The latest release in Microsoft Studios’ ‘Summer of Arcade’ campaign, 5th Cell’s Hybrid is available to download from the Xbox LIVE Arcade now. As a competitive multiplayer online shooting videogame, Hybrid may not sound like anything to write home about, but there is more to it than you think. Hybrid is a videogame which cuts-out the middle-man and concentrates on that which ensures the action remains tense at all times: shooting and avoiding being shot.
Hybrid tells the tale of a future gone made, where two rival factions fight over precious resources in a science-fiction warzone not too dissimilar from around ninety percent of the genre. It’s not an original plot by any means, but the two-faction set-up has more to it than simply greasing the wheels; Hybrid features an overarching system in which the two factions will compete for control of a map, electing one side the winner of a season. Seasons operate as you would expect, resetting the score to zero upon completion in all but your own personal statistics and progress.
Once having chosen your faction the videogame game kicks off with a tutorial teaching both the basics of combat and the use of Hybrid’s unique selling point: the jetpack. Players can move swiftly between cover with the simple press of a single button, though they still retain a significant amount of manoeuvrability and combat options while in the air; strafing and boost allow the player to dodge incoming fire while aiming down your weapon’s sights will position you for accurate shots at the cost of speed. It’s a simple and familiar trade-off, and one that works just as well here as in any third-person shooting-orientated competitive videogame.
Hybrid is based entirely around this jetpack mechanic, so much so that it restricts any other movement. Players will always be in cover or moving to cover as there is no option to travel on foot beyond repositioning behind cover. It’s an odd system at first, feeling very binary in it’s three available spots behind cover and the demand to always be at waist height, but players will soon get used to the duck shoot style gameplay.
The levels are of course deigned to accommodate the rapid movement and constant nudges back-and-forth between opposing teams. There are no safe spots on any of the maps; there are always opportunities to flank any single piece of cover or, worse yet, come around from behind. This means that players must be on their toes at all times, creating tension with every secured target. However, this is also a rather unfortunate double-edged sword, as in matches where each side is equally skilled players will often find themselves dropped back into the bout right next to an opponent, offering them no chance to escape or even survive.
As might be expected, Hybrid features the now typical presentation of statistics and personal advancement, with players able to unlock new weapons, abilities and bonuses with experience points earned for kills and assists, or completing mid-game missions such as hitting a number of headshots in a single match. However, as is also becoming tradition, should players not wish to work for their rewards they are able to invest Microsoft Points into their profile, unlocking new customisation items, weapons and special bonuses, such as XP boosts. While not quite a pay-to-win system, the fact that a player can easily rank up twice as fast as a superior player not willing to invest is just as irritating a design decision here as it was in Gotham City Impostors.
Hybrid is a decent looking videogame, falling somewhere between Vanquish and Section 8 in it’s crisp and clean armour design, while it’s backdrops perfectly suit the science-fiction charade without ever assuming too much personality of their own. The fact that the videogame runs at a silky smooth sixty frames-per-second has not been kept quite, and for good reason, as even when playing with someone with a relatively poor connection Hybrid remains a perfectly balanced online experience. In Electronic Theatre’s time with the videogame no lag or slowdown was experienced at any point, making Hybrid a new benchmark for online gameplay not just on Xbox LIVE, but on any online videogames network.
Hybrid may not be the videogame you think it is, and from this it takes both benefits and hindrance. It’s a fantastic, unique idea that promises to deliver action-packed competition. And that it does, but truly it’s at the expense of longevity. There’s plenty to unlock and the seasonal structure is welcome, but still Hybrid remains a videogame that players are only likely to truly invest in if they have likeminded friends willing to strategise over the three-on-three gameplay. For a quick pick-up-and-play action videogame experience the Xbox LIVE Arcade is full of well executed multiplayer titles, and sadly Hybrid is little more than just another name muddled in with the pack.