Fulfilling the role of the multiplayer shooter in Microsoft’s Summer of Arcade XBLA season is Hybrid, a unique 3v3 shooter from Scribblenauts developer 5th Cell. While 5th Cell has been known for stretching gamers’ imaginations in terms of item creation and customization, Hybrid is based on a concrete idea – one that enjoys some pretty compelling variations.
At its core, Hybrid is a multiplayer shooter, through and through. There are a handful of modes and maps to play on, and two rival factions (the Paladin and the Variant) to play as. You’ll pick which area of the world to play on and battle online against three opponents from the rival faction for control of a resource called dark matter. Collection of dark matter is more important to Hybrid‘s over world game, but as far as the matches themselves it’s all about winning.
Winning, in a typical multiplayer shooter is achieved by accruing more kills/points/time in the special zone than the other team, and Hybrid is no different in that regard. The maps are a little more confined — they aren’t filled with large sweeping vistas — and are made up primarily of a similar visual aesthetic. The design of the Variant and Paladin get a little more…variation by way of some customization options, including a special Minecraft helmet, but it’s hard not to have the word generic called to mind upon first glance of the game.
Actually playing the game, however, is a completely different experience, and requires a little bit of learning but, once understood, can be a lot of fun. Essentially, rather than make a game that exists, in most respects, as a cover-based shooter, 5th Cell created Hybrid as a cover shooter. Movement is controlled by first selecting a piece of cover (of several different orientations), moving towards it via a handy jet pack, and allowing the player a full range of movements in the air from selecting cover further along, retreating to the previously selected cover, or strafing while on the journey.
It’s up to the player to combine these various movement options into a successful offensive strategy, and often times makes for some ballet-like aerial battles – but other times results in hopelessly flying towards your doom. And that’s the real problem with Hybrid; every strategy has an equally frustrating countermeasure that can be exploited to the nth degree.
Take for example the simple mechanic of travelling from cover to cover seeking out a firefight. If an enemy feels so inclined they can hole up in a specific spot and pick off any player that heads in their direction — the stereotypical camper. Hybrid does provide specific abilities and weapons that can combat such a strategy, but usually there’s an even more “cheap” way to work around that.
As was mentioned briefly, the game provides significant incentive to level up in the way of advanced abilities such as being able to teleport instantly to far off cover or gaining an over shield for a brief amount of time. It keeps the player progressing, but honing in on the right combination can make a single player a dominant force. If all three players on a team employ the same strategy it becomes exceedingly frustrating to be in the opposing group. Experiences in Hybrid run the gamut from being an unstoppable wrecking machine to struggling to even move from one piece of cover to the next. Occasionally the multiplayer gods will smile upon one team and gift them with an opposing team who wants to compete, and isn’t hell bent on winning at any cost.
There’s so much going on in Hybrid at any given time — the game provides players with kill streaks at intervals of one, three, and five kills — that a lot of players will struggle just to find the joy in it. Specific design decisions like smaller maps, and certain special abilities, give the impression that the game was built around a singular idea and then grown from there. Little consideration must have been paid towards balancing each ability, however, because the vast majority of matches lean heavily in the seasoned player’s favor.
There’s a reason titles like Call of Duty and Battlefield dominate Xbox Live, it’s because their formulas have been tried and tested countless times over. Hybrid, on the other hand, could have used a little more time and thought to marinate.
Despite a unique focus on smaller, cover-centric matches, an over reliance on gimmicks holds back Hybrid from becoming a standout multiplayer shooter. And an inconsistent server connection, perhaps as a result of the title’s meta game being tabulated after every match, leads to numerous server problems and slow start-ups for battles. But, in fits and spurts, the game is a lot of fun and unlike practically anything else available.
What is it about this game that catches your eye? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
Hybrid is available now on the Xbox Live Marketplace.
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