Throughout its tenure, Microsoft’s Summer of Arcade has been focused on providing titles of various genres during the school-free weeks for summer gamers. Amid a sports title, a survival-horror platformer, and a side-scrolling anime adventure, fans of online shooting mayhem have gotten a title just for them: 5th Cell’s stop-n-pop fragger, Hybrid.
Hybrid was developed in response to the oft-repeated, derisive question of why games like Call of Duty and Medal of Honor even bother to include a single-player campaign anymore at all. If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I like the act of squeezing the trigger and watching something go pop!, but I wish I could do it without all the freedom of movement, the crouching and running from cover to cover,” then Hybrid may well have something to offer you.
Hybrid takes the concept of a cover-based shooter to the next level, by not only providing cover to its players, but making any and all movement in the game completely dependent upon it. This isn’t a simple matter of “here’s some cover – take it or leave it”. Combatants in Hybrid can only move from cover to cover; target a wall or outcropping with your aiming reticule, push a button, and you’re taken on an auto-pilot course straight toward it. While you do have the ability to put a slight zig-zag into your flight path to avoid being shot out of the sky, change destination mid-flight, and even have a button available to reverse your previous jetpack-powered flight in retreat, the fact remains that Hybrid simply offers very little in terms of actual on-the-ground mobility. Apart from moving left and right behind cover, players are reduced to either waiting the match out in their chosen spot or set a course for another nearby cover opportunity.
Now, this isn’t to say that the action doesn’t ramp up intensely in the middle of a match – targeting and getting kills works well, and is just as frantic as you could wish for. There are also few quiet moments in a match, but that is due in large part to the concentrated and circular nature of virtually all of the small handful of maps. The unfortunate side effect of this is that, whatever the type of match, it quickly devolves into a game of tag, where you’ll only need to hop a few feet to either side and start blasting blindly.
Speaking of match types, 5th Cell has made some effort to offer all the mainstays, and even give something unique with game modes based around killstreaks and a constantly shifting King of the Hill variety, but with the good comes the bad, and even in this area a spark of innovation is stifled by restrictive design: there are only handful of maps to play on, and after a couple of rounds, you’ll have seen everything there is to see. Maps that offer something new, like action set-pieces, or even some grand design backdrops, would have made the game’s battlegrounds more memorable and engaging.
You’ve got to give credit where credit’s due, and Hybrid‘s front-end menu does appear to throw an element of strategy into the mix. Upon selecting which faction to roll with (there are two to choose from: Variants and Paladins), players are presented with a Risk-like military world map, with continents divvied up into individual provinces, and battles being waged over martial dominance in each region. The goal in each area is to score points, ultimately leading your team to a majority victory over the opposing side in that region. This process takes days, if not weeks, and all participating players share the same perpetual world map. Being the first faction to reach a firm foothold in a region nets your side a larger number of resources than your opponent, and the first side to cap off their resource pool by taking control of the most regions ultimately wins the entire season.
Despite the fact that a season is quite lengthy, which really adds to the sense of accomplishment for those players willing to return to the game over and over on a daily basis (you’re chipping away at a large community goal, after all), beauty is only skin-deep. In this case, the world map overlay is nothing but a thin veneer shield to hide the fact that, in the end, emerging victorious simply comes down to being on the side that’s won the most matches overall. Regardless of which region you select as your contested battleground, matchmaking happens in a global lobby, with players from all corners of the map. While your team’s win does count for points in your selected region, the competition is at best indirect, as even your opponents aren’t, in fact, vying for control of the same area you’re defending. In the end, it’s all just numbers behind the scenes, serving as a weak catalyst that takes away an edge that would otherwise have served for fierce, personal competition.
One final thing worth mentioning is the overly complicated user interface, which does a fine job of blurring the line between earned unlockables and micro-transaction purchases; there’s no doubt that some over-zealous players have already fallen prey to purchasing credits to unlock weapons and abilities already available to them. Like any game offering micro-transactions, they are entirely optional, and one can certainly progress without ever spending a dime on them. However, I would also expect games that make it this easy to fall for purchasing extra goodies to not already cost $15 out of the bag.
The Final Verdict
Hybrid cuts out some of the unnecessary fluff of offering a single-player campaign alongside its online third-person shooter counterpart. And while the actual shooting is certainly capable of offering a fun experience, it does so for a limited time only; most players will suffer from the law of diminishing returns rather quickly. Coupled with repetitive and small maps, and a UI that encourages unnecessary purchases and only offers a skin-deep layer of strategy, Hybrid ultimately doesn’t have what it takes to cure gamers of their latest bout of Battlefield 3 fever, even at a smaller price tag.