In the world of video games, innovation doesn’t always mean excellence. Many games have tried and failed to do something unique and original, only to fall on their faces and crawl away in shame. Remember Lifeline for PS2, a game which tasked players with controlling a character with their voice? Or how about when Sonic tried to go 3D? Change isn’t always a good thing. However, in Hybrid‘s case, it’s hard to tell whether the innovation was a risk worth taking or a misstep from an otherwise solid game.
Released for XBLA as a multiplayer-only game, Hybrid has already gone through its growing pains, facing server shutdowns on launch day that prevented anybody from playing. Most issues have been fixed, however, but we’ll get to that later. The game looks to be your standard third-person arena shooter, but the gameplay is much different from what gamers are used to.
Per usual, players will run from cover to cover, firing at enemies until a kill counter is reached or a timer is run down. However, instead of running, jetpacks are utilized to fly from cover to cover. As exciting as this seems, there are a few interesting quirks that keep this device from being fully utilized. Rather than being able to move as they want, players can only shuffle along cover and choose other pieces of cover to fly to. Aside from that, you can aim as you hurtle from wall to wall, but free movement is extremely limited.
While this is quite a unique touch, it’s a mechanic that I’m sure will be the most divisive point of Hybrid. In theory, this is nothing more than a glorified rail shooter. If you’re in the heat of battle and need an escape, you can’t get up and run. Instead, you have to carefully select your route and hope that you can actually fly to cover before you’re shot out of the sky. In some cases, this adds plenty of tension, but it’s mostly an annoyance.
As for myself, I’m still torn on whether or not I like this mechanic. It’s something new that we’ve never seen before, but that doesn’t necessarily make it better than other arena shooters. Sometimes it feels like a genuine improvement that 5th Cell hoped would work, but it often feels like a tacked on gimmick. In the end, it’s up to the player to decide.
Although plots don’t usually count for much of anything in these types of games, the backstory here is actually quite interesting. At some point in the future, a hadron supercollider imploded, destroying Australia while drawing the interest of a group of invaders known as the Variant. Their plans of total world domination are put on hold when they face the human resistance group known as the Paladins. Both sides are then tasked with waging war in various regions of the world, fighting for control of a powerful element simply called Dark Matter.
While the story isn’t progressed further than this, it does give a nice sense of what’s at stake, as players’ choices, victories and losses all factor into which faction has the most control. The incentive to continue playing is high because of this, as well as the huge arsenal of weapons and abilities that are unlocked with each new level.
Hybrid isn’t perfect, however, as it’s still marred by the usual problems of multiplayer-only games. Having to maintain an Xbox LIVE membership while also dropping 1200 MSP ($15 USD) for the game can be a bit costly, and the exclusion of single player is a tiny slap in the face of us solitary types. The biggest drawback for any multiplayer setting, however, will always be the players. You still have the racist 10-year-olds, the frat boys, the whiny new guys and the guy who sits in the corner with a sniper rifle to deal with.
Although the server issues from before have been solved, it still takes a long time to set up lobbies for a simple match. I’ve had waits last up to three or four minutes, and although this is a minor complaint, it still broke the frantic flow of matches. Luckily, these issues didn’t affect the gameplay, as the graphics were still nice and the game ran as smooth as butter. None of the environments stood out as being particularly beautiful, but they all work as typical “dystopian future” settings.
There are a handful of different game modes available for playing through, including the typical Team Deathmatch and King of the Hill set-ups. Most modes, including those mentioned before and newcomer Artifact, are a blast to play through, while others (I’m looking at you, Crazy Kings and Tactics) are a confusing pain.
Personally, I avoid multiplayer games and modes like they’re the plague, but the decision to take the plunge with Hybrid hasn’t come back to haunt me yet. Despite my reservations, I still had a blast for most of my playthrough. The unique gameplay will divide players, and this is definitely not a game for everyone due to its high cost and lack of single player, but if you’re addicted to the arena, then give Hybrid a shot. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever played, for better and for worse.
This review is based on a copy of the game that was provided to us.