Developer 5th Cell has long been known for their unique and innovative games on handheld gaming systems. Titles such as Drawn to Life, Lock’s Quest and Scribblenauts were successful hits for the Nintendo DS with their creative usage of the DS touchpad. Imagine my surprise when I heard that 5th Cell was to release not only a game for this year’s popular XBLA Summer of Arcade program, but it was to be a multiplayer only 3rd person shooter and not some weird, drawing, scribbling, puzzle title.
Set on Earth in the year 2032, Hybrid centers on a massive global conflict for control of Dark Matter. Players are pitted against each other in fast-paced 3-on-3 battles covering both air and land, with each battle taking place in the context of a war between two factions: the alien Variants and the Paladin human rebels. The backstory behind the war and the need for Dark Matter is never really explained and it doesn’t need to be in this setting. Hybrid does provide gamers with a pretty unique XBLA gaming experience where every battle in every district factors into the status of the worldwide conflict.
Most who have played 5th Cell’s past titles know that the developer is not afraid to push the envelope with their creativity and I found Hybrid to be no different. Unlike most modern shooters, Hybrid does not allow the player total free movement in the game. No Roadie run. No dive and roll. Nothing. Instead, the player can choose to automatically move to a piece of cover by moving the cursor over the cover, highlighting it and then selecting to move there. While this sounded like a strange game play mechanic when I first heard about it, 5th Cell’s track record of unique game play and innovation had me excited to see just how they’d make it work.
Through a simple and short, yet useful tutorial you are required to complete before jumping into a match, I quickly learned the ins-and-outs of the quirky control system of Hybrid. Although you automatically travel from point A to point B in this system, you’re not actually “locked” onto a straight path once you select your cover. You can actually strafe side-to-side, move up and down, retreat back to cover and even select another cover location while on the move in mid-air. Being the kind of gamer that is generally accustomed to smooth, free character movement in my 3rd person shooters, it took me a little longer than I originally expected to get used to this style of movement. I found it awkward at first having to point-and-click to get from cover to cover, but the more I used it, the better I got at using this unique cover system. Once you become accustomed to the controls and cover system, it works pretty well, making for some varied, hectic space battles.
Once you get through the tutorial, pick your faction and find a match to get into, the game play is fast and furious from the start and battles get crazy…quickly. Active kill streaks during any match will earn you access to three different types of drones that will fight by your side until they are destroyed. The drones you’ll acquire during your kill streaks start off with the Stalker; a small unit with weak armor that will guard you against close quarters attacks. The second drone you’ll have access to with a 3-player kill streak is the menacing Warbringer; a bigger, tougher tank-like drone with heavy armor that will chase enemies and is harder to take down. The third drone you’ll receive upon a 5-player kill streak is the Preyon; a Ninja-type robot that will hunt down and instantly assassinate your opponents from long range. Unless your opponent can shoot the Preyon down with speed, the Preyon’s ear splitting scream will be the last thing they hear before seeing the respawn timer. As you’ll find out, enemy drones should be dealt with immediately as they can aid your opponent and alter a battle in a split second.
Being that the title has no single player mode, the maps and modes run the gamut of multiplayer matches that you’d typically find in multiplayer games. You’ll find the standard King of the Hill and Capture The Flag matches here, all set on pretty standard looking maps. I was worried at first that the variety would be lacking, but the thing that kept me intrigued on many of the maps was the ability to transfer my cover to the ceiling or the walls. Having the ability to do this altered the way I’d approach enemy cover when advancing my attack and provided tactics that I’ve not seen in recent shooters.
Obtaining XP in Hybrid is essential to leveling up your character, upgrading weapons and armor in this game. As you collect XP in the game, you will want to find and use the Armory to upgrade and unlock more weapons and armor to use in the game. Here you can unlock and purchase new weapons, helmets and secondary weapons. Even as you gain XP to purchase new weapons, new items can be purchased at any time. In an odd decision by the developers, weapons, armor and powers can also be purchased any time with sort of an In-App Purchase system. I didn’t find it any harder to level up and upgrade my character than it is in other shooters and I don’t know if I quite understood the decision to include this feature. Yeah, you might be able to purchase a more powerful weapon that somebody else might not have on the battlefield, but I’ve found some of the smaller beginning weapons to be just as powerful as some of the larger weapons that can be purchased. I found that the decision to be able to do this solely depends on each person, but it was more rewarding to progressively level up and unlock these items on my own.
Other than a few complaints that are more annoyances than anything, Hybrid is a solid first Xbox 360 entry for 5th Cell and a nice, if not different, addition to this years Summer of Arcade lineup. For 1200 MSP, it’s not a bad pick up if you’re looking for something different in your 3rd person shooter this summer. It’s not a groundbreaking game by any means, but with the right mindset and a little time getting used to the controls, I think gamers will find themselves moderately surprised with how well the controls actually work and will soon enough forget about that whole not being able to move freely thing.
A review code for Hybrid for Xbox 360 was provided to us for this review by 5th Cell.