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Hybrid

(Microsoft Game Studios; US: 8 Aug 2012)

Hybrid is a third-person cover-based shooter unlike any other third-person cover-based shooter. There’s still cover and there’s still shooting, but your movement is severely limited. It’s a clever approach to the genre, bolstered by good mechanics, but the community’s desire to min/max the progression to a singularity makes Hybrid a uniquely stressful experience.


You can only move from one piece of cover to another. You can’t stand up and walk around. Aim where you want to go and hit a button, and your soldier flies there automatically. You can switch directions midair but you have to be flying towards cover; you have to always be moving.


That’s an important lesson to learn in Hybrid. The levels are small and most of them are designed as tight loops, so if you’re not constantly pushing forward, you risk getting flanked. Since movement is mostly automated, everything is sped up. In this way, it replaces the tactical pacing of a normal cover-based shooter with the relentless pacing of a normal first-person shooter. Cover is both irrelevant and necessary at the same time. It serves as a protective wall, but also a dead end when you’re flanked and surrounded, which will happen often thanks to the looping levels. Your average lifespan will be less than thirty seconds, so despite its appearance, Hybrid plays more like Call of Duty than Gears of War.


This isn’t necessarily good or bad, but it creates an awkward learning curve as you fight against the mental equivalent of muscle memory. Thankfully, the intuitive controls ease you into the experience. This is by far the most polished downloadable shooter that I’ve ever played.


Hybrid has the typical assortment of guns, but unlike other shooters, each variation of each weapon feels just different enough to justify its existence. The universe of Hybrid is stylishly sci-fi, so it’s not forced to pad out its armory with repetitive weapons just for the sake of realism. Everything that’s here is here for a reason.


The same goes for your abilities. It might be hard at first to switch the frag grenade ability for something else considering how essential grenades are in most cover-based shooters, but the pain is worth the effort. Defensive abilities like the Meta Shield and Support abilities like Satellite (which reveals the location of your opponents) will feel just as indispensable once you start using them. They each encourage a subtly different style of play, which keeps the general gameplay feeling fresh. It’s impressive how well balanced everything is…up to a point.


Hybrid prides itself on stripping away the controls that we’ve come to expect from shooters, but a certain amount of nuance and unpredictability gets stripped away as well. It’s easy to min/max your loadout since there are fewer factors that the player has to consider, and the progression system doesn’t help. As you rank up, you earn unlock credits that can only be used with certain types of guns. This system is somewhat limiting since it prevents players from unlocking any weapon from the beginning, but it offers enough player freedom that it took the community less that 24 hours to discover and latch onto the most devastating gun/ability combination in the game.


It’s a curious thing to watch a single playstyle slowly kill off all others—like natural selection in action. By the time I stopped playing to write the review, the shotgun/teleport combination had become so pervasive that I was forced to accept it or be left behind with the rest of the dead bodies. The frustrating thing about this combination is that it turns the shotgun into a deadly weapon up close and from long range since the player now has the ability to close any amount of distance in an instant. Hybrid has so many interesting abilities and guns, it’s sad to see a single loadout become the communal default.


There’s an interesting meta-game atop all the shooting. At the very start of the game, you have to pick a side in a global war over dark matter. You’ll then fight in zones all across the world in a race to see who can acquire 100 dark matter first. The more you win in a zone, the closer you get to the dark matter at its center. Once a side claims victory in a zone, it’s time to move on to another until someone reaches 100 units. After one side wins, the war begins again. It’s a great concept; a war lasts about a week, which is long enough to feel like a genuine struggle but short enough to ensure that you won’t lose interest in the outcome. Unfortunately the whole system is very poorly explained. It’s not a complicated system, but it does get bizarre when you start playing with a squad, since everyone can enter different zones but still play in the same match. 


Hybrid has a lot of hooks to keep you playing.At the end of each round, you’ll see no less than three different meters increase, and the persistent war encourages you to login daily, if only to see how your side is progressing. There’s also enough variety in the modes, maps, and guns to remain compelling for a good long while, despite the min/maxing obsessed players.

Rating:

Nick Dinicola made it through college with a degree in English, and now applies all his critical thinking skills to video games instead of literature. He reviews games and writes a weekly post for the Moving Pixels blog at PopMatters, and can be heard on the weekly Moving Pixels podcast. More of his reviews, previews, and general thoughts on gaming can be found at www.gamehounds.net.


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