At face value Hybrid looks like your everyday cover-based shooter. In many ways it is, though such a monolithic assessment does little to highlight the network of unique mechanics that operate beneath the game’s surface.
Hybrid is somewhat of an experiment, an attempt to reshape the way in which we approach competitive multiplayer. Though far from perfect in its execution, there are concepts here that other studios will hopefully re-create and evolve into a staple for the genre. It’s an unexpected addition to Xbox Live’s Summer line-up and a testament to the diversity and capability of developer 5th Cell who has, up until now, relied solely on Nintendo hot-sellers Scribblenauts and Drawn to Life.
Before a single shot has been fired, players are forced to enlist as either a soldier for the Variants or the Paladins, the game’s two warring factions. After a brief initiation, Hybrid’s meta game core immediately opens up, presenting players with a world overview divided into five continents, each one harbouring a mosaic of smaller, country-sized districts. The game’s overarching objective may be grand in scale but it’s fairly easy to grasp, not to mention optional for those who simply want to partake in Hybrid’s fast-paced brand of cover-to-cover shooting.[drop2]The meta game is centred around the acquisition of “Dark Matter”, or to be more precise, Dark Matter processing stations. There’s one in every district, each station contested by the Variants and Paladins in a race to see which player-run faction can obtain 100 units. Control over a district is determined by how many players are allocated to that specific location, the percentage gauge gradually filling as matches are fought.
Even if your three-man squad (we’ll get to that later) consists of players fighting at opposite ends of the world map, points will be divided and allocated to the progress bars of each district currently occupied by the combatants. Hitting 100% in a district before the enemy faction will add two units of Dark Matter to your total, leaving one unit for the runner up.
The system’s clearly a war rather than a skirmish, with “Seasons” that can easily stretch into weeks rather than days. No matter how proficient you are in a gunfight, as an individual you can only do so much. To secure a hundred units of Dark Matter, players will need to work together collectively, the official Hybrid forums already abuzz with aspiring Variant/Paladin leaders instructing their comrades to focus efforts on specific continents and districts.
It’s easy to get carried away with Hybrid’s grand narrative and luckily the bouts of gameplay between map-scouring do well to compliment the overall experience. Fought between two teams of three, Hybrid is a cover-shooter in its most thorough of interpretations.
Aside from sliding from side to side whilst backed up against walls and various other barricades the only other time players have direct control over their character is when flying from cover to cover. With actions such as vaulting and backtracking to a previous cover point specifically mapped to the face buttons, Hybrid is a disorientating affair to begin. For fans of methodical cover-based shooters this is only exacerbated by the rapid flow of combat, though it doesn’t take long to get comfortable.
The game modes on show are a mix of old and new, all of which go hand-in-hand with the game’s cover-switching focus surprisingly well. Alongside Team Deathmatch and a shortened version of CoD’s Search & Destory, Hyrbid also has Artefact, Overlord, and Crazy Kings, a mode in which teams fight over an objective that continually moves from one location to the other. If you’re set in your ways, there are matchmaking options that limit which modes are on offer, though to get the full experience, it’s better to do away with such parameters.
In-game features also include a unique spin on killstreaks and customisable load-outs. Awarded for one, three, and five kills, players will be able to summon droids to aid them in battle. The Stalker is your entry level droid, remaining at your side at all times. One up is the Warbringer, an aggressive behemoth that will actively seek out enemies.
Finally there’s the Preyon, a robotic ninja that hurtles towards the enemy for an instant kill. What’s interesting about the system is that streaks can be increased not just by gunning down players but droids too, adding a tactical element as to when and where they should be activated.
Gears of War 3 may still be the genre’s best-looking candidate, though Hybrid’s consistent presentation and sci-fi veneer helps tie the whole experience together. Again, audio work isn’t quite as exemplary as its counterparts, but, as a digital download, what Hybrid has to offer is fit for purpose.
- Actually brings something new to the genre.
- Killstreaks are handled well.
- Plenty of customisation.
- Room for offensive play-styles despite being cover-centric.
- Weapons are balanced.
- 3-on-3 matches can be problematic.
- Will live or die depending on player activity.
- Gameplay won’t suit everyone.
- There isn’t enough to keep players come back season after season.
It’s a far cry from what we’ve come to expect from the Scribblenauts creator yet Hybrid has come together remarkably well, galvanising 5th Cell as one of the most creative studios in the business. That’s not to say its debut XBLA offering is without its flaws, however. It’s not hard to imagine that, somewhere down the line, Hybrid won’t have enough players to fuel its signatory meta game features.
At present the game also suffers from a lack of individual reward. Though experience bars and ranks are still accounted for (tagged with numerous unlockable load-out options) there is a lack of transparency when it comes to monitoring individual efforts in Hybrid’s ongoing virtual war.
5th Cell could have taken its ambitions just that step further with inclusions such as daily battle reports, player highlights, and other in-game stats and information to make players feel like part of their faction and not just a soldier of fortune. Gameplay will also be a sticking point for some; though fairly versatile despite its limitations it can get repetitive, especially when playing on maps with predefined travel routes.