Competitive shooters have been around for quite some time. From the age of GoldenEye, through Halo and Unreal Tournament, right up to Battlefield and Call of Duty, there’s nothing like the thrill of annihilating other gamers with your supreme skill and tactics. As fun as cinematic, plot-driven campaign modes can be, competitive multiplayer tends to keep fans around for far longer, as there’s always someone new to challenge. To be honest, I’ve never really taken the time to master this style of game, but was still very excited to try out Hybrid, the recently-released XBLA shooter from the creators of Scribblenauts.
Hybrid is a shooter with some definite deviations from the norm. For a start, there’s no single player mode – it’s entirely online, and played exclusively in 3 vs. 3 matches. The second main change in the gameplay of Hybrid is the fact that you never run around the maps – you fly. To look at screenshots, you could be forgiven for thinking it was just another cover-based shooter, but once you see it in action, it quickly becomes apparent that things are a little different.
It was because of this aspect that I felt confident in trying out the game. It reminded me of those rare occasions in school when you’d be introduced to a new sport – sure, the jocks and athletes would still have an advantage, but since no-one had a firm grasp on the rules or tactics yet, the playing field was more level for people like myself. Hybrid is the same – shooter veterans are in a better position than casual fans, but since everyone is learning the ropes at the same time we all have a chance for victory.
Indeed, it didn’t take long before my confidence levels started to rise and I began to feel that I could actually contribute something to my team. This wasn’t the case in every match, but thankfully the game is fun enough to keep enticing you back, even if your last few rounds didn’t go exactly as planned. Gaining XP, leveling up your skills, and unlocking new weapons and abilities certainly helps in this regard, and Hybrid doles out these rewards at a decent pace – not so fast that you become overwhelmed with choices, but fast enough to keep you excited about what you may get next.
Of course, this does lead to a criticism: Rather than simply unlock everything through normal play, you are also given the choice to purchase items with real money. This is a strategy usually employed by developers of “freemium” games, only in this case, Hybrid isn’t free. One could argue that if you don’t want to buy anything then you don’t have to – just play the game and unlock things as you go. Of course, you may find that this leaves you at a disadvantage, as other players you face may have equipped themselves with all the high-level weapons and abilities that you won’t earn for quite some time. If Hybrid had been free to play, I suppose we couldn’t fault their use of microtransactions, but as it was a full-priced XBLA title it seems a little cheeky.
Unlockables aside, the structure of the game world is an interesting one. The exact details are never fully explained and, to be honest, not necessary to understand, by the basics are simple to grasp: There’s a persistent war being waged between two sides – the Variants (red) and the Paladins (blue). At the very start of the game you pick a faction and this is the side you’ll be fighting on for the rest of your career. The world is divided into its various continents and countries, and as battles are fought and countries conquered they become inaccessible, until one team finally owns enough land to win the season. There’s some kind of plot about gaining “dark matter”, but it amounts to the same thing. In just two weeks, the first season of the game has finished (my team lost), and now the map has been reset and is fully accessible again.
The thing is, no matter which country you select to play in, nothing really changes. You still have access to the same maps, modes, and weapons, but it helps your team with the overall “win the war” objective. On a more personal level, there are individual objectives to select from at the start of each match, and this is an aspect I really liked. Deciding, for instance, that you’ll attempt to make 6 player kills, or achieve 3 headshots, or 8 assists, can earn you additional XP at the end of the round. This means that even if you’re on your fifth Team Deathmatch in a row (as opposed to one of the tactics-based games), you still get a feeling that each round has had a different focus.
There are also plenty of ability and weapon combinations that can gain you many kills when mastered, such as teleportation linked with a shotgun. Believe me, having an enemy appear next to you before blasting you in the face is a sudden and surprising way to die. As the game is played for longer I’m sure we’ll see more and more of these clever tactics pop up, but as Hybid is still in its infancy I’ve done fine using a standard machine gun and grenades setup.
Unfortunately, so many of these abilities and tactics rely on co-ordination and this brings me to another sore point – no one uses a headset while playing. I know that this is not the fault of the game, but I’ve only had one match so far with teammates I could talk to, leaving me feeling rather alone for most of the time. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve still had fun, but I imagine things would be immeasurably better with some group tactics and support from my squad. I suppose that since a lot of people play in pairs on Xbox Live, my teammates could be friends who are private chatting to one another, but that doesn’t really help. Maybe I should just invite two buddies along every time I want to play.
Despite the lack of communication, and slight annoyance about microtransactions, Hybrid is a great deal of fun to play and definitely worth the asking price. As time goes on and people move onto other games, the world may end up with a population of only serious, hardcore fans (and people like me will be pummeled into oblivion), but at the moment there are players of all skill levels trying out the unique and interesting title. If you’ve always been a bit wary of competitive, multiplayer shooters, now may be the time to get in on the ground level (so to speak), and experience the fun that can be had from launching a grenade into a group of enemy agents then picking off the remaining ones as they scatter (I love that tactic, by the way). And if you do buy it, might I suggest you join the Red Army in our fight against the evil Blues? C’mon comrades – your country needs you!