Developer: 5th Cell
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Available on: Xbox LIVE Arcade Only
As a developer, 5th Cell are mostly known for their highly successful DS and iOS series, Scribblenauts, the game where the player is able to think of (more or less) any word, input it into the game and watch that noun appear right before their eyes. Innovative, imaginative and colourful are all adjectives fitting of Scribblenauts. The studio’s first, home console affair attempts to re-invent a genre that sees so much unimaginative clones, and even though their ideas are admirable, it becomes just another online shooter that gamers may play until the next AAA shooter comes around.
In a futuristic setting, humans and aliens are attempting to gather as much dark matter as they possibly can because…eh, the world depends on it I suppose? We never get the full story here really, just the outline. The human race – in the game as Paladin – have been invaded by an alien race, known as Variant. That’s it. Some might argue that it is an online multiplayer game and story is irrelevant, but this just feels lazy. The game takes place across a world map where North America, South America, Africa, Asia and Europe have become warzones and within each continent, there are separate zones, that were once either a single country, or group of countries. The aim is to extract all of the dark matter that is available to your faction in each sector, which you do by winning matches against the opposing side. As I said previously, there is no suggestion as to why this is happening and players are more likely to just care about their individual character’s level, rather than the “bigger picture” per se.
Hybrid is a cover based shooter with a difference. In a world where everyone takes the Gears of War model and tweaks it here and there, 5th Cell have added their own slant on things. Players are restricted to using their PFP (Personal Flight Pack) to jet from cover to cover while attempting to eradicate the enemy from behind their four foot wall of safety. You can strafe left or right and leap over your cover for a different vantage point, but you can’t move around freely while on ground. Whilst in mid-air and travelling towards one cover point, you can switch to another one that catches your eye, or retreat back to your original safe haven. A brief tutorial takes the player through the controls, which don’t feel natural at first, but are easily accustomed to. It’s a very interesting take on the third person shooter model, yet at the same time, lacks reasoning. There’s never an explanation as to why these athletic soldiers have lost their mobility whilst upright. However, 5th Cell wanted to try something different with the genre and they certainly did that, to decent effect.
Prior to each 3-on-3 battle, you have four choices of match preference; None, Team Deathmatch, Mercenaries and Objective. The player is unable to choose one specific mode and has to settle for picking a “Preference” and more often then not, you will find yourself playing Team Deathmatch due to that seemingly being the community’s go-to. Although, no matter what mode you choose, the action is fast paced, frantic and generally a bit of fun. There is a quick turn around, which allows players to try different match types, load-outs and maps. However, in terms of the environment, the fight for supremacy takes place in generic, industrial and stereotypically space-like arenas.
They’re all equally as sub-par as each other in design and in variety. With a game like Hybrid, where online multiplayer is the game and not just a tacked on extra, you would imagine the maps would bring dynamic strategies and gameplans to defeat the enemy. Sadly, that’s not the case. There are maps that have cover points on the ceiling and on the walls, and that makes some areas feel more open, but the gameplay just isn’t revolutionary in terms of weapon handling.
Everyone on the battlefield can be wiped out with a few quick shots and that is helped along by drones which accompany players on kill streaks. Kill one enemy and you can call upon a Stalker, which is an android that follows you on ground and shoots at enemies close-by. Kill three and you’ve the option of summoning a Warbringer, basically a flying Stalker that may go walkabout and do some dirty work for you. Finally, kill five and a robot ninja lady that is known as the Preyon can be conjured. The Preyon’s attack is almost impossible to deflect as she approaches a nearby foe and annihilates them with the swiftness of her blade. The action on-screen is delightfully quick and can encourage the player to keep playing as the matches are short, one drawback, however, is that the downtime between said matches is painfully long. Minutes are spent looking at loading screens whilst the game is “Checking Available Lobbies”, then “Populating Lobbies”. There is a possibility that this process may also repeat itself once or twice before you get to actually shoot some adversaries in the face.
Many gamers are not fans of the model that allows players to buy upgrades with real cash, rather than level up their character through skill and perseverance. In Hybrid, both options are open to the player. As well as doing things the right way, you can purchase in-game currency to build up your weapon collection, gain double XP for a number of days, et al. Depending on your own mindsight in the multiplayer arena, this will make some leap for joy, whilst others get teary eyed in the corner because “the integrity is gone”.
VERDICT: 5th Cell has looked at the cover based shooter model and innovated in their own little way. They haven’t reinvented anything here, but they’ve added their own stamp on things. The fast paced action keeps things fresh for as long as it can, but at the end of the day, this is only a serviceable shooter where the special elements become overplayed and, in long sessions, become tired. It does its job quite well and will keep some people happy until the next big game with a populated online multiplayer comes to Xbox 360, but like the soldiers on the field of battle in Hybrid, this doesn’t have legs.