Hybrid is the cover shooter genre taken to its extreme. When you spawn into battle, you’re snapped behind cover. Your options for movement at this point are limited to two buttons: Y will flip your character over to the other side of the chest-high wall he’s behind, and aiming at another piece of cover and pressing A will have your character activate his jetpack and quickly fly toward it.
After that initial choice of cover, you’re given a third option: B will return you to your previous cover via jetpack. This can be done at any time. If you’re in the process of transferring from cover to cover, you’ll immediately start jetpacking back.
Now, on paper, this sounds kind of dull. However, try to imagine it played at Vanquish-esque speeds at 60FPS on some very intimate maps that have cover points on the floors, walls, and ceilings (the characters in Hybrid are equipped with magnet boots). Changing positions from cover to cover feels like using the rocket slide in Vanquish, and when everyone on the battlefield is using it, it leads to some interesting combat.
At first I was unwilling to travel to any piece of cover more than a tiny but away from me. I was worried that being out in the open would spell instant death in a game with so much emphasis on cover. But then I realized how much lateral movement you have as you travel from place to place, and how much easier it is to get a headshot if you’re above someone. You’ve got a lot of mobility to dodge bullets as you jetpack through the air, but the game balances the speed of its movements by slowing players down if they’re aiming or they’ve been shot, allowing for midair combat as you and your opponent travel from cover to cover.
As the battle progressed, I grew gutsier in my cover choices, trying to take out any flying enemies I passed, and occasionally reversing midflight when I realized I was flying into danger. By the end of the match, everyone was rocketing from the ceiling to the floor, dodging each other’s shots by hoping back to old cover, and just generally causing much more mayhem than you’d ever think possible in a six-person team deathmatch.
In the midst of all of this chaos, a number of AI-controlled robots will fly around and attack people. These are drones, rewarded to players for killing a number of enemies without dying. The more kills they build up, the better the drone that they can release will be. Drones vary in function from staying close your character and providing covering fire to a terrifying screeching female android who will impale whoever happens to get in her way. Drones can be killed, considering that players can have multiple drones at a time, there’s generally always one or two floating around after the first minute or so of combat.
I was surprised that I ended up liking Hybrid as much as I did. I was initially skeptical that 5th Cell (the people who did Scribblenauts) could make an interesting third-person multiplayer shooter, but what they came up with was probably the closest thing to multiplayer Vanquish we’ve gotten so far.
Hybrid will be released on Xbox Live Arcade for 1200 Microsoft Points ($15) this summer during Microsoft’s “Summer of Arcade” promotion.
Food for Thought:
While I generally stuck with a basic loadout while learning the game (assault rifle, Overshield, and a passive damage boost), there were a lot of loadout options. Some of them were a bit more nuts than others: I saw grenades that would hack drones (which would have replaced my overshield on RB) and was shot with poisoned bullets (presumably passive).