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Hybrid

Score: 90%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: 5th Cell
Developer: 5th Cell
Media: Download/1
Players: 2 - 6 (Online)
Genre: Action/ Shooter/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

5th Cell has become a brand name associated with innovation. So perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that Hybrid is the most fascinating shooter in years. It takes the standard shooter formula and actually deprives it of an element many would consider key to the genre. In doing so, the developers find a way to flex their creative muscles and ultimately come up with something nobody has ever seen before. And considering this genre, that's really saying something.

Hybrid is powered by Valve's Source engine, which is getting up there in age, despite the fact that it is doing so quite gracefully. The game runs smoothly and is golden across the board in terms of technical strength. Surprisingly, Hybrid's artistic merits are few. The whole space marine thing has been done to death so many times, and if someone chooses to contribute to it, it had better come with a fresh new angle. Hybrid lacks that angle, resulting in an uninteresting world that is nevertheless fun to be a part of.

Hybrid is modern science-fiction futurism through and through, and that includes the synth-heavy soundtrack. It's comparable to the stuff heard in the Mass Effect trilogy, but not nearly as memorable. That being said, it is neither bad nor out of place. Guns and jetpacks sound like they should, and the sound of bullets striking armor is a satisfying complement to the otherwise tame violence.


Gameplay:

Hybrid's premise is barebones. The future. Earth. Aliens invade. Two factions: Paladins (Humans) and Variants (Aliens). Both want dark matter, and are willing to go to war over it. Choose a side. Get cracking.

That's really all there is to Hybrid from a storytelling standpoint, but really, who's going to buy an online-only shooter for its literary ambitions? This one is all about fast, frenetic, and innovative action. You choose the continent you want to fight in (exceptions being Australia and Antarctica), and get to it. If you find yourself fighting in a Hotzone, you can earn bonus experience. It's a neat touch.

When you decide on a location to duke it out in, you can choose a mission. Each has its own challenge level and respective reward. Getting four assists might be easier than getting six headshots, but you won't get as much bonus experience for the assists. It's a bit of a gamble, but it's oh so satisfying when you hit your target.

Once you choose your location and mission, you can narrow down your preferences in terms of matchmaking. This isn't Halo, you don't have to play what the game specifically needs you to play. However, each choice contains a reasonably broad selection of variants. The most popular of the modes seem to be Team Deathmatch and Tactics. Tactics is a single-life mode that charges one team with attacking a certain area and the other with the defense of said area. Most single-life modes are slower and more deliberate than their respawning counterparts. But not Hybrid's; these usually last between thirty seconds and a minute.


Difficulty:

Hybrid has a special set of rules, and with these rules comes a difficulty curve. Though the tutorial and accompanying practice modes get the job done, they are no preparation for the trial by fire you'll get the instant you step into a full six-player game. You will have to learn the game's eccentricities by heart, and getting each nuance down to a science takes lots of practice and patience.

Pointing and clicking only gets you so far in Hybrid. Strategic positioning is everything, and the transitory periods between stopping points are crucial. When do you move? When do you stay put? When do you use your ability or summon your drone? The answers to these questions are rarely apparent for the first few hours spent with the game. However, the more you play, the more comfortable you get. The signs become clearer, and the best strategies become more obvious. Thankfully, the user interfaces involving both combat and character customization are very easy to use; you'll spend less time tinkering around and more time having a blast on the battlefield.


Game Mechanics:

What is it about Hybrid that makes it so special? As mentioned in the beginning of this review, it fundamentally redesigns a mechanic that is the cornerstone of nearly every video game ever developed. I'm talking about movement. Hybrid places a special limitation on your movement, and though it's contrived on paper, the level design makes it work spectacularly well. You see, you cannot move in a traditional sense. You are either in cover or going to cover. There is very little freedom in your movement. You aim at the cover you wish to go to, and you fly there automatically with your Personal Flight Pack (PFP). However, you don't have to fly in a straight line or at a set speed. You can adjust your trajectory as you go, and if you're in a rush, you can boost. All of your abilities are accessible during flight, which makes for entertaining and unique fire fights.

Kill streaks result in the ability to summon robotic drones. The Stalker is the standard small and weak drone. The Warbringer is a behemoth of a flying machine that dishes out some nice firepower, but it's slow. The Preyon is a frightening specimen; it's essentially a holographic lightning-fast banshee with a scream as sharp as her sword.

Weapons, Abilities, and Specializations are the tools with which you can customize your own loadout. Weapons are self-explanatory. Abilities range between offensive and defensive. Grenades, shields, teleportation devices, and so forth. Specializations are more passive in nature. Experience, damage, and armor boosts, cooldown reductions, and drone upgrades.

Player customization is often hit and miss when it comes to shooters, and with Hybrid, it's definitely a hit. It borrows from some free-to-play models. You earn Credits as you perform on the battlefield (or purchase them with Microsoft Points), and they are good for unlocking items you don't particularly want to wait for. They can also purchase experience boosts. It's a good idea, but the game is so fun that I don't really care how quickly I level up. Others will, and 5th Cell should make a killing off of them.

I really have to hand it to Hybrid developers: innovating in the shooter genre is no small feat. I swear, that mine looked like it had been picked completely clean. But it turns out there's still some gold in there. Kudos, 5th Cell.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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