I've always held a fondness for low-poly graphics. It's one of the main reasons I enjoy games from the N64 era that, by any objective measure, have aged much worse than their 2D predecessors. Recently, certain games have gone back to embrace this triangular surrealism - minus the blurry textures and low image resolution - to elicit a pleasantly minimalist effect. Such is the case with Crescent Moon Games' Morphite, a laid-back interstellar exploration sim that lets you travel from planet to procedurally-generated planet.
Morphite delivers its story with very little urgency. You play as Myrah, a young woman who comes across a mysterious, perhaps even sentient ball of a rare alloy from which the game gets its name. When a creepy band of hostile humanoids tries to kill her for the the morphite she's just recovered, curiosity gets the best of her and she just has to know what this stuff is, and why it's so sought after. In truth, however, Morphite isn't really about the morphite. I don't mean that as in, "it's actually about finding yourself," although that is the major theme. No, this is about lackadaisically drifting between planets - which are functionally small maps - and gathering money and materials to exchange with friendly alien vendors.
When you land on a planet, the first thing you'll notice is, of course, the way it looks. Because Morphite doesn't use textures as we know them, the game enjoys a consistent flow of visual variety with its procedural generation. You might land in a pink swamp crawling with horrific plant-lizards, or a yellow forest teeming with gentle dinosaur-pigs. Now get out your scanner; it's time to make some money. Yes, the best way to earn "chunks" is to scan every new plant and animal you see. You can also accept tasks from intelligent creatures, but this rarely yields rewards that are worth your time. Now I'm getting at the biggest problem with Morphite: for all its endless new worlds, your means of upgrading are surprisingly limited. To get chunks, just sell your scans. To get materials, shoot at mineral deposits. Rinse and repeat, occasionally throwing bombs at rocks for more chunks and ammo.
Ah yes, the shooting part. I should clarify that this game does involve a degree of combat. The system, where you run away from and shoot at enemies that are almost never faster than you, is as relaxing as it could be. The gorgeous, synthetic music - one of Morphite's best aspects - doesn't change unless you're in a boss fight, and even the more menacing tunes somehow carry a calming undertone. Combat also takes place during random encounters in space, putting you in a turret, although here you can choose to avoid it. As you upgrade your defensive and offensive abilities, these instances become as easy as aiming and pulling the trigger. Boss creatures soon become the only source of real challenge, which in turn makes you want to ration your time with the story.
There are times when the game seems to attempt a challenge outside the story, namely when you're flying through space. The most consistently fun occurrence is when you come across a meteor herd, which puts you in direct control of the ship. Dodging those floating rocks can actually be fairly entertaining as you make your way to the newest planet. When you die, you're shown an image of Myrah floating away into space, and then respawned right where you were, albeit with a health penalty. Like your fuel reserves, though, health recharges. It's such a tainted word to use these days, but Morphite has a casual attitude about punishment. "Relax," it seems to tell you.
Furthermore, hostilities like angry animals and pits of acid aren't supposed to be actual obstacles, even if Crescent Moon Games went too far with that philosophy. It's about the immersion here, the sense of discovery. Each planet is almost like a zen garden, with forests, valleys, and hidden caves waiting to be plundered. Landing on a planet, accompanied with the lull of an electric keyboard, to see neon landscape around you, is pleasant in an almost indescribable way, especially these days when we're so used to constant busywork and noise. And as limited as your ways to get chunks may be, scanning everything around you is satisfying in a strange way. I have detailed so far why it's lacking in substance, but there's no denying that when you sit down with Morphite, you're going to smile.
Morphite definitely has its place on the PS4. While its shortage of depth discourages extended play sessions, the game fulfills its desired role as an escape - not just from the real world, but the explosiveness of other games. The things you're able to do are a collective excuse to soak in the experience, and that's precisely why I wanted there to be more of them. Regardless, it does enough to ease whatever tension you might be feeling and replace it with a serene brand of happiness, making it a solid stress-relief title.