Hybrid Review

Gaming

Hybrid
Developer: 5th Cell
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platform: XBLA
Release Date: August 8, 2012
Price: 1200 MS Points ($15) – Available Here

Overview
5th Cell is fairly well known as the company that brought us Drawn to Life and Scribblenauts, very innovative games that allowed players to draw most of the game art assets and write most of the game’s story themselves, respectively.  This wasn’t a bad thing, the functionality of the games allowed for a decent amount of freedom and later Scribblenauts games allowing for more and more detailed objects to spawn and use.  This time around 5th Cell hasn’t made Hybrid to be fun little cartoony game though, stepping into the genre of the shooter 5th Cell is hoping to bring the innovation it’s brought to its previous games to the third-person shooter and massive multiplayer online play-styles.  With the gameplay split into seasons and the first season having been completed this past weekend, it’s time to look at the game as a whole.

Story
The story of Hybrid is pretty easy to sum up, seeing as the only time it comes up is after loading it up.  At its most basic, in the future aliens have invaded Earth and now a human group, named Paladins, are fighting with the aliens, called Variants, over the resource of Dark Matter.  In all honestly, these elements could be changed to anything and the game would play exactly the same.  This is both good and bad, as the story is not a crutch, but it boils down to an entirely multiplayer game, not that there’s anything wrong with that.  If you thought that this was a cool premise for a game though, sorry, that’s all it is, just a premise.

Gameplay
While lacking in story, gameplay is the meat and potatoes of Hybrid.  The game is very well designed to allow for users to customize and play exactly as they want to.  At the base of the game is the cover-based shooting, with plenty of weapons and abilities to choose from to give any player what they want.  Yes, it can take a few levels to unlock the exact weapon type and ability a player wants, but once a player can unlock one of the shotguns they can choose from ANY of the shotguns without having to be at a specific level for each.  Additionally, the game has certain freemium qualities, in that if players’ don’t want to wait until a level so they can unlock a specific type of weapon or ability they can just purchase points to get whatever when ever, but isn’t necessary for a player willing to wait to get what they want.

Weapons aside, the abilities also greatly impact gameplay, such as special grenades to do anything from blowing up the enemy to turning an enemy drone to your side.  Other abilities aide the player’s team instead of hurting the other, like healing or giving the entire team the ability to know where all the enemies are.  Some abilities are only good for specific situations, being able to blow yourself up and kill all the enemies around isn’t very useful in deathmatch, but can be a big help in some objectives.  The versatility and variety of the abilities is really nice to see and adds a lot to giving players a wide berth to play exactly how they want to play.

Armed with the same weapons and abilities the two sides are essentially the same, with the only different being cosmetics.  With the game set up the way it is, it is even possible that players don’t necessarily need to be the opposite side to go against each other, technically being able to just make each team look like the other and players wouldn’t even know.  Though there doesn’t seem to be any need for this to be happening.  Though both sides are the same, they are still competing for the same goal 100 units of Dark Matter, which is spread across the world.  To earn them each team plays matches in different sectors, with the same gametypes and maps in each sector, but after so much a sector is claimed for 2 Dark Matter by the first team to reach the goal and 1 Dark Matter by the team reaching the goal second, if they do reach the goal.  This is the strategy MMO portion of the game, pushing and gaining different sectors first and claiming an entire continent grants 5 bonus Dark Matter.  The first season came down to 6 Dark Matter or basically scoring with anentire continent.

The matches needed to reach the goals are pretty straight forward shooter stuff.  Cover based shooting and standard objective types, team deatchmatch, king of the hill, capture, etc, the real innovations are the movement style and the kill streak drones available.  Movement is something players have to get used to to really get into the game, instead of running from cover to cover, players literally fly from point to point.  Once down the movement is pretty quick and seamless, with the ability to easily retreat if they run into trouble, plus players can find cover on walls and the ceiling.  It isn’t just straight lines either, as that will get players shot to hell, but have a decent amount of control when in the air to maneuver and avoid.

Drones in the game add another layer, with streaks of 1, 3, and 5 earning different drones and enemy drones counting for those streaks, it adds in more to fight and utilize in a 3-vs-3 match.  Fairly well balanced in terms of damage, speed, and health, the three drones can make a difference in a fight without being overpowered, plus if a player really gets hammered they earn two drones to help and get back in the fight.  Though, just because they count for the kill streak doesn’t mean they attribute to team deathmatch kills, only player kills count there and that’s the way it should be.

The best thing about the game is the it isn’t too time consuming, matches are fairly short, which is good to prevent griefing.  Even the first season only took less than a dozen days to finish and then players could go at it all over again.  Plus, players don’t lose their levels or equipment between seasons, being able to continue into the next fully armed the way they like.  About the only things that do reset are the Dark Matter totals and the Specializations, which are single attribute boosts that players can choose each loadout, that can be upgraded for a bigger boost through playing in different sectors.  All around, plenty of balance and customization to make a good deal of fun.

Audio and Visuals
Being set as a futuristic Earth there are plenty of auditory reminders of it.  The music as a good deal of synth feel to it and the futuristic weapons do a good job sounding the part too.  The best aspects of the audio are really more of the drones than anything else though.  The huge Warbringer is just funny in general with what it says as it enters into battle such as “I mean you no harm” right before opening fire and it adds a good deal of lightheartedness to the game, while the noise the Preyon makes when entering into battle can really put a player on edge and start trying to find her before she rips them a new one.

Visually the game looks amazing, at 60 FPS the game plays out fast and the models just look great.  The levels are a little small, but fairly detailed to make up for it.  Player characters’ only personality comes from the helmets though as all the bodies look the same on a given team, and even certain helmets seem to get used far more than others especially now that the Paladins of first Season all have the Helm of Valor as a token of victory.  In terms of looks for each side, the Variant focusing on a mostly white motif stemming all the way to the guns that their side brought with them, while Paladins go more of an Earth tones, dark greens, etc, and the guns seem to stick to the old-fashioned looking and at the very edge of junky, when compared to Variant ones.  A nice aesthetic runs throughout the game though, and there is a pretty wide diversity in colors as well.

Overall
Hybrid is by no means a perfect game, it relies a lot on established aspects of the shooter genre, but the innovations that it does bring do play out pretty well.  Not all players will find this to be for them though, as some could see it as being kind of generic despite what it brings to the table.  Players that are really into the multiplayer shooter genre, should probably look into this though as it does offer a few unique aspects to the game and will feel familiar after getting used to the movement controls.  Though another factor may be how long the community will exist, as this was the first 2 weeks after release and the season gameplay seems pretty dependent on a good number of players.  All summed up though I give Hybrid 

7-5-capsules-out-of-10

Bachelor of Science in Game and Simulation Programming

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