From 5th Cell, the home of Scribblenauts, comes a third-person shooter in Microsoft’s season of Xbox Live Arcade games, titled Hybrid. The premise of this multiplayer-only sci-fi shooter might not offer anything new, but its fresh take on player movement and arsenal of unique power-ups nevertheless offers something fun and distinctive for fans of the online battlefield.
Hybrid puts an innovative spin on multiplayer shooters by limiting the ways players can move around the environment. There is no freedom to move around as you might in Call of Duty or Battlefield. Instead, players are always locked behind cover points, which are scattered on horizontal and vertical angles, from the floor to the roof. You have to select a cover position before your character can rocket over to it. Essentially, all you are doing is telling your character which predetermined point it can to move to, similar to how you might move individual units in a RTS.
Upon selecting a new cover position, your solider atomically begins moving with the assistance of a jetpack. Though your destination has already been programmed, you are given some ability to boost and manoeuvre through the air for the duration of the travel time. If your chosen cover suddenly becomes unfeasible, you can always retract back to your previous point or even choose a new destination while in midair. While movement might be restricted, aiming isn’t. Players have a wide and satisfying arsenal of weapons types to choose from as they shoot at enemies hiding behind cover or knifing through the air.
Though flight segments between cover are basically on-rails, allowing players to position themselves midair and change their destination on the fly lends another layer to the lively action. As you are most exposed while flying from cover to cover, it can be a real nail-biting experience trying to be alert for enemies while also being ready to divert your flight path at the drop of a hat.
Hybrid rewards your shooting ability with new AI units for successive kills. A single kill grants you a floating support robot, while three kills scores you gunship and five a crazy ninja heat-seeking homing missile. You can have one each of these rewards stacked, so there isn’t a need to deploy them instantly. Whereas kill streak rewards can often skew a game in the favour of a single team of player, Hybrid creates a level playing field as they can be obtained rather easily by any player. Deciding when to utilise your rewards can also factor into your strategy, as deploying them at a certain time can really help see your team over the line.
Hybrid also create a high degree of player individuality with numerous abilities and specialisations. You choose a single ability on a cooldown timer. Players can enhance their grenades and ammunition, for example, with effects that might slowly drain away enemy health. Alternatively, you might choose to sure up personal defences by selecting an extra shield layer, or even go for a power that benefits the entire team. My personal favourite was the teleportation ability, which was especially useful for getting to cover quick-smart. In conjunction with the special ability, players can choose a passive specialisation, for instance, which might deal more weapon damage or give you an experience increase.
With such a number of different powers to choose from, you can never to be sure what to expect from the opposition, or even your own team, in a particular match. This creates a persistent atmosphere of uncertainty, which is actually welcome after the well-worn territory of other big-name shooters. With no single best skill to attach, matches always feel fresh and players will constantly be adapting their strategies.
Each games see opposing teams of three players on a futuristic battlefield. Matchmaking is largely smooth and trouble-free, but you can’t help but feel that servers are already slowing thinning players. There are a few different modes to choose from, and all the usual suspects can be found. Team deathmatch is by far the quickest and simplest game type to get into. After each match, players gain experience points, which raises player level and gives access to new items – you can choose guns, change the look of your character, and unlock fresh abilities. The impatient among us can forgo the usual levelling scheme by purchasing Microsoft points to speed up their spending.
Your team’s wins and losses factor into an overriding meta-game. Before entering the game players can either choose the red or blue side – the Variants and Paladins, respectively – with wins determining both team’s progress on a persistent world map. Eventually, one side will take over the entire globe, and the meta-game will reset. This isn’t really that much of an interest, but it can be fun checking in every so often to see how your team is progressing.
If you discount Hybrid‘s one distinct innovation, then you have probably seen it all before. However, the game’s movement mechanic offers such a refreshing take on the well-trodden shooter genre, when combined with the frantic gameplay and degree of choice in the ability system, 5th Cell has crafted something truly unique. For players seeking a new challenge in the multiplayer shooter space, Hybrid is an entertaining and novel jet-pack ride worth trying.