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Platform(s): Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: 5th Cell
Release Date: Aug. 8, 2012


XBLA Preview - 'Hybrid'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on May 8, 2012 @ 12:15 a.m. PDT

Hybrid, powered by Valve's Source engine, is a sci-fi shooter that puts you in the middle of a war between two factions, the Paladin and Variant, and from the looks of it is packed with futuristic armor, gadgets, and weapons.

Hybrid is a persistent online game. There's no single-player mode, and the reason for that becomes obvious pretty quickly. Two factions, the Paladins and the Variants, are fighting over a substance known as Dark Matter. When players start a game, they join one of the two factions. A mysterious event occurred that spread Dark Matter across the world, and both sides are fighting for it. As such, the game world is divided into the various continents of Earth — except Australia, which was destroyed in the initial Dark Matter event.

Each continent is further divided up into districts, each representing a potential game to join. When you enter a district and win a game, your faction gains a little control over the district. Whichever side successfully controls a district gains control of some of the Dark Matter supply. The more districts that your side takes, the greater of an advantage it'll gain. Districts that are close to being taken will be marked as "hot spots," so players know where to go for the greatest rewards. In addition to unlocking Dark Matter for your side, fighting and winning earns you experience points, which can level your character up and earn them new abilities.

How does one fight in Hybrid? It's a third-person shooter, but with an unusual twist. The gameplay is primarily focused on cover, but the major difference is that you can only move from cover to cover. The premise is that you play as one of a three-man squad inside what amounts to a zero-gravity combat arena. There is no meaningful gravity and few floors in the arena; it is a scattered series of platforms, each containing small barricades behind which you can duck. These platforms can be in any direction, so what may be the floor for you can be a wall or ceiling for another player. Each platform is numbered, such as J-2 or E-3. Players can move between each of the barricades through the use of a jetpack. Once you choose to move, you have relatively limited freedom. While you're in the air, you can adjust your positioning slightly, readjust your direction to another barricade, or hit a boost button to reach your goal faster. Once you're on the ground, you can shimmy along the barricades, vault over them, or pop out to fire your gun more accurately.

If this sounds a tad odd, that's because it is. At first blush, it can feel strange to not have direct control over your character, but that is far from a bad thing. Hybrid forces you to reevaluate your approach to a fight. The combination of cover-focused movement and zero-gravity combat puts a much greater emphasis on flanking, positioning, suppression fire, and other features that are sometimes less important in other shooters. Accuracy and skill are certainly very important in Hybrid, but there is a heavy emphasis on teamwork and unusual strategies. Simply running-and-gunning is going to leave you easily outflanked and outmanned, since no position is perfectly safe. Every action you take is fairly meaningful. You'll really have to commit to your movements. You can move forward, but once you're in the air, you'll have to deal with the consequences. You can try to move to a different barricade while in the air or back up to a previous platform once you've hit the ground, but both require you to survive for that long.

Things are made more complex by the customizable loadouts. You have three different ways to customize your character: power, specialization and weapon. Powers are special abilities that you can use in combat, and they range from passive buffs to active abilities. Every time you use a power, you have to wait until it cools down to use it again. If you don't get a new weapon by leveling up, you'll probably get a new power instead. Specializations are passive boosts to your character's stats, such as a five percent reduction in cooldowns, a 10 percent increase to armor, etc. Every character has one weapon at a time, and it can be an assault rifle, machine gun, shotgun, sniper rifle, or other shooter staples. Every character also has a secondary pistol to compensate for the weapon's weak points. New weapons are unlocked as you level up. Like powers, weapons are unlocked via leveling.  You can equip any specialization, power and weapon in conjunction, which allows for a lot of customization options.

Drones are automated weapon platforms that can be summoned while you're on the battlefield, and they come in three varieties. Stalkers are small, hovering gun-platforms that target whatever you're shooting. Warbringers are big, slow and nasty robots that hover and shoot anything in their way. Preyons are, to use the game's term, rather like a guided missile. You aim and fire, and they streak toward the enemy and kill them instantly.

Hybrid has a wide variety of available gameplay modes. There are the usual Team Deathmatch and King of the Hill modes, which should be familiar to anyone who has played a shooter. Team Deathmatch encourages one team to get to 25 kills before the other. King of the Hill rewards you for holding a certain platform longer than the enemy. Overlord, the last game mode, is basically a VIP mode, where one player is the Overlord and gets a stat boost; the other side tries to kill him while his comrades protect him. The three modes are traditional, but they offer some variety. In the beta, the King of the Hill mode was the most fun, but we'll have to see how the final build turns out.

A lot of Hybrid's game features are incomplete in this beta build, but what we've seen so far is very impressive. There isn't a shooter on the market that plays like Hybrid. It's part TPS, part RTS, and incredibly addictive. The sheer number of customizable options and the variety of ways to approach a situation mean that you're unlikely to encounter the same fight twice in a row. The beta had some balance issues when it came to certain weapons and powers, but with the game a fair distance away from launch, it's likely they will be fixed. Hybrid's odd movement style may take a short while to get used to, but anyone who is fond of shooters should give it a try. In an era where "cover shooters" have become the norm, Hybrid is looking to redefine the concept.

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