Hybrid is an interesting departure for developer 5th Cell, the studio behind the Scribblenauts series. Released as a part of Xbox’s Summer of Arcade, it provides a new take on the third person, cover-based shooter genre. As an online multiplayer-only title, there is little story provided. Set in a future where the world had united against an alien invasion, the narrative goes about as far as it is necessary to give players a choice between defending humanity as a Paladin, or damning it as one of the otherworldly Variant.
Likely deciding that a full-scale worldwide assault would be too hectic, it seems that the Paladin and Variant have decided to settle things like gentlemen – a series of three-on-three battles collectively determine the balance of global power. The world map provides a surprising level of depth; players can pick and choose which objectives they want to achieve while also weighing greater EXP gain or helping their faction capture a contested area. Hybrid features seven styles of shooter gameplay, from death match to objective-based win conditions. Whatever your cup of bullets is, Hybrid has you covered.
Hybrid is simple enough – another science fiction third person shooter. 5th Cell is hardly reinventing the spaceship here. At first glance, what can Hybrid offer to set itself apart from Gears of War and Mass Effect? The answer is as awesome as it is simple: jet packs. Mobility in Hybrid is “confined” to flying from cover to cover. Players rocket through the air to find their way around reasonably sized maps.
Flight paths can seem very linear at first, but a quick tutorial helps ease you into the finer points of the fly-or-die gameplay. Through the use of the analog stick, a player can alter their flight trajectory, boost, or even change destination mid-flight with a simple press of the A button. Since having to look at your destination would make for some sticky situations when you’re being fired at, there is also a retreat function to give players a chance to get away while firing at would-be assailants. The initial lack in freedom of movement can be frustrating, but as I grew familiar with the controls, it became one of the more charming aspects of the game.
A universal drone-deployment function accompanies kill streaks, amassing a robotic army to grant cover or seek-and-destroy enemies independently of your own actions. This creates a far more hectic conflict than one would expect, as players can use abilities and upgrades to bolster their drones or even unlock the drone hack grenade to turn the tide when pinned down by a one-man battalion.
New abilities, weapons, and helmets are granted through use of credits that can be earned by winning battles, or purchased via microtransaction. The aforementioned drone hack grenade is just one of multiple upgrades that include sticky “fusion” grenades, teleports, short bursts of infinite ammo, or a destructive “core breach” explosion upon death. Players will be able to determine where their individual strengths lie and fashion their gameplay to said strengths.
Unfortunately, the maps do not share the same penchant for individuality. The battlefields in Hybrid are bland at best, providing little more than boxes and walls in small, dull areas that do little to express any sort of aesthetic individuality between countries. There are a few unique maps that provide wall and ceiling cover spots to make full use of the jet pack movement, but that’s about it. Movement in a shooter is a pretty big deal, and 5th Cell made a point to turn it into something new. If only we had the settings that could really make the new options shine.
For all of the unexpected fun that Hybrid provides, it immediately grinds to a halt with the wait between matches. Ranging from two to ten minutes to set up a game, you are likely to spend an equal amount of time waiting for a game to start as you will spend actually playing. If 5th Cell works on anything, the lobby mechanics should be first and foremost.
Hybrid provides an enjoyable experience and an innovative attempt at faction-based shooting – if you can stand the wait times. Once you do get into a game, you will be provided with a rewarding, individualized, no-frills online gaming experience. Since the game’s launch, 5th Cell has been working on the game’s servers, and once they figure that out, Hybrid will definitely be worth it.