Since the advent of cover mechanics and the now well-worn ‘roadie-run’, third person shooters have been all but devoid of anything one might call genuine innovation. Sure, there have been tweaks made and additional levels of polish added, but for the most part, what you’re playing today isn’t very far removed from the original Gears of War released way back in 2006.
With the majority of developers either unable, or simply unwilling to improve on those fundamental mechanics that now provide the core experience for the vast majority of games within the genre, 5thCell, developers of the brilliantly bonkers Scribblenauts Games, have to be commended for at least attempting to do something new with a genre that is beginning to grow more than a little stale – how successful that new approach has been is up to debate, but hey, at least they are trying.
Rather than adding anything new to the genre, 5thCell have actually taken to removing one of the most fundamental aspects of any third person shooter in an attempt to breath new life into the genre – namely, walking and running. Yep, quite bizarrely, Hybrid doesn’t let you walk, run, jog, trot, meander, mince…..nothing. The only movement allowed while on foot is a shuffle from one side of cover to the next and a basic vault manoeuvre. Sounds strange right. Well, in practice, it’s not nearly as odd as one might expect.
Basic movement is restricted to the use of boosters that allow you to fly from one piece of conveniently placed cover to the next. Strafing mid-air gives a little extra control while the ability to choose different sets of cover mid-flight does keep things immediate while on the move. A retreat button also allows you to bail out of any potential movement, but is limited to one use per standard movement.
It’s a system that seems a lot stranger on paper than it does in practice – after a brief tutorial, combat and movement quickly become second nature; despite the unique premise, I was tearing around the collection of small, but well crafted stages almost immediately. The quick-fire gameplay combined with the cover-centric nature of each battle does bring with it an air of repetition, but let’s be honest, this is an XBLA release and should be approached thusly. Hybrid is more of a drop-in/drop-out shooter rather than any potential, Call of Duty-like behemoth and it’s all the better for it. With its brutally effective weaponry and small, intense maps, Hybrid plays more like a Dreamcast-era arcade shooter rather than yet another Gear’s clone and, believe me, that’s not a criticism.
The maps and core weaponry don’t add anything particularly new or exciting to the genre, but despite their relatively basic aesthetic design, they’re both almost universally brilliant. The maps are visually samey, but in the heat of battle, provide a selection of playgrounds that allow for fast getaways and surprise attacks aplenty – despite all the cover, constant movement is the key to success, lending Hybrid a sense of urgency lacking in many of its peers. The real star of the show though? That would be the weaponry. Yes, it’s all standard fare, but be it an SMG or standard shotgun, the feedback and sense of impact is second to none. Falling somewhere between Vanquish and Binary Domain, Hybrid’s top notch shooting mechanics certainly help it stand out from crowd.
Beyond the basics of the tightly constructed pop-and-shot gameplay, there is the option to upgrade your abilities and unlock new weaponry and skills (providing a more than welcome addition to this surprisingly robust package), but for me, Hybrid works better as a quick-fire shooter rather than an all-encompassing online experience. The upgrades are all fine, and for the lazy out there (read: cheaters), you can even use real money to unlock abilities and weapons straight from the off, but while this type of shortcut may cause unbalance in many shooters, thanks to the striking fire power of even the most basic of Hybrid’s weaponry, skill and precision is always likely to win out over flash abilities and new weaponry.
Unlockable abilities and skills aside, straight from the off, players are given access to basic but extremely useful secondary abilities, ones that, if used correctly, really can turn the tide of any scrap. Be it additional firepower or a temporary shield, quick fingered gamers will soon learn to use them to their advantage amidst the general mayhem of combat. The big addition to the core cover shooter mechanics however, comes in the form of the rather cool killstreak bonuses that, thanks to the frantic nature of the gameplay, actually play a huge part in the outcome of the majority of battles. With 3 kills providing a basic drone, 4 a heavily armoured alternative and 5 a cyber ninja that effectively serves as a homing missile (goodluck if one of those come after you), Hybrid’s 3 vs 3 battles often appear far more populated than they really are.
Despite Hybrid working fantastically as an arcade-style shooter, for those who want to stick with it for the long run, 5thCell have done an admirable job of dangling and the proverbial carrot in front of gamers faces. From the aforementioned unlockables and abilities through to the solid, if unspectacular, collection of game modes, Hybrid offers a fair degree of content for its relatively low asking price. What will really keep many gamers coming back though is the way that 5th Cell has ingeniously implemented each battle into the on-going war between the human Paladin’s and the invading aliens army of Variant’s. While the story itself is science fiction nonsense, bonuses for being part of larger military victories does give the game an additional sense of progression. It’s relatively basic stuff, but proves a very cool addition and another way to keep you playing longer than you might have otherwise.
The gameplay isn’t suited to marathon online sessions, but as a quick-fire online experience, Hybrid proves a breath of fresh air in a genre filled to the rafters with me-too copycat shooters. The gunplay is top notch and the gameplay is fast, frantic and always enjoyable. The art design is a tad forgettable and the commitment to 3 vs 3 gameplay doe skeep tactical options to a minimum, but as far as I’m concerned, Hybrid stands as the best online shooter available on Live and a great change of pace for those finally growing tired of Call of Duty and Halo. With it’s blistering 6o fps gameplay, tight design and unique gameplay, Hybrid feels like the multiplayer mode that Vanquish never had; and if you knew how much I loved that game, you’d know just how big a compliment that really was.
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