Multiplayer-only shooters have been hit or miss on Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade. Most recently we’ve seen Nexuiz lose almost its entire player-base within weeks of its launch. Months later, 5th Cell is releasing its Hybrid as part of the Summer of Arcade. Luckily for the independent developer, Hybrid has a lot of unique features that you won’t find anywhere else, unlike Nexuiz which seemed to be a mash-up clone of Unreal Tournament.
Hybrid takes place in the year 2032, after a newly built Hadron Supercollider implodes destroying Australia and creating the Variants. This evolves into a scramble for the newly discovered dark matter. After the game gives you a little backstory, you’re prompted to select a faction: the newly minted Variants or the good old Paladins. The premise of the game is simple: the faction that gathers 100 dark matter first will gain the upper hand in the war. Earth is split into different battle regions where match XP will go to furthering advances toward the center of the dark matter. The first faction to reach the core earns two dark matter for their team and may focus their efforts elsewhere. However, the other faction can still reach the core and earn itself a single sample afterwards. It’s a nifty take on a global war that really does drive you to keep coming back to help the cause. However, having played over six hours, I’m yet to actually see my efforts make any difference.
Hybrid’s reward system is one of its more balanced elements. When selecting a faction an XP bonus is given to those who choose to join the losing faction. A smaller version of that same bonus is given when you choose to fight in a Hotspot – a location where you’re team is close to victory.
It will be interesting to see how the hive mind begins to evolve its strategy over time. While this may be the first war, we can only imagine how different things will be the second time around when a victor is crowned. That is, assuming the server will reset once one faction wins the war. Right now, it seems to be a mad rush to get as many territories as possible, but as the players gain more experience, their efforts are sure to grow more efficient.
The truly revolutionary aspect of Hybrid is the cover system, which makes up the movement system in its entirety. You begin each match behind cover and from there you move from one piece of protection to the next, utilizing your jetpack. It takes a while to master but it allows for an arsenal of precise moves to emerge from all the chaos. A simple click of the A button will allow you to jetpack from one location to the next, giving you the chance to strafe, boost, and shoot your way there.
Blind firing is actually relatively accurate and the preferred method of shooting unless you’re doing some actual long-distance sniping. Various abilities allow you to boost your shields, instantly restore health, and hack enemy drones. Players earn these drones after streaks of killing absolutely anything on the battlefield, including other drones. Upon your first kill you are rewarded with a Stalker, a faithful companion of sorts. The Stalker is relatively weak and doesn’t deal much damage, but it can tip the fight in your favor. At three kills you’re awarded a Warbringer which functions as a tank, drawing enemy fire, consuming damage, and dealing some out in the process. They’re relatively dumb, but are more helpful than their smaller companions. Finally, at five kills you get a Peyron, which is pretty much a guaranteed kill. Upon activation it immediately seeks out an enemy target and eliminates him with its sword.
With a full lobby of six players, the maps actually feel a bit claustrophobic, especially because there are only so many routes to take. But with multiple game modes and ten different maps, there’s a good amount of content here. Add to that the number of weapons and amount of customization, and Hybrid turns out to be a pretty sizable game.
Hybrid is full of fast-paced, frantic action, which occasionally slows down to a more tactical battle. It’ll draw you in with what appears to be a deep territory interface, but is quickly revealed to be rather shallow. Combined with menu lag and other instabilities in the navigation system, we find ourselves occasionally returning to check the tide of battle, join in on a few matches, and then hop off. This isn’t a title that’s going to suck up a lot of your time, but it will give you something unique and new to do while you wait for this fall’s video game rush.
Hybrid was developed and published by 5th Cell. An Xbox 360 copy was provided for the purpose of review.