Is it an understatement to say that the market is flooded with third-person shooters? That gamers are up to their chests in chest-high walls? Probably not. That being said, it’s all the more impressive that Hybrid, a cover-based shooter from Scribblenauts developer 5TH Cell, feels original and worthy of attention in a landscape flooded with seemingly similar titles. It’s a multiplayer-only cover shooter exclusive to the Xbox Live Arcade, where securing the high ground and picking the right moment to advance determines the tide of battle. Players looking for intimate, tactically minded encounters will love it, and likely forgive its lack of personality.
In Hybrid, cover is not an option - it’s a way of life. There’s literally no getting away from it. Using jump jets strapped to your robotically enhanced avatar, movement is restricted to flying to and from predetermined firing positions, then shuffling about behind them. There’s no running around in the open, no free movement. Gears of War fans might be befuddled by these restrictions, but it actually opens up a whole new world of tactical options, mostly thanks to Hybrid’s simple, responsive controls.
Matches in Hybrid are all three-on-three affairs, where having good teammates makes for more fun than any specific game mode or map. Again, players that are used to larger online warfare might scoff at such a low player count, but it makes for hard-fought face-offs with manageable tactics and deaths that don’t feel as though you’ve been swatted at random by the hand of god. When you go down in Hybrid, it’s invariably your fault.
Hybrid does have the unlockable equipment and customizable characters of other online shooters. Weapons, armor, abilities and equipment are available for purchase with the experience you earn. It’s a rather typical array of shotguns, assault rifles and perks that let you craft a well-rounded or niche character. Hybrid even has its own answer to kill streaks; taking out enemies lets you summon AI-controlled robot assistants, who provide extra firepower and are great for drawing enemy fire away from you.
Despite some customizable equipment, Hybrid is a bit of a visual bore. It has the aesthetic of a Syfy Channel series destined for early cancellation. It’s not helped by a confusing, none-to-engaging story. This is forgivable, of course; we are talking about a multiplayer-only shooter. Still, it will leave players wondering why the game lobby is a world map, and why the Paladin and Variant forces are warring over territory and “Dark Matter.”
Hybrid features a rather typical mix of game modes playable on ten maps. There are six in total, including team deathmatch, variants on king of the hill, juggernaut, capture the flag and one intensely tactical mode with limited lives. Maps are well designed, with multiple ways to advance on and flank the enemy.
Unfortunately, matchmaking on Xbox Live was a bit of a problem. After launch, Hybrid was briefly pulled from the XBLA due to server issues. Now that it’s been restored, it can still take an obnoxious amount of time to find a game, even with no declared preference for game mode or map. Once in a game, you may be subjected to random host migration as well. However, once the match got underway, we were able to maintain a solid connection.
If the name Hybrid means anything – other than some story point that obviously didn’t grab us – it’s the way the game has blended third-person shooting with tactical, almost turned-based combat. Moving from cover to cover on autopilot doesn’t make for restrictive gunplay, it facilities furious flying combat and desperate mid-air maneuvers. Ever go on a walk to get your creative juices flowing? It’s the same principle here: When movement becomes a given, the mind can concentrate on other things, like firing a load of buckshot into the torso of a guy who was a little too slow on the draw. Retreaded aesthetics and matchmaking issues aside, Hybrid is a winner. At 1,200 Microsoft points ($15), it should be enjoyed by twitch gamers and thoughtful FPS-ers everywhere.