Scribblenauts’ creators make a flawed, interesting stride into the shooter genre
It’s weird that the developers behind Scribblenauts and Drawn to Life are trying their hand at third-person shooters, but Hybrid is nonetheless one of the most refreshing takes on the genre that’s come around in years. Many other titles have tried to add some new element to cover-based shooting with varying degrees of success, but Hybrid is the first game I’ve played where that risk actually manages to pay off down the stretch. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that this is the game Inversion wanted to be all along.
Hybrid‘s premise isn’t quite so unique—the setting for the online-only multiplayer is framed by a postapocalypic Earth that’s battled over by two warring factions, the Variants and Paladins. But instead of the typical run-and-gun combat that you might find in the Blacklight series or Combat Arms, the only way to move around battlefields is with aid of a jetpack. Each of the maps are broken up into strategic cover points, with no connected ground linking them. Although you can usually move from one side of a chest-high wall to another, the only way to move to another section of the map is to fly directly to it in a straight line.
This is where the crux of the combat comes together, as you often have to either shoot down enemies in midflight or lay down enough covering fire that you can make it across safety. Eventually, you’ll learn how to retreat, strafe, and alter your landing target on the fly, which gives you the needed agility to correct fatal errors. It’s more difficult to learn than most gameplay mechanics, but if you stick with it for an hour or so, you’ll eventually start to feel the maps open up as you take advantage of your options.
Once you start to build up some skill, the game rewards you consistently for smart kills. Racking up chains gives you access to AI drones, which are both helpful and annoying all at once. There’s the Stalker, a small drone with limited offense; the larger Warship; and the Preyot, a small female android assassin who can one-hit-kill enemies with a sword. While each drone can be useful, they have a nasty habit of getting right between you and your target—and, generally, they’re too dumb to avoid getting shot down, which adds to your opponent’s killstreak.
But that’s evened out by the 3-on-3 team-based battles, which add a frantic element to the gameplay that keeps things interesting for a bit. As you level up, you’ll also have the option to boost your XP gains by completing optional tasks or taking on fights in country-specific hotzones around the globe. If you have cash to burn, you can also spend Microsoft Points to unlock more guns and weaponry, which can skew the advantage a bit unfavorably, but not so much that you can’t even things up with more unlockables.
However, Hybrid‘s most glaring weaknesses are the multiplayer variety and online service. Although the game offers a decent handful of maps, too many of them look alike, and you’ll want more after a single day. Since there aren’t any modes, either, the 3-on-3 combat starts to lose some luster and could really benefit from a higher player cap. That is, if the servers could handle it.
Hybrid had huge server issues since launch, and almost a week later, things still need to be ironed out. Matchmaking takes an unusually long amount of time, and I’ve had time to go make entire meals at certain points in the day. Even though I don’t want to make that a huge issue for a $15 game, the online-only multiplayer and complete lack of a decent single-player mode with a coherent story doesn’t leave much in the chamber after a few dozen rounds in the warzone. Hybrid‘s a fantastic idea that would fit well within a larger franchise, but the scope of this game might be a little narrow if you’re used to more modern combat.
SUMMARY: 5th Cell does some remarkable things with the still-evolving cover-based shooting mechanic, but Hybrid is ultimately hindered by lingering matchmaking issues, dumb AI companions, and limited multiplayer depth.
- THE GOOD: Lots of guns; sheer combat variety makes the jetpack mechanic a blast to learn.
- THE BAD: Poor network code; your AI drone can be dumb as a stump.
- THE UGLY: Hybrid‘s learning curve. You’ll spend a lot of time wrestling with the controls.
Hybrid is an Xbox 360 exclusive available via Xbox Live Arcade.