements called ‘morphite’. She is fifty steps ahead of the etherealness of No Man’s Sky’s personification of its actions. As an added bonus, Myrah converses with friends rather than trying to read the non-verbal cues of random alien creatures as her only form of communication. Some of these dialogues even have a little bit of wit, even if the voice acting sounds a little bit vacant.
Another big tick is that there is a story in this game that gives Myrah purpose for exploring different planets. She is curious, she is determined, and she is immersed in the quest looking for this ancient element. The story provides the player with puzzles to solve and antagonists to shoot, and it is arguable that it is nice to have a source of variation from the exploration stages, where Myrah is scanning plants and animals. A nod to the environments in the game as a selling feature for Morphite – polygon models and basic shading look beautiful together, even if it makes the exploration areas feel a bit sparse.
But these initial experiences don’t make up for the multitude of other things that are not necessarily bad, but are just underwhelming about Morphite.
While the visuals are beautiful, they are rarely varied as Myrah travels from world to world. Similarly, with the music, the small selection of tracks will become repetitive very quickly. For a short game, this may not necessarily be an issue, but there is an element of grinding if you want to afford the plethora of upgrades available and explore further planets. The exploration component is a source of income for these upgrades, so it is a little unfortunate that the game doesn’t reward you with drastically new areas and soundtrack often.
Some of the controls were not intuitive either – the switch back from scanner to blaster took me a while to work out which one I had highlighted, and it was downright infuriating when animals I wanted to scan quickly darted out of the small scope of my scanner (and not helped that I had to be practically on top of said animal before the scan, requiring a larger pivot in order to find the large buzzy thing again). With no immediate visible cue that told me that I had scanned an animal or plant before, my No Man’s Sky instincts kicked in and I kept trying to rescan everything in case there was a slight colour, size, or age variation that wasn’t entirely displayed by polygons.
Lastly, while there is a story, it is sort of dull. It’s fine for a short story, but it’s not enough to prompt significant exploration. It feels like a little bit of a mismatch of expectations.
For some people, this is definitely more than enough for a $15 indie game, and they may be right. For others, myself included, we expected more from a space exploration game that had even a fraction of a procedurally-generated map and an inkling of a protagonist of its own. That is where Morphite is its most polarising – its debate on whether a “small” “basic” project is sufficient in the indie game marketplace anymore. We have seen evidence of independent games that can put in the time and make something amazing. Our standards are too high, fuelled by our disdain for a similar space exploration game that has been released on current-generation hardware in the last 2 years. This means that Morphite suffers not entirely by its own hand, but by its inevitable associations with the success and mistakes of those who predated it.
When Sarah was young, her brother complained that she “got through that final level of Super Mario World on a fluke.” Refining this skill, Sarah has continued to be successful purely by accident. Follow her on Twitter at @essieteric.