Review: ‘Hybrid’ Turns the Cover-Based Shooter on Its Head

The developer behind the cute and inventive Scribblenauts seems like an unlikely candidate to start cranking out a cover-based third person shooter, but here we are. And given the developer, the shooter we’ve got before us isn’t the straightforward effort you’d expect from any other studio. Hybrid is a shooter with a twist and that twist is that it limits your movement while subsequently increasing your need to plan and strategize your attacks.

With 3 on 3 teams rocketing from chest-high cover to chest-high cover, developer 5TH Cell adds an extra, almost insidious elelemt of verticality to their shooter in a package that feels initially frustrating and odd and after a bit of a learning curve, strangely addictive.

So here’s your typical cover-based shooter encounter in a basic team deathmatch mode: you and your teammates spawn into a level and rush from any number of scattered points of cover before catching sight of the enemy team, both sides unleashing their firepower until one side is no more. The horizon is the limit: a given level will have tons of cover points spread out laterally and in some cases elevated depending on the complexity of the level design.

Now here’s Hybrid: fewer lateral points of cover and you won’t be roadie running from point to point. Instead, you’ll aim at your where you want to go with the reticule and press A to rocket towards it or B to retreat back to your previous location. If, in mid-flight, you see a better destination not under fire, you can aim at it and press A to head in that direction, firing all the while (with some limited boost by pressing down the left stick).

Already, I feel like I’ve described a dramatically different shooter to you, but it’s one you might have to get your hands on for yourself to see exactly how different it feels from the Gears and Army of Twos out there. 5TH Cell’s level designers have placed some of the chest-high walls on the ceiling or on the side of the wall, meaning you could be at 90 or a full 180-degrees from your starting orientation (I still haven’t gotten the knack of shooting upside-down). While you’re out of cover in your typical shooter, you have to worry about being shot from the front and sides, Hybrid adds an extra level of freakout here by leaving you exposed above and below, making you feel like a clay pigeon in flight.

The multiplayer-only gameplay is wrapped in the barest of stories involving the battle between the extra-dimensional Variants against the human Paladins for control of the planet. It does inform Hybrid’s meta game, where you’ll choose a faction and compete over “seasons” (a full week, it seems) to control continental landmasses by racking up wins for your faction.

You won’t be alone in your fight, though: besides your two teammates, after racking up kills, you can deploy robot sentries which deliver cover fire and support against nearby enemies. These can be virtually usesless like the first-tier turret, to imposing like the hulking Warbird, to the brutally cheap in the form of the shrieking Preyon which I’ve yet to actuall see and shoot down before it killed me. As for your arsenal, it’s the usual mix of assault rifles, lmgs, smgs, sniper rifles, shotguns, and the like, but the game also includes abilities which can be anything from a smoke or concussion grenade to instant health restoration for your team. These require a cool-down period, though, so you’ll have to be judicious in using them.

Taking place over 10 maps, you’ve got the typical variety of shooter modes like CTF and team deathmatch, but I found the tactical ones a bit more challenging just because I spent so much time trying to grapple with navigation to secure the targeted points. This might be more of a your mileage may vary thing, but it adds an extra layer of challenge on top of the preexisting challenge of achieving a map objective.

Even after putting in a few hours with 5TH Cell’s jet pack-powered shooter, I’m still on the fence about it, because it’s different in a way that, over time, feels radically different from other shooters on the market. I’m not ready to say that in and of itself this is a good thing, but 5TH Cell has definitely put together a compelling argument for a new way to play.

Hybrid is available now on XBLA for 1200 MS Points.

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