Hybrid review for XBLA

Platform: Xbox Live Arcade
Publisher: 5th Cell
Developer: 5th Cell
Medium: Digital
Players: Multi
Online: Yes

When you think about 5th Cell as a developer, you?ll probably instantly associate them with the DS game Scribblenauts, or its follow-up Super Scribblenauts. Hell, there?s even  a Wii U one slated to come out now, and I don?t think it?s a stretch to call it the series that 5th Cell is known for. So when you look at Hybrid, it?s a pretty natural reaction to do a double take when their logo pops up during the initial load of this third person shooter, which marks the second to last entry in this year?s Summer of Arcade promotion for Xbox Live.

But if you?re at all familiar with 5th Cell?s work, once you sit down to actually play Hybrid you?ll come to find out that all that innovation and ingenuity they poured into making Scribblenauts such a success is also evident in Hybrid, you just need to scratch the surface a bit to see it. And while it?d be easy to look at Hybrid, shrug your shoulders, and call it just another 3rd person, cover based shooter on the system that?s spawned quite a few of them, it?s certainly not that. The art style might not be the thing that stands out to prove it, but the gameplay definitely picks up the slack.

Ever wish you could play Gears of War without actually running or walking anywhere? Well, that?s part of the hook with Hybrid. Each map that makes up this purely multiplayer experience is designed to be navigated both horizontally and vertically, with the use of a built-in jet pack for each character. Instead of having direct control over your movement from point A to point B, you?ll instead aim at nearby cover, whether that?s on the ceiling, floor, or wall, and press A. This will thrust your character towards that point, giving you limited movement to strafe or dodge enemy fire. While in mid-flight you can cancel the movement and go back to where you came from, or you can opt which side of cover you?ll land on. There?s also a limited boost function to get you there quicker.

Each team is made up of three players, and if one drops out the game introduces an interesting balance mechanic that?ll boost the defense/offense of the team that?s currently short a man. For each firefight completed you?ll gain experience, which can then be used to level up and unlock new weapons, and some gear for show. There?s also an overarching mechanic in the game that has you fighting for control of resources on a world map, which is how you?ll start the game off each time. The world map is based on the actual world, meaning you?ll choose to fight in North America, South America, Europe and so on. The locations don?t have any impact on the types of maps you?ll see, how they look, or who you?ll be matched up against, but they serve a purpose as a driving force for the game itself. Trying to get control of all states or countries within a continent, and occasionally going toe to toe against the opposing faction for that control is surprisingly engaging.

The gameplay feels solid and easy enough to pick up and play if you?re at all familiar with shooters. You?ll choose a loadout at the beginning of a match, but can change that loadout with each death. You?re only able to take one weapon with you into a fight, but you?ll have another skill slotted that can serve as offense or defense, with a fairly large number to choose from after you?ve gained some levels. There?s also a skill that?s tied into the type of character you want to play as, generally causing some other type of overall boost to be factored in, like bonus xp, or a bonus to attack power. This also ties into the locations that you?ll choose to play in, as you can level up bases at these locations that?ll boost the power of this job specific skill.

But really, it?s the gravity defying firefights that are the big, innovative hook here, and it?s a concept that really paid off for me. There?s a level of strategy in picking when to run and when to flee that I don?t tend to see in this type of game, and I found myself instantly attached to the unique feeling that Hybrid delivered. And when you get into a match with a couple other players that know what they?re doing, there?s a synergy to the teamwork that can be marvelous to watch on screen. The maps are confined just enough to keep the action constant, so you?re not just chasing guys around from cover to cover, but they also give you just enough room to breathe if things get a little hectic. There?s only one map type in the game that I found myself hating, which involves a central platform surrounded by what are basically one way halls, but outside of that I enjoyed most of the initial maps.

There?s not much that holds Hybrid back at the moment, and I?ll be curious to see how the season results play out. There are some definite server issues that seem to be occurring, which are intermittent problems for me. At times I seem to be almost stuck searching for open matches over and over again, whether I?m searching for something specific like Team Deathmatch, or keeping my options open. This causes upwards of five minute waits to load in a new match, which is certainly annoying to contend with if you just want to jump in for a match or two. And while I enjoy the actual gameplay, I?m not really sold on the look of Hybrid, and think that it does the game little favor in drawing in new players. It looks awfully generic on the surface, with some bland character and robot designs that did little for me. If you get your hands on a controller to play it I think you?ll find yourself enjoying the hell out of it, but if you were to casually look at the game or artwork from it, there?s not much to hook you there.

But still, it?s definitely worth checking out. Hopefully the server and connection issues can get ironed out over the next couple weeks, because this is a multiplayer experience that I?d like to see continue on for a while, and can see myself jumping back into whenever I have some free time. Despite some of those issues, I definitely think it?s worth the asking price, and think you?ll find that it is too.

Grade: B+