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.
Don’t get me wrong—there’s still a lot of twitching here, and plenty of firefights are decided by which player saw the other first. But this is the first third-person shooter to take full advantage of all three dimensions. There are a variety of modes to keep you occupied, too, including basic team deathmatch, Crazy Kings (a variation on King of the Hill where the hill keeps moving), Artifact (where you fight for control of an artifact), and Overlord (where one player tries to remain the Overlord while his teammates protect him).
Another feature of Hybrid battles are “bots.” By building kill streaks, you win the right to summon flying robots that attack your enemies, and the longer your kill streaks, the more powerful your metal allies. At a kill streak of five, you can summon a Preyon, an incredibly lethal bot who basically flies up to opposing players and murders them. These bots serve as a nice reward for racking up kills, and they provide convenient targets when you don’t have another player in your sights. However, sometimes they make the game a bit lopsided—the best players already have the longest killstreaks, almost by definition, and then the game rewards them with high-powered killing machines to help. I would have preferred playing against more human opponents rather than facing down so many bots.
The graphics are pretty standard for XBLA—they’re not quite as nice as what you’d expect in a retail release, but they’re not too shabby for $15. Unfortunately, because of the futuristic setting and the need to have cover poking out of all surfaces, there isn’t a whole lot of variation in setting, despite the persistent world. Choosing to fight in Asia, for example, won’t put you on a map that actually looks like anything in Asia. Also, while most of the sound is acceptable, with mid-paced techno music that isn’t distracting and the occasional voiceover, I found the assault-rifle noises a bit grating.
Between the well-designed maps and the revolutionary gameplay, Hybrid does plenty for the price, but I couldn’t help but think that a campaign would be a lot of fun. If 5th Cell could make a sequel with wide-open level design and A.I. that can handle the complex tactical gameplay, it would be a blast. But that’s just the thing: Hybrid is the type of game that makes you look forward to a sequel before the original is a week old.
Sure, some of the choices that 5th Cell has made here are debatable—but what’s not debatable is that Hybrid provides a unique and compelling experience. That’s not something you see very often.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
Standard fare for XBLA: solid, but not groundbreaking. 4.2 Control
The unique gameplay requires a fresh control scheme, yet it still feels intuitive. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The assault rifle noises are grating, but otherwise the game sounds fine. 4.2 Play Value
Hybrid is both unique and compelling, which makes for a great combination. 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|