Developer 5th Cell surprised the gaming world with a brand-new third-person shooter concept nearly a year ago, and now their vision is available exclusively on Xbox Live as part of the Xbox Live Summer of Arcade. The digital download costs 1200 Microsoft Points ($15), but does "Hybrid" have enough game life for gamers to pull the trigger for purchase?
The new approach "Hybrid" takes to online shooters impresses where it counts, but where it lacks is in its foundational story. Set in a post-apocalyptic world amid a war between the Variants and the Paladins, much of the story stops there. There is no campaign on or offline, and the game is strictly for those with an Xbox Live account. Even a horde-mode-like feature would have been nice for players who are not very good at ... confrontations.
The war is fought solely online on one massive server. Across the global map, the race is on to gather Dark Matter, earned once a zone reaches one hundred percent in their side's favor. Hotspot battle zones and achieving victories in them result in greater XP rewards. Winning a country's Dark Matter could lead to specialization rewards for one of the two sides. The ultimate goal is for either the Variants or the Paladins to walk away with 100 Dark Matter.
Gamers are all too familiar with online multiplayer warfare and the type of players they'll find on the battlefield. Enter the "run and gunner." Even at this very moment, someone right now is holding down the thumbstick, sprinting through maps aimlessly like Sonic the Hedgehog with an AK-47. Developer 5th Cell eliminated this free movement and in trade hands players a jet pack and cover locations to choose from, creating new strategies in combat. Battles are fast and unforgiving because even campers will have to crawl out of their hiding spaces, unless they don't mind a laser blast to the back of the head. If you can't stand the mindlessness of other online shooters, "Hybrid" will please here.
Moving from platform to platform is simple enough, although the camera angles are tricky to utilize upside down. Players might find themselves in the sights of the enemy by time they've adjusted their perspective. Despite these positional moments, the controls are easy to get a handle on. While in the air, characters can change routes by selecting alternative platforms or push B to reverse back to their previous locations.
Jump-kills can be obtained while hovering, although squeezing off rounds and aiming down targets will slow you substantially. While jump-kills do come in handy, the best means of death-dealing for us was to flank, land and no-scope fire.
It won't be just your enemies parading the air space. Like other games, "Hybrid" features its own kill streak rewards. One kill allows access to a basic bot that will provide additional air assault, though it's more of a distraction than a threat. You could also earn this reward by destroying an enemy bot. Three consecutive kills grant players the Warbringer, which is tougher to bring down and slowly seeks out foes to rain heavy fire as its owner can begin a flanking tactic. What is nice about the Warbringer is the ability to recall it to your position -- think of it as a one-robot cavalry. Finally, score five straight kills and release one PO'd lady robot known as the difficult-to-destroy Preyon, which does just that -- seeks out an enemy to prey on. Each kill streak adds to the rush of the gameplay. Even if the Preyon seems like an instant kill, try tossing a Hack Grenade at her and thank us later.
The weapon selection is well stocked with just enough fire power to keep gamers wanting to change their loadouts for variety. Additional perks each provide its own zest to your assault, but sadly, the options are limited unless you are willing to shell out more Microsoft Points to obtain a larger arsenal. Same goes with customization to your character. Sorry, but for the price of the download, the extras are just not worth more from the wallet.
Speaking of character detail, "Hybrid" does offer some really cool-looking soldiers to modify. Both Variants and Paladins look terrific for a downloadable arcade shooter, giving even Master Chief a run for his money in coolness. Modes range from traditional Team Deathmatch to King of the Hill and a variety of other multiplay options that work well with the three-on-three air and ground combat. Although each of the 10 different maps offers its own unique design, there are no environmental kills. This is disappointing, especially with could-have-been hazards like laser gates and steam-spewing gears in maps such as the Refinery.
"Hybrid" is worth a purchase but with little to do outside of it's variety of multiplayer modes, Dark Matter just won't matter come the Fall when many anticipated titles are released. Fight the good fight while it lasts.