Hybrid’s lineage is perhaps one of its most interesting aspects. This unlikely project has 5th Cell, the developer of Nintendo DS-exclusive games such as Scribblenauts and Drawn to Life, making the leap into the realm of online shooters. Released on the Xbox Live Arcade as part of Microsoft’s “Summer of Arcade” promotion, Hybrid is a third person multiplayer-focused shooter attempts to bring some new ideas to a genre that’s well beyond the point of saturation. Essentially the penny candy of video games, there are plenty to choose form and it takes a lot for one game to stand out from the pack. While Hybrid makes a valiant attempt and succeeds in a few areas, it unfortunately isn’t the genre-bender that we had hoped for.
Hybrid takes place in a post-apocalyptic, war-ravaged world in which two factions, the Variant and the Paladin, are constantly at odds with each other. They’re fighting for control of the world map, so the story covers the typical power struggles that are typical to the shooter genre. Hybrid doesn’t rise above this simple premise, nor does it seem to aspire to. The story is told with the bare minimum of exposition, leaving the focus mainly on the action. Indeed, your focus rarely goes beyond ensuring that the bullets connect with your enemies. The first thing you should know about Hybrid is that it only supports online multiplayer, so those expecting a single-player campaign will be disappointed.
You start off the game by selecting which faction you want to side with, the red or blue team, and then you join your squad in order to begin the game. The typical game modes that are present in most multiplayer-enabled shooters are also found here, including the standard Team Death Match. Other game modes include a King of the Hill variant called “Crazy Kings”, the Overlord mode in which one player becomes overlord and the others must protect them and Artifact. The faction you side with will determine your objective, with offensive and defensive objectives changing throughout the match. As multiplayer games go, there is nothing new or exceptional to be found in Hybrid, and the fact that the squads are limited to three players on both sides makes the game feel more confined.
The gameplay style of Hybrid follows the standard third-person, cover-based shooter format in many ways, however there are a few tweaks worthy of mention. The biggest difference that you’ll notice right away is that your freedom of movement is limited. Unlike similar games like Vanquish and Red Faction, your method of movement is flying between pre-determined cover points on the map. These points are barriers that you can hide behind, allowing you to fire at enemies and recharge your health. You can only fly from one point to another, and you are unable to walk or run anywhere else on the map. This makes your choice of cover point crucially important, as certain areas give you a tactical advantage while others leave you vulnerable to enemy attacks. In most cases, quickly finding the right vantage point and quickly moving onto the next is key to survival.
While you are unable to move freely around the map, Hybrid does throw in some abilities and augments to add a layer of depth. Killing members of the opposing team is the primary objective, and achieving kill streaks will unlock “Bots”, which are mechanized drones that will fight alongside you. The more kills you accumulate, the better and more powerful your bots will be. While flying, you also have the ability to aim and shoot, dodge gunfire and deploy bots. Being able to do this effectively is key to survival in hectic firefights, so there is enough challenge here to keep shooter fans satisfied. Unfortunately, the aforementioned bots don’t always prove to be a great reward, as the AI that controls them is patchy at best. Under the right conditions, they are helpful in taking down enemies, but they are next to useless outside of that.
Like most multiplayer shooters, Hybrid has a reward system that gives you perks for playing well. Each match you complete gives you experience points, and you unlock new weapons and abilities as your level increases. Your loadout can be adjusted at any time, both before or during a match, to suit your gameplay style. Your abilities and class modifications can put you in an offensive or support role, and you have abilities such as grenades and shields that help round things out. The weapons are the usual mix if assault rifles, sub-machine guns and sniper rifles, and the selection is not as robust as most other shooters. Obtaining better weapons can be done through levelling up, or purchasing them in the armory.
The armory leads to one of the key annoyances in Hybrid; microtransactions. You can get early access to better gear by spending in-game credits, which you earn while playing the game. Undermining the sense of reward and accomplishment is the ability to purchase credits using Microsoft Points and upgrade your equipment that way, letting those less patient gain access to the better gear early on. Some weapons and abilities can only be obtained though this method, adding an element of “survival of the richest” that comes off as price gouging. The ability to buy experience point bonuses also takes a lot of the challenge out of levelling up, so coming across players who are grossly over-levelled is not uncommon.