Hybrid is an enigma. It is not the sort of game you might expect to see from Bellevue, Washington based 5th Cell, who are known for games such as Scribblenauts and Drawn To Life, and yet, it is exactly the sort of game you might expect from them. It’s a game that doesn’t conform to genre conventions – a shooter quite unlike anything else on the market today. After spending a few days with the Hybrid beta on Xbox Live Arcade, I can say that 5th Cell has something interesting and fun on their hands here. Head past the break as I try to explain exactly why that is.
You start by selecting a faction, either Variants or Paladins. For some reason, Paladins are marked as “recommended”, and choosing that side rewards you with a 5% bonus XP gain and you get to start at level 5. I suppose this was done to give new players a bit of entry level incentive, though I’m still not sure why one side is given such an obvious advantage over the other. In any case, there doesn’t seem to be much tangible difference between the two factions, and the last I checked, Variants were in the lead overall anyway.
Once you’ve chosen a side, you’re taken through a mandatory tutorial section. Normally, I would frown upon such things, especially in a cover-based shooter, but as I mentioned before, Hybrid isn’t exactly your average shooter. Becoming acquainted with the basics is absolutely essential here. For starters, your movement on the ground is limited to strafing back and forth while behind cover, and hopping over said cover. There is no running around on the ground between points of cover – instead, you fly.
Every player has a Personal Flight Pack (basically a fancy name for jetpack) that they’ll use to get around the map. Simply point your targeting reticule at a cover point and tap the A button, and you’ll automatically go flying towards it. You can strafe back and forth, adjust your height, or even change your direction mid-flight, while clicking the left thumbstick gives you a short speed boost, and aiming down the sights of your weapon will slow down your flight to make aiming easier. Flying leaves you vulnerable, however, and if you don’t pick your moments wisely, you’ll be shot down pretty easily. That having been said, it’s an intense and satisfying feeling to take someone out while you’re flying through the air. If two opposing players are flying toward each other, it’s almost like a high flying jousting match.
Hybrid definitely has a bit of a learning curve you’ll need to overcome before it starts to make sense. Being able to attach to cover on ceilings and walls, as well as on the ground, can be pretty disorienting at first. Once you come to grips with the game’s unconventional methods and it finally clicks for you, that’s when you’ll begin to feel like maybe 5th Cell has stumbled onto a winning formula.
The other thing that makes Hybrid unique is its persistent global war. Hybrid’s story revolves around the implosion of a large hadron collider in Australia, which has spread Dark matter across the globe and spawned a new race of humans – the Variants. The goal of the game then becomes to collect a certain amount of Dark Matter in each region before the other faction can do so themselves. Before you enter matchmaking, you’ll choose a location on the world map. Each zone shows how close both factions are to gaining control of the area, and zones where one faction or the other is close to victory will appear as Hotzones. Fighting in a Hotzone will reward you with extra XP, so they’re well worth checking out.
Each zone also comes with a couple of X factors. You’ll be given a specific mission before the start of a match – Get a certain amount of kills with a particular weapon, get a certain amount of aerial kills, etc – that reward you with large chunks of XP when completed. The other X factor is that every zone has a Specialization bonus. Specializations are passive abilities you can attach to your character, such as bonus XP, extra damage, increased armor, and the like. Choosing the right Specialization in a particular zone will grant an extra boost to that particular Specialization, offering you incentive to choose wisely.
Aside from the occasional server error which briefly prevents me from logging into the game, Hybrid is already remarkably solid. The framerate moves at a steady clip, and the 3 modes on display in the beta (Team Deathmatch, Overlord, and King of the Hill) are all a lot of fun in their own way. There are currently no pricing or release date details available, but I suspect we’ll know more soon enough. What is known is that the game is currently XBLA exclusive due to Microsoft’s rule about mandatory trial versions for every XBLA game. 5th Cell wants people to try the game for themselves, and a free trial version is the easiest way to do that. In any case, you should go sign up for the beta if you have not done so already, since Hybrid is a game that truly must be played to be believed.