As part of Xbox Liveís fifth annual Summer of Arcade bonanza, Hybrid is an Xbox exclusive title that has perhaps been introduced as a fresh alternative to the massively-multiplayer online shooter genre. By combining elements of third person shooters with tactics and strategy, developers 5th Cell have created a rather unique, entertaining game that isnít afraid to take a few risks along the way.
Taking place in the not too distant future, Earth has been divided into two factions and transformed into one big battleground. On one side are the Variant, a mutated version of the human race, genetically modified by the alien bacteria of fallen asteroid. On the other are the Paladin, the human survivors who are immune to the disease ridden bacteria. At the heart of it all is dark matter; an energy substance that can tip the balance of power in the favour of the faction which controls the majority of the supply. Itís nineteen-eighties pulp sci-fi plot material at its best.
Itís advisable to play through the tutorial before embarking on your quest to dominate the servers in the three-on-three deathmatches. Many who download this game maybe slightly confused by the limited movement options that your character can make during a game. Taking a cue from Gears of War, much of the game revolves around taking cover behind low walls, only risking popping out to fire a few rounds at the enemy. You can move left or right up these walls and barriers and even jump over them, but donít expect the headless chicken style gameplay youíd get from other popular online shooters, as is common with your typical Call of Duty and Battlefield games. What makes Hybrid unique is the restrictions placed upon players.
So how do we navigate around each map? Thankfully, each character is equipped with a jetpack meaning that, when the time is right, your character can make a break for it and fly across to the next piece of cover, or even to get the jump on the enemy. Levels are deliberately designed to be claustrophobic and tight in order to allow chaos to prevail as both factions fly around the screen frantically, shooting in the air from the comfort of a barrier, or raining down fire from the skies. Tactics are essential here and those who are a bit too gung-ho with their shooting games may find themselves on the losing side of a kill/death streak in no time at all. Putting a bit of thought into your flight plan usually helps preparing for take off as each level has plenty of routes and barriers where you may not think to look initially, allowing you to sneak up on the enemy, or catch a breath from the action for a few seconds.
The three-on-three action may not sound like a hell of a lot, but thereís plenty of action to go around as killstreaks are handsomely rewarded with a number of butt-kicking robot drones to assist players on their killing spree. The small-yet-deadly Stalker provides quick covering fire for those in a tricky situation, whilst the floating-whale shaped tank named the Warbringer can give as good as it can take ensuring a few extra kills to your tally. However, the top of the range model offered in Hybrid is the ninja-like mechanoid assassin known as the Preyon. If you hear a high-pitched scream amidst the battle, then itís time to get the heck out of there as these guys mean business, usually spelling out instant death for those who fall victim to their sword.
If that wasnít enough to spice up the gameplay, customisation plays a huge factor in furthering the onscreen chaos. After choosing a faction, experience points can be earned during each battle and not only increase rank, but can be spent upgrading your soldier either cosmetically or professionally. New weapons such as sniper rifles and shotguns can be purchased and can make all the difference to creating a balanced, prepared squad with your friends. Enhancements can be added to hinder the enemy or aid your team. Infinite ammo and venom are some of the options available, with the latter poisoning the enemy every time you land a shot. Medi-heal replenishes the health of everyone in your team, while some the cockier gamers out there may choose to use the Taunt ability which distracts all the robotic support drones on the map for a few seconds.
Another unique factor about Hybrid is the fact that is a massively multiplayer online game of global proportions. Similar to previous worldwide online efforts such as Ubisoftís flawed but entertaining strategy game End War, or the Playstation 3 exclusive shooter MAG, Hybrid requires players to work together in order to dominate each conflict on Earth, divided up into a number of districts. Within each district the war for dark matter rages on and itís up to you to make sure your faction takes control of the area before the rival faction does. Itís not as easy as it sounds, as particular areas can be rife with combat for hours, even days before one of the factions prevails. Taking a leaf out of the Battlefield handbook, Hybrid also allows players to form a squad, a system that works well in combination with the customisation. It also makes those victories in battle seem that little bit more rewarding. Hoo-rah!
As an incentive to participate in one of the worldís hot zones, an area of the map that seems to contain the most combat, extra XP is awarded in order to draw more players into the fray. The map clearly illustrates which faction has more control over each zone, allowing players to pick and choose their battles depending on their experience, their abilities and their guts. Upon selecting a district, the objective becomes even clearer. Each faction has a base either side of a large black glowing ball of dark matter, with a five point path clearly mapped out. Whichever side can gather the most wins and make it to the dark matter takes control of the sector. A series of mission objectives are also available in order for players to gain more experience. Getting three Kills, or five headshots may seem simple enough, but whenever youíre in the heart of battle, suddenly mission objectives can go out the window in favour of survival. Still, itís good to see the game has plenty of methods of rewarding its players.
Graphically, Hybrid looks pretty good for an arcade game. Not quite as polished as other sci-fi shooters, the Paladin are clearly influenced by the likes of Halo, with some of the additional helmets and weapons on offer coming straight from the Bungie cutting room floor. The Variant on the other hand seem to look like a variation of the Geth from the Mass Effect universe. Still thereíre only so many different ways you can design a futuristic space suit and when it all comes down to it, many gamers will see straight past this in favour of the fun gameplay.
To say that Hybrid revolutionises third-person shooters or online gaming would be a bit of a stretch, but the tactical edge this game has over the blockbuster titles could potentially garnish it with a rather impressive cult following. Addictive, refreshing, and at a pretty good price to boot, Hybrid is the thinking manís shooter that gamers sorely need to cleanse their palette just before the next wave of usual suspects waltz back onto the scene. /