From the moment Hybrid
was announced back in October of 2010, the game has been turning heads. 5th Cell, developer of the Nintendo DS series, Scribblenauts
, was making the jump to consoles by making a third-person shooter. When the press finally got their hands on the game at the 2011 Game Developer’s Conference, what they discovered was an experience unlike any other shooter. Rather than have movement dedicated to the thumbsticks, primary movement (from cover point to cover point) was assigned to the face buttons of the controller. The game boasted a persistent, online world where the war for global domination would constantly go back-and-forth between the Paladins and the Variants. Now, at the midpoint of their closed Beta, the question is asked, “How are they doing?”The most important thing to realize is that these comments are representative of a beta, not a finished game.
First and foremost, the game’s movement mechanics work well. After the first few matches, using the face buttons (“A” to advance to new cover, “B” to retreat to previous cover, and “Y” to flip to the other side of cover) becomes intuitive and the game begins to feel as natural as a third-person shooter with a “traditional” control scheme. Moving between cover spots is done via jetpack. Fortunately, you do have maneuvering capabilities while advancing or retreating between cover points. Mid-air dogfights with enemies are common, frenetic, and make for an interesting change of pace.
Less effective is the changing of perspective. Since movement in Hybrid
is fully three-dimensional, cover spots are stuck to both floors, walls, and ceilings. Adhering to cover on ceilings allows you to get an angle and shoot down into some cover spots, which makes for an interesting tactical balance. Unfortunately, wall-placed cover spots become highly disorienting, as (upon entering wall-mounted cover) the screen orients itself in an awkward, angular fashion, which throws off your perspective and can drastically effect aiming.
Like many other shooters, Hybrid
has an experience point system that rewards positive play, allowing gamers to level up and unlock new weapons and abilities. Leveling (in the early going) is rapid and unlocks are frequent, making for an addictive experience that encourages “just one more match.”
The game also has a variety of different match types, ranging from the standard fare (Team Deathmatch and King of the Hill), to the unique “Overlord”, which spins the popular Halo
game type “Juggernaut” into something refreshing and new.
One interesting wrinkle to Hybrid
’s design is the inclusion of bots. Bots are awarded to players for either excelling and achieving kill streaks, or being killed multiple times in a row. In other words, they reward both excellence and ineptitude. Player can be awarded three different bot types: Stalkers, Warbringers, and Preyons. Stalkers stick by your side and fire at targets with you. Warbringers will venture out towards enemies while firing. Preyons are surgical strike units and will be either your best friends or the bane of your existence. The Preyon’s design mimics that of Cerberus Phantoms in Mass Effect 3
. Once your character activates a Preyon, they will basically seek out and immediately kill an enemy unit their sword.Hybrid
also looks and sounds great, and the 60 FPS frame rate makes the game look so smooth it’s surreal. The art style feels cohesive and consistent, and the character rendering looks great. The only drawback is that, at times, it’s hard to distinguish between characters/enemies and set pieces when aiming from a distance. Likewise, the sound design is great; weapons all sound and feel unique.
Since this is only a beta, Hybrid
does have its share of bugs. It’s all-too-easy to get “stuck” in cover and be unable to move either laterally or over to the other side of whatever cover you’re in. This does create some moments of extreme frustration as you try to get out of the line of fire. The game does occasionally break down as well; freezing up then spastically moving before eventually smoothing out. Balancing is also a pretty major issue and it’s easy to be stuck in a match with a SEVERELY overpowered, more-experienced set of enemy players.
The biggest drawback, however, is the matchmaking system. As an “online only” shooter, the success or failure of Hybrid
will come down to its community. With its “persistent online world”, you’ll have a bevy of potential combat zones from which to choose. The world is set out like a RISK board with different continents and combat areas. Each combat zone shows how close each faction is to securing it and the precious "Dark Matter" it contains. Upon selecting a combat zone, you’ll have to wait for up to five other people to join your six person match. Even though the matches are set with the entire population (not just specific zones) in mind, matchmaking is painfully slow.
One afternoon, I actually took a stopwatch and documented how much time I spent waiting for matches versus how much time I spent playing. The final tally was almost 45 minutes waiting for 32 minutes of gameplay in six matches. One wait time was actually over fifteen minutes to play a six minute match. Matchmaking is further complicated by the fact that, on your first time loading the game, you’ll be forced to pick a side, either Paladin or Variant, and you will have to stick to that side for the duration of the beta (5th Cell has said that the full game will include a mechanic for switching factions at some point). This effectively halves the available population since matches can only be started with three players from each side. In a game that is going to live or die with its online community, the long waits between matches, and some occasionally unbalanced teams, will surely mean a death sentence if they’re not fixed by the full release.
At the end of the day, this beta is, ultimately, a fun experience, especially if you can party up with two friends of the same faction. The games are fast, furious, and definitely scratch the shooter itch. Fortunately, the team at 5th Cell still has time to get the kinks worked out of Hybrid
before it hits full release this summer on the Xbox LIVE Arcade.
If the game has piqued your interest, the beta will be ongoing for at least another week. You can still sign up for a chance to get a code here