|System: Xbox 360|
|Dev: 5th Cell|
|Release: August 8, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Violence|
by Robert VerBruggen
The day it was released, the new XBLA shooter Hybrid was so plagued with server problems that it was pulled from the Xbox LIVE network. The next day, select users (including yours truly) once again had serious connectivity problems. How's that for a "rocky launch?"
Fortunately, however, the developers have been working diligently to fix everything, and these early problems were not indicative of the game's quality. This is an incredibly inventive third-person shooter, and while I wish 5th Cell had done a few things differently, it's a great buy for fans of three-on-three multiplayer carnage. But single-player gamers beware: There is no campaign.
In my review of Inversion last month, I noted that the developers had stumbled on an awesome idea—zero-gravity cover shooting—but failed to do much with it. Hybrid takes this concept and runs with it, and then introduces lots of other new ideas, too.
At the core of Hybrid is a war between two groups, the Variant and the Paladin. This war unfolds in a persistent world—you choose which battles to enter from a map of the Earth, and you get extra EXP for fighting on "Hotspots," which are the areas where control is most contested. Of course, most players will be far more concerned with building their own stats than with fighting a global war, but the overarching story is a nice way to give us something more than "here's a gun; now shoot some dudes." At the end of each "season," the winning faction gets bonuses.
Once you choose a side and enter a match, you're given options for your loadout. While your overall level helps to determine how powerful you are, you can also choose among various unlockable weapon types, special abilities (such as grenades and shields), and stat bonuses (such as extra health, extra damage, etc.). You're also given a "mission"—a challenge like "get five headshots"—that will give you extra EXP.
This brings me to one of the things I dislike about Hybrid. The game costs $15, but it still features microtransactions—you can buy yourself EXP boosts and early unlocks. There's nothing you can't unlock for free with enough patience, but the feature is still a little annoying.
Regardless, things get exciting as soon as a match starts. This is not your normal third-person shooter—you can't even walk around on the ground. Instead, when you want to move, you aim at a new piece of cover and jump toward it through zero gravity. You can move from side to side in the air, fire at your enemies, and use a speed boost to get to your next piece of cover. When in cover, you can vault over it or strafe behind it. If you find yourself using the same piece of cover as an enemy, you can blindfire over the top to take him out.
Basically, the experience always revolves around cover, which is refreshing in a multiplayer shooter. (If you've ever played Gears of War online, you know that the multiplayer game is much less focused on cover than the campaign is.) These mechanics also require an unusual control scheme, with dedicated buttons for vaulting and retreating, but everything here will still feel intuitive to a third-person shooter fan.
The map design is top-notch. On each of the levels, pieces of cover are conveniently situated on the walls, ceilings, and basically everywhere—meaning that there's always a way to flank an enemy, and always a way for the enemy to flank you, even if you're hunkering down behind a strong wall. Hybrid takes military tactics, literally turns them on their head, and forces you to cope with the bizarre outcome. My only complaint about the maps is that they always seem to respawn you at the same point. Spawn-camping isn't a problem (you're invincible for a few seconds upon spawning), but it can get repetitive to fly down the same hallway over and over again if you're getting killed a lot.