In the crowded shooter market, a new series has a lot of competition. Being low on the totem pole, a new game not only needs to be competent, it also needs a unique hook to pull players away from their favorite shooters. On the surface it seems Hybrid does just that by using jetpacks alongside a highly strategized cover system, but the lack of freeform flying limits the experience. The formula is still fun, but Hybrid’s novelty wears off quickly.
Hybrid’s plot synopsis is cryptic: An alien race has touched down and competes with humans over a sacred resource called dark matter. You can join up with either the Variants or Paladins, factions in direct competition for dark matter pockets scattered across an expansive, Earth-shaped map. Both teams are locked in a power struggle to control areas of the map. No stage is off-limits, but selecting to battle in a hot zone offers additional experience points. The map has a surprising amount of depth as the choices impact doing what’s best for you (extra XP) or what’s best for your faction (capturing a valuable area). This feature is even more intriguing because you’re entrusting your teammates (strangers) to make the right call. In a world where many look out for number one, Hybrid captures a realistic choice with every match you play, which was my favorite part about the game.
Hybrid does a nice job of providing choices around every corner. Matches feature special side missions for extra XP, such as getting a certain kill or headshot count. Matchmaking preferences let you hone in on the playstyle you prefer, but some lobby wait times are excruciatingly long – I waited about five minutes for a match to start, and that was on the Saturday night immediately after Hybrid’s release. Plenty of the modes are borrowed from other series, such as Crazy Kings and King of the Hill from Halo. The familiar modes are varied, but it wouldn’t have hurt 5th Cell to include more unique match types suited to Hybrid’s particular style.
Before you enter a match, Hybrid offers even more choices regarding your weapon, ability, and specialization. The amount of choice to customize your character to your playstyle is notable. From the onset, I felt like I could alter the game to my strengths without waiting for unlocks through leveling. More selections are unlocked over time, but if you want new guns or abilities right away, you can spend Microsoft Points to acquire them. That doesn’t seem to skew the action in the pay-to-win direction; with a little patience, you can earn everything can buy. The wait never felt too long to get a worthwhile unlockable.
Gunning down enemies is plenty fun, but 5th Cell tries to add a new hook with rocket-propelled movement. You battle opponents while launching between cover using a jetpack. The jetpack controls aren’t the smoothest, though, as you’re not entirely free flying. You aim at cover and fly towards it, but after that, you’re on autopilot. You can break the flight by choosing another piece of cover to fly to, using a speed boost, or strafing away from enemies. In the frenzy of battle, this is problematic, as it can cause you to overshoot where you want to land. The lack of complete control, when every other portion of the game provides it, is unfortunate.
In Hybrid, you’re never safe from enemy fire. Opponents attack you from all directions, even while you hang upside down. The cover system allows you to also strafe and vault to secure better positions, adding an extra level of strategy on the battlefield. Additionally, you earn drone rewards based on kill streaks; the higher your streak, the better drones you have to deploy. A weak drone might shoot down enemies from a distance, while a powerful one can unleash sneaky instant kills.
Drones make battles more intense, but their AI is awful about detecting your intent and line of fire. Many times I missed kills because my drone blocked my gunfire. Even items like grenades bounce off a drone if it's in front of you. The result is realistic, but a bonus for success shouldn’t come with such frustration.
The lack of map variety is by far the most disappointing aspect of Hybrid. During my playtime, I thought the game featured only two or three locations, simply because every map looks and plays almost identically. For 5th Cell, who brought us the creatively inspired Scribblenauts, the lack of originality burns, especially in a game that’s entirely multiplayer-centric.
Hybrid proves that you can’t depend on a few flashy additions to rev up the shooting genre; innovation needs to go into every area possible for a game to stand out. The jetpacks and cover system are twists on standard third-person firefights, but lose their allure quickly due to uninteresting maps and the reliance on modes from other popular games. That’s not to say the game isn’t entertaining, but it lacks the staying power to keep you hooked. The goal is noble, but Hybrid doesn’t turn the third-person shooter on its head.