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While best known for innovative titles like Scribblenauts and Drawn to Life, developer 5th Cell has a history of delivering experiences that make you think outside the box. With their first high-definition game, they have achieved that again. If you love competitive shooters, but are tired of the same Call of Duty/Halo clones the genre is inundated with, Hybrid might be just the thing you are looking. If you’re came looking for story or a solid single-player experience, look elsewhere, because there is nothing for you here.
Upon booting up the game, the very first thing you do is decide whether to be a Paladin or Variant. They both have the same weaponry, but you’ll quickly learn the difference is more than merely cosmetic. If you have friends you want to play the game with, make sure you coordinate your choice of team, because you can only play with members of your faction. Besides a rank boost for picking whichever team happens to be the least populated at the time, there is little or no context for what these groups stand for, or why you should be attached to them. Indeed, outside of a vague opening video about some catastrophe, there are no story elements to be found in Hybrid. The gameplay is the draw here, and it delivers in spades.
Hybrid has all the bells and whistles you would expect from a modern shooter. An extensive array of weapons, special abilities, passive boosts and cosmetic helmets are there and begging to be unlocked (or bought with real money if you just can’t wait). I wish you could bring more than one ability with you into battle, but the strategic interplay between the different weapons and abilities is much deeper than you would guess at first glance, and you have access to your entire suite of abilities to choose from between spawns. While the guns mostly fit into the standard genres (SMGs, shotguns, sniper rifles, assault rifles and heavy pistols are all represented), they all have a unique personality and are fun to play with. My personal favorite is the Gambler, a pistol that has either kills your target, or blows up and kills you. The abilities run the gamut; defensive shields, damage-over-time bullet effects, ability recharge support, even more esoteric skills like allowing your allies to see through walls and the ability to have infinite ammo for a short burst. Frag grenades in particular are fun, and the aiming mechanic for them is spot-on.
The key component that sets Hybrid apart from the other shooters on the market is how it handles movement. Every move you make is based on cover hotspots scattered around the map; free movement does not really exist in this game. It’s different, but you quickly get used to it. Tapping A will send you on a jet-pack ride to the selected cover node, but while en route a number of mobility options provide depth. You are basically on-rails while traveling to your next destination, but you can free-move with the left stick and can shoot in 360 degrees while doing so. You can choose a new direction mid-air, while tapping B will send you zipping to your previous cover. After acclimating yourself to the controls, zipping around the battlefield becomes a true treat, and the maps are designed to take full advantage of the unique mechanics, even if the maps themselves lack personality.
The shooting is as tight as you could hope for, and I love the killstreak system. After only one kill, a small droid called the Stalker spawns next to you and seeks targets out. Three kills nets you the Warbringer, a larger bot that slowly cruises around and fires heavy munitions at foes. The stand-out however is the Preyon, a shrieking ninja who basically acts like a red turtle shell, searching out a single foe and killing them instantly. Denying somebody a Preyon kill isn’t easy, but it is incredibly satisfying. Since the drones are so easily achieved, they are a much bigger part of the gameplay than Call of Duty’s kill streaks, making them feel less like game breakers and more like an integral part of your strategy.
As great as the gameplay mechanics and customization options are, the framework of Hybrid is questionable at best. The two factions are locked in a persistent war for something called Dark Matter, and the game throws a lot of numbers, stats and an impressively confusing world map at you to try to convince you the war effort is important to you as a player. It’s not. When it comes down to it, the two warring teams are simply a framework for matchmaking purposes. After experiencing their past brilliance, I was really hoping 5th Cell would stretch their storytelling wings, but it’s hard to complain about gameplay this brilliant.
When Hybrid clicks for you, and you finally get the hang of it, it is one of the most exhilarating competitive experiences available. The unique movement mechanics may not appeal to everybody, and anybody looking for something deeper than a deathmatch (although there are multiple game modes available) may be disappointed, but I would advise any shooter fan to give Hybrid a shot.