The cover based shooter has been all but perfected over the years with a steady release of the Gears of War games, so what can a XBLA title called Hybrid bring to the genre.
For starters this is not your normal third person online shooter, with familiar titles allowing players to run, gun and dive behind cover, as the game title implies, 5Th Cell have mixed things up a little and pretty much removed the running element and replaced it with jet packs, leaving you with flying shooting and cover diving third person shooter.
With a story that is pretty much non-existent other than a brief cut scene and a narration along the lines of “where did they come from” or “How many gone in just a single day. Millions, Billions!” you are then offered a choice of faction, Variants or Paladins. With no real indication of who is who other than an incentive of boosted XP when signing up to the Variants the choice is more down to aesthetics. It is past here that game is better explained, with the worlds continents populated with bitter conflicts against each side, both factions fighting for land and more importantly, the Dark Matter that resides there.
The scope of this interactive online battle is massive, with every win and loss logged under each continents district; more wins brings your faction ever closer to capturing the Dark Matter of that area and locking it down, with the end game coming sometime in the future once a Season has been won and the faction hitting the set score of 100 pieces of Dark Matter wins. How this pans out is entirely down to you.
The actual action is an interesting take on cover shooters, with each of the districts maps offering loads barriers to take cover behind on the floor, walls and even the ceiling. The main difference to other games of this genre is that there is no running per-se; instead you line up a trajectory and activate your personal rocket to boost you there. Whilst doing this you are obviously a sought after target, so you can move your character around, but the landing point will always be where you last targeted. The gameplay at first is very frustrating as it is so original and unfamiliar but learning how you can control your jets is just as important as getting those killer headshots. With practice you will learn how to change trajectory mid-flight, retreat to a previous place of cover and flip over cover when attacked from behind.
Though you are in relatively small teams of three a side, each player has the ability to call in drones that will help turn the tide of battle. These are unlocked via relatively short kill-streaks and are deployed with the directional pad. With just one kill you can call for Stalker, a small drone that will stay by your side and take shots at enemy players whenever they can. The Warbringer is usable after a two kill streak and is a lot more pro-active than its smaller brother, with rocket launchers and a forbidding presence; it will hover around the battleground hunting for its next target. Finally, after a few more kills on the trot you are awarded Preyon; think a homing missile with knives. This small ninja-like robot will leap from cover and slash up whoever you had under the targeting reticule for an instant and gruesome kill.
Aside from drone support your own characters have plenty to offer on the field, with a steady supply of pistols, shotguns, sniper rifles, machine guns and rocket launchers at your disposal. Each character can also specialise in a certain area, granting power up that are always on during gameplay. These can be simple XP boosters, damage increase or a small shield boost. With such a small team, working together is essential and that is where the abilities come into play. You can choose from one of a large list to bring to the field, each one will slowly recharge after each use and they can either directly help you, or the rest of the team with the likes of a Meta Shield boosting your damage intake or the ability to siphon energy with every bullet that hits the enemy to healing the whole team or the impressive Drone Hack grenade that will turn all enemy drones against their owners. All of these can be changed after getting killed, allowing you to adapt to the battlefield as there are times when you start with the whole team using the same radar ability; a quick change will increase your chances of winning, maybe using a grenade against an enemy hidden deep in cover.
Each of the available maps tend to be very small and tight, maximizing the chances of a firefight across the few modes that are in offer. Artefact is like a flag game; you grab the artefact and hold it for as long as you can, only dropping it once you have been killed, ready for another player to try their luck. Overlord involves the highest scorer gaining stat boosts whilst on the field. The aim being to take them out or protect whoever they are which is not made easy as they are highlighted on the screen HUD. King of the Hill and Crazy Kings are more furious, with areas of cover becoming a target for teams to hold for as long as possible; with some great fights occurring and plenty of opportunities for ambushes and Nuke Tactics, a plant a bomb or defuse scenario. Sadly with all this variety you inevitably ends up playing Team Deathmatch over and over again over and even though there are lots of maps, they all look and feel the same other than a little different layout.
As well as winning in each game there are plenty of other in game missions that will help boost your XP score, with the start of each round giving you an option of a few to choose from, with the more difficult offering higher pay-outs like a set amount of kills or assists or a specific style of kill like headshots or kills whist using the jet-pack. Hybrid is built on a slow and steady progression system, with more kills and more battles earning you more XP which can then be spent on even more items as and when they unlock. If you feel the tide of war is a little too slow for your tastes you can always purchase some credits from the MS Marketplace for a quick boost.
Hybrid is a game that will rely on the online contingent, with the more players online making this a decent purchase, but it will be best to grab this now before interest wanes with the next big release as once the servers start to empty, just like the world of Hybrid, the online world will be a barren wasteland.
Review Policy (version tested: PS Vita/PS3/PSN)