If you compare this year’s installment of Summer of Arcade on the Xbox 360 with the success of previous years, you’ll find the results to be less then stellar. This year’s slew of games haven’t managed, so far, to meet the the level of hype and exposure gamers have come to expect out of XBLA’s yearly summer line up.
5th cell, an independent development team best known for their popular hand held brands, like Scribblenauts and Lock’s Quest, intends to change that verdict by throwing their collective hats into the Summer of Arcade ring with their very first, exclusive XBLA title, Hybrid – a cover based third person shooter that marries 5th cell’s knack for innovative game play with an all too familiar, marines versus aliens setting, in hopes of offering players something new and different in an over saturated shooter market.
Hybrid is solely a mutiplayer experience with no single player campaign to speak of, although it does provide a brief battle tutorial and practice arena to get you familiar with the controls. You’ll need it, as this game does away with conventional shooter mechanics, opting for a more fast paced, twitch action mode of game play. To state it simply, you can’t walk…at all. There is no ground game whatsoever, unless you include your time spent behind cover, which is always when you’re not air dashing from spot to spot with your jet pack – the primary mode of transportation. Players learn to think quick on their feet and be strategic as they defend, flank and attack each area of a map designed for 3 vs 3 player matches.
Different weapons serve different functions, like the sniper rifles for long range attacks, shotguns for up close or the swarm gun for flushing out pesky enemies behind cover. You’ll unlock these and other weapons as you earn experience; and unlike other shooters with progressive leveling systems, you get to decide which variant of weapon you unlock from the Armory as you level. So you don’t have to grind out a series of guns before acquiring the ones you really want. You’ll also gain the aid of various combat droids spawned from your kill streaks in game; robotic helpers that provide additional gunfire and cover. The most powerful droids are even capable of assassinating targets with a single attack, so if you hear a shrieking banshee like creature coming your way, run…or should I say fly for your life!
In addition to weapons, you’ll also get access to new abilities that unlock special attacks and buffs to your existing arsenal, like fusion grenades, META shields for greater defense and teleportation. Some of these abilities apply not only to you, but your whole team, like Satellite and Medi-Heal. Fighting in districts with certain base types will grant level tiers to specializations, rewarding you with boosts to your attack power, defense rating and experience. Hybrid also has an in game currency that can be purchased with Microsoft Points, which go towards unlocking equipment and abilities, buying cosmetic helmets, and even offering temporary experience boosters for faster progression.
While it’s nice to buy your way to the top, it isn’t necessary as Hybrid sports a couple of methods for quick experience gains. Each match you enter will present a random list of risk vs reward challenge missions to choose from; the more challenging the objective, the more experience you’ll earn if successful. You also get bonus exp for fighting in hot spots on the persistent world map – districts on the verge of being captured by one of two factions, the Paladins (Humans) or the Variants (Alien Invaders). Every battle you and your comrades fight in, win or lose, affects the continent each district makes up. Each faction’s main objective is to dominate multiple regions for experience, eventually earning dark matter when a district is captured. The faction that reaches the maximum amount of dark matter across the globe (100 pieces) wins the season. This adds to the re-playability of Hybrid by motivating players not only to succeed in each combat encounter, but to work as a team towards overall faction dominance of the world map. Oh, and don’t worry, while specialization tiers will reset to zero when a season is done, you won’t lose your rank, weapons and abilities earned to that point.
One minor issue I had while playing Hybrid was the matchmaking system, which I found to be less then convenient. Finding and connecting to lobbies, voting on maps and waiting for the fight to start can make the wait time between matches a bit unbearable; especially since you can’t remain in the same lobby once the fight is over. One way to pass the time though is to see what your teammates are equipping during start up, which is conveniently made available via the player interface so you can determine how best to compliment your comrades play styles with your own gear and abilities.
Hybrid is an interesting take on a tired genre that grows on you the more you play it, a game that’s surprisingly addictive despite it’s intimidating learning curve. It isn’t the prettiest game in the world, but with a consistently high frame rate, quick action packed matches and a unique form of game play tailored for the XBLA platform, Hybrid is definitely the game to play in this year’s Summer of Arcade.