Think of it as Chess with Assault Rifles, killer robots and Jetpacks
Reviewed on the Xbox 360 by Alex Trotter-Fernandez
When I first jumped into Hybrid, truth be told I really didn’t like it. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but something was a tad off. Gotham City impressed me sure enough, but now that game gathers dust in my digital library, forever never to be touched again. Perhaps it was a sinking feeling that the same thing was going to happen with Hybrid. But then much like Gotham, something clicked after my first hour or so of gaming – I was actually enjoying this game. It’s that moment of realization when the light blub flickers above your head and you say “ah, I understand now”. Spaghetti monster forbid, you could even say I was actually having fun with Hybrid.
It’s certainly not the story that makes it an enjoyable experience. Being an online only team based shooter pegged that off the bat, but I was at least expecting some kind of world that I could imagine a story taking place in. But alas, Hybrid is a very bland and uninteresting game in that department. Thrown into the mix, all you need to know is that you’re either the red team, or the blue team and you are fighting over some dark matter. Why? Who cares, pick up the f’n gun and shoot someone in the face! I wouldn’t have mind that to be honest, it’s just I was half expecting to fulfill some kind of role. Who are the Variants? Why they look like robots, therefore are slightly evil. And them Paladin folks sure do look like Master Chief. The world itself, from it’s design to it’s map is quite simply generic, it screams cookie cutter Sci-Fi with an endearing lack of self respect. Sometimes it’s fantastic playing service to it’s many tropes, the deep voiced Commander Yank left me laughing deep inside my head. The overbearing music is simply fantastically Halo-esque, filling me with a sense of purpose although I wasn’t quite sure whom or what I was fighting for. So if it isn’t the aesthetic, the world or the story that makes Hybrid a great play, than what exactly is it?
It’s all in the gameplay. Hybrid plays fantastically, it’s central gimmick creating a unique style that separates itself from other shooters on the market. Whilst titles like Gears of War evolved cover based play to near perfection, Hyrbid takes it’s about the length of the great wall of China too far. All Cover, All the time baby. By simply pressing A you’re jettisoned to your targeted cover, with strafing your only real element of control. Hybrid allows you to flip over cover, and you can move slightly to the left and the right while behind cover. That’s it. A sensible person would suggest that this could be an incredibly frustrating experience, but it really isn’t. It plays as three on three chess with assault riffles and jetpacks. For the most part you’re inching forward a little bit a time, daring each other to step out of cover. The moment when someone decides, “that it’s, I’m gonna make a break for it!”, they’re open for attack. It’s a waiting game for sure, although in some cases the risk of breaking out of cover and getting the jump on a sucker can bring great reward.
Of course no modern day shooter wouldn’t be complete without power-ups and perks to level the playing field, and Hybrid is no exception. Abilities such as teleport, poison and an additional temporary shield are quite traditional, odd for a game attempting to be anything but. However whilst your arsenal of perks can vary from meh to sweet, the real awesome addition to the gameplay is robotic companions (sorry is that sounded ever so slightly sexual) rewarded to you for performing a certain amount of kills. Bizarrely you’re awarded your first little friend after the first kill, a stalker, which for some unknown reason is regarded as the start of a streak. Optimist much? Three kills later and you are awarded a Warbringer, a tank like beast which seeks and destroys the opposing team. Five kills in, and you’re in for a treat with the Preyon – the equivalent of Mario Kart’s blue shell, only this shrieking monstrosity seeks out the nearest foe and guts them like a fish. Nice.
The resulting addition of robot friends and frantic position holding leads to highly energetic and intense experience. It’s a shame then that the map design is so insipid. Much was made up of Hybrid’s cover system, particularly the ability to take cover upside down and to the side, defying gravity in the process (got to love those gravity boots). The few maps which implement this are fantastic, leading to an innovative style of vertical play. Unfortunately only two or so maps implement this awesome feature, with the remaining using a trite horizontal map style that can be rather yawn evoking after a while. It’s just not as fun moving in a linear direction in a nice big circle around the map, there are no nook and cranny’s to explore and it’s a real shame that this oversight hampers a clearly better way of playing the game. I’m sure there will be DLC.
That leads me on to micro transactions. Yes, after paying the £10 or so to purchase the game, you can purchase in-game credits (with in Microsoft credits…) to unlock items, weapons and abilities. Yes, Micro transactions are optional, and yes they do have their place in free-to-play games, just not in comparatively expensive premium games that you already bought. Of course all of this is unlock-able through a painfully long grind, I’m just going to stamp my feet and call it unfair.
Micro transactions, regrettable map design, and a lack of story centric originality aside Hybrid is a great deal of addictive fun. It even includes a meta game, in which all XP you’ve earned from missions helps determine the outcome of a global war, meaning every small action you take adds to the bigger picture, which is pretty darn awesome. Despite being very flawed in some of it’s design choices Hybrid it’s definitely work a look in. At this point it might well be a little bit too pricey to recommend, especially with Counter-Strike GO coming out NEXT WEEK. But do check out of the demo, it allows for one hour of game time which thankfully doesn’t include the loading and connection screens. Hybrid can take a very long time to get a game started, but being an XBLA title that’s fairly expected. If you dig the demo, and can look past the fact that what you’ve just played is exactly what you’re going to get, nothing more, than you’ve got something fun that you can pop in and out of every so often.