5th Cell Entertainment. Xbox 360. Third-person shooter.
Ordinarily, if someone were to mention those three terms in the same sentence, the brain would produce a simple result: Does Not Compute.
5th Cell forged their legacy in the cauldron of unique, family-based gaming: first the draw-your-own-adventure Drawn to Life, then Lock’s Quest where tower defense meets real time strategy, and finally the make-it-up-as-you-go Scribblenauts. Surely 5th Cell would stick with its proven formula, right?
With Hybrid, 5th Cell has broken the shackles of its supposed niche, delivering a game unlike anything we’ve seen from them before. This is a third-person shooter in the ilk of the Gears of War franchise, but with a catch; imagine if Gears of War took out the moments of total control, instead letting players only move from cover to cover while engaging enemies. Better still, the game automatically transports the character from cover to cover via jetpacks.
Sounds…not all that great, right? This is 5th Cell’s debut console game? Yes, Hybrid is that game, and despite how it sounds, 5th Cell has introduced a fast, fun, and (most importantly) fresh take on a shooter, one that is worthy of considerable playtime.
Because full control is taken out of the player’s hands, Hybrid emphasizes the strategic element much more than other shooters. Not only do I now have to consider where my enemies are, I have to think about where they may end up and make sure I have suitable escape routes in case things get hairy. This is no Call of Duty, mind you, where I can hold down the stick to sprint for cover; I’m limited to traveling where I can see. I’m free to move behind cover, sure, but I can’t just spring up and walk away from it; I have to know where I can retreat to before I do so. I also have to worry about the killstreaks my enemies might be earning; the helper drone Stalker for one kill, the battle drone Warbringer for two kills, and the samurai-turned-homing-missile Preyon for three kills. These little wrinkles turn Hybrid into more of a thinking man’s shooter, which is a great change of pace for the over-saturated genre.
What makes Hybrid so impressive is that actual combat is merely the tip of the iceberg. Each battle waged contributes to a over-arching conflict between the human Paladins and the alien Variants. The two factions are fighting across the globe over a precious resource known as Dark Matter. The continents of the Earth has been separated into “hot zones” where this resource can be acquired. In each hot zone, the first faction to reach the Dark Matter gets two units, while the other gets one. The first faction to 100 units wins the “season” and can enjoy experience perks for the next season.
Wait, there’s more! Hybrid also offers complete customization of characters: guns, perks, armor, everything. Each item available to the player only adds to the strategy of the game as a whole. Want to earn more XP per playthrough? There’s a perk for that. Were you a fan of the Mass Effect 1-style of “unlimited ammo, but gun can overheat” method? There’s a gun for that. Proud that your faction won the season before? Slap on the Helm ‘o’ Glory and shoot down all of the losers with bags on their heads (literally). The possibilities are endless.
An Xbox LIVE game, a game solely for download, offers all of these features – there are full retail releases that aren’t as detailed as this.
However, not everything about Hybrid is praiseworthy. As the game is online-only, the extended periods of time searching for a match do not suit the game well. Sometimes a full five to seven minutes will pass before the loadout screen appears, and from there it’s another two minutes to load the map. Some players just may not want to wait that long for a match. The online issues pale in comparison, however, to Hybrid‘s biggest obstacle.
For everything that Hybrid offers, actual combat (pop-up and pop-em) is elemental to a fault: fly to cover, find an enemy, shoot, kill or be killed, repeat, first to 30 kills (in Deathmatch) wins. That’s it. Even though the always-in-cover system is new and interesting, even though the surrounding fight for resources is excellent, and despite the vast customization we’re offered, the main feature of the game doesn’t feel all that different.
This is far from my first shooter rodeo, and no matter how many matches I play, it ends up feeling the same as the others. Seasoned shooter fans may not be interested in Dark Matter or custom armor, so they mighto look to Hybrid for its disappointingly repetitive combat. By no means does this make Hybrid a bad game – it’s not. However, the audience it’s intended for may not be as infatuated with it as 5th Cell may hope.
Hybrid tries to change the shooter genre, and while it succeeds in certain aspects, the most important parts of the game feel like the same old thing. Of course, this isn’t always a bad thing, as Hybrid is certainly worth playing. It won’t end up on the top of the Best Shooters of All Time list, but in small doses Hybrid is a fast-paced and enjoyable shooter.
Kudos to 5th Cell for thinking out of the box and trying something new; if this is their console coming-out party, I’d love to see what they have next in the pipeline.
Review based on Xbox 360 release.