Hybrid is a strange concoction to judge by its closed beta that began Friday. It is an online shooter that is cover-based AND airborne, as well as multipath AND on-rails. There are even knife kills, albeit by a surrogate bot. 5th Cell has created a curious hybrid of shooter conventions that works remarkably well despite its seeming contradictions.

In all honesty, I knew nothing about Hybrid prior to entering the beta except that it was an online shooter so my expectations were near zero. To that degree it's easier to be impressed than disappointed. Still, considering how jaded I've become about the genre, the gameplay was engaging and the beta actually played like a final build.

To the extent there's a weakness it's the narrative. However, it's tough to fault a competitive multiplayer experience for its lack of a compelling story. Indeed it does its job of providing a context for the goings-on, though not a memorable one. What's important to note is that you pick a side in a struggle for global control one region at a time via victories in various game modes.

Controls are fairly standard for the genre with the exception of selecting drones and using the jetpack to advance or retreat. Like most games it takes time to acquaint oneself with the basic configuration through trial and error. The tutorial does a good job at instructing players on the fundamental gameplay mechanics.

The presentation in this beta is solid, from a well realized if somewhat standard futuristic art design (complete with a weapon and character model that reminded me of Halo) to detailed environments with less detailed textures. Still for a beta it was an impressive production.

The cover mechanic is addressed early and for someone who loves a good cover system (whether the classic kill.switch or current gen Gears of War), Hybrid's works well, even making copious use of blind fire to eliminate foes on the opposite side of your cover. The adjustable camera provides a great assist in this department and leads to some impressive, desperate firefights.

I haven't played too many games online that involved jetpacks (the most notable recent title being Red Faction: Guerrilla), but their implementation in Hybrid is intuitive, which is all the more important considering it's the primary method for traversing the map. The one caveat is that the maps I played are relatively small and the corridors tight, at least for aerial transport.

I did feel that the matches played out like an on-rail shooter given how you were restricted to moving back and forth along certain paths though you could strafe foes along the way. While you might consider this a criticism, on the contrary, it is a compliment. The restraints placed on jetpack travel make combat more fluid, dynamic and desperate than otherwise.

Add to this the option to switch paths in flight and how you strategize each encounter takes on even greater consequence. Change course to assist teammates under fire or secure a control point, retreat while firing when overcome, attempt to surprise a preoccupied foe,  or engage the enemy in aerial combat. Moving from cover to cover becomes a high-stakes game of cat and mouse.

You can earn various abilities though I never really took advantage of this feature. Between shooting, flying and drone management, use of my abilities got lost in the shuffle. That said, these add a promising option to the suite of gameplay controls.

Your drones, deployable via the direction keypad, are armed and armored bots that are available to assist in combat when unlocked by killstreaks. I've found that the Stalker is more a distraction for an enemy than a real threat, though that can serve a purpose, whereas the Warbringer is tougher to take down and can finish you off if already hurt.

The real reward here is the Preyon, which looks and behaves more like a ninja assassin, swooping out from beside you in pursuit of the nearest foe to eliminate. Having been on the receiving end, its banshee scream is an anxiety producing shriek. Indeed, I'm not sure yet if there is a means to combat them.

When in the game you can view data about each region. You can see which regions are under whose control, and the balance of factions in still contested regions. Based on that information, you can choose where your contribution might have the most impact in the overall contest. Once a region is chosen, you can then elect which multiplayer mode to play.

Another screen allows you to select your loadout for the match. You can cycle through standard weapon classes such as assault or sniper, abilities including grenades, and specializations such as extra XP. An indication of your teammates' loadouts can inform your selections so there is more balance among your squadmates.

Maps also can be selected, though the limited number I played all shared a few pathways as well as alternate routes. I should note that each path had a few platforms with a low central barrier. You can take cover or vault over the barrier, which is helpful when flanked. Also, an inspired choice is ceiling platforms that vary your perspective and strategy.

I'm not a particularly adept competitor to begin with, though I tend to excel at class-based tactical shooters. Hybrid is NOT one of those, so my initial matches were an exercise in futility while I tried to familiarize myself with the controls. I also tended to ignore certain challenges such as those related to weapons so did not earn many upgrades early on.

If you're not used to flying and strafing, you'll need to acquaint yourself with the controls. Likewise hanging upside down from the ceiling is a perspective that requires orientation. My point is that your performance is less a factor of poor design than just experience or lack thereof. Indeed, 5th Cell's beta of their game played better than many other titles I've played. 

The better your performance, the more XP is earned, which unlocks more weapons and abilities and advances your rank. In this regard, it shares the same standard risk/reward characteristics that fans of online shooters are familiar with and implements them in a timely fashion that encourages instead of discourages progression through the ranks. 

There's no question that I improved significantly in the limited time I played and the game's statistics helpfully tracked that progression. But the real test for Hybrid's unique formula is how engaging the gameplay proved and how fun the overall experience turned out to be. If 5th Cell can vary the maps, modes and weapons/items in the final build, genre fans will happily don their jetpacks for repeat visits.