[gameinfo title=”Game Info” game_name=”” developers=”5th Cell” publishers=”Microsoft Studios” platforms=”” genres=”” release_date=”August 8, 2012″]
Hybrid is an entry in Xbox LIVE Arcade’s Summer of Arcade. It is a third-person shooter from the creators of Scribblenauts, 5th Cell. After picking your jaws off the floor from the studio’s sudden shift in their game genres, know that this change is a good thing. In Hybrid, 5th Cell has brought their unique and creative vision to a genre filled to the brim with AAA game titles such as Gears of War and Starhawk. Although those games buck trends in their own right, Hybrid completely changes what it means to be a third-person shooter.
Hybrid is set in the future. The game begins with a quick intro video that depicts an alien invasion. Like in most multiplayer games, though, the story in Hybrid doesn’t matter. All it does is set the stage for two factions to war against each other across Earth.
The game begins with a tutorial of the controls. A map of the controls on the controller serves as the loading screen to the tutorial and seems daunting. However, the tutorial does well in acclimating you with the various means of flying around the levels and in describing how you utilize both your abilities and your drones. Yes, you read correctly. You fly around the levels. This is a blast. Through the interface and your HUD, you choose what cover on the battlefield to fly to. Once there, you can jump and strafe to better your position in that cover, retreat, activate an ability or a drone, or shoot an enemy who is either flying themselves or hiding behind their own cover. You never have complete control of your character’s movement. This means you can’t stand up from behind cover and rush another player or run away from a group of enemies. Instead, you fly from cover to cover or press a button to fly back to (hopefully) safe ground.
While flying, you are able to boost for a short period of time, strafe, and fire. This stops other players from memorizing flight paths and always shooting you while in the air. Although it’s easier to shoot someone when they’re flying, the strafing and boosting help you escape incoming fire in tight situations.
The abilities you can use vary and are unlocked as you level up in the persistent experience system. Like the most recent Call of Duty games, general unlocks are earned as you level up. What this means is that you get an unlock for a specific category but get to pick the weapon or ability in that category to unlock. The game doesn’t ration out specific abilities and weapons to you at specific levels. Therefore, you can quickly craft your loadout to your playing style rather than be forced to get guns and abilities you don’t want. This also cuts down on the unfairness of someone at a higher level having a better gun or ability than those at the lower levels. Instead, since everyone gets general unlocks, the playing field is fair and players can adapt their loadouts in the way that they want.
After the tutorial, the game invites you to log in. This takes you to a map of the world with the continents clearly labeled. Here, you choose a continent (with added experience bonuses to those with designated “hotspots”) and then choose a section of that continent where you will fight with the other faction. By fighting in an area, you level up a base (but only the base in that area) which, in turn, gives you passive abilities such as increased armor and weapon damage for you drones, etc.
Also by fighting in these areas, and if your faction wins, your side will collect dark matter. Dark matter is what you’re fighting the other faction for. The first faction with 100 dark matter wins the season and gets an experience boost in the next one. How fast these seasons end relies on how many players are playing. As of the time this review is being written, only one area of a continent is close to 50% won and this only gives the winning faction two dark matter.
All of this may seem confusing and, at first, it is hard to discern what different experience bars are for but, after a few matches, it becomes apparent. The depth of the different sections of the game makes for an intricate experience. Most of the zones being fought for right now are close in percentages between the two factions which adds tension on top of that contained within the matches themselves. There are more things to win here than in your average retail release, let alone an XBLA game.
The graphics in this game are passable. They don’t match the atmosphere or style of last week’s Summer of Arcade release, Deadlight, but they get the job done. Visually, the level designs are generic and can be described as both futuristic and industrial. The characters and environments are lightly cell-shaded which gives the world a cartoony feeling that meshes well with the game’s premise.
The sound is generic as well with a deep-voiced announcer communicating when the winning faction has changed, when your ability is ready, etc. There is no music during matches and the guns have a metallic and pinging sound to them but that’s it. The one exceptional sound lies in a drone that screeches when it attacks. Since it’s a one hit kill, that screech is both telling and scary, causing you to search high and low for its trademark aerial maneuvers.
5th Cell’s creativity arrives in each aspect of Hybrid’s gameplay. Rather than sprinting around the battlefield as you do in other third-person shooters, Hybrid takes you to the air and behind cover. Despite its overall mundane visuals and sound, Hybrid’s gameplay design separates it from the growing monotony present in third-person shooters. As long as a community builds around the game, the depth of Hybrid will bring players back for months to come.