Video Game Review: Hybrid (Version Reviewed: XBOX 360)

Hybrid is a curious game; a third-person shooter that appears to reject one of the core tenets of its genre and apparently simplifies it to the barest minimum. However, despite this, it remains one of the more tactical and thought-provoking multiplayer arena shooters on the market.

Its essential point of difference is that the player’s movement is strictly limited; they may only move between fixed points of cover on the map, either as far forward as they can see or retrace their last move. During the automated movement, they are free to dodge by strafing up and down or side to side, to jump forwards or to change their destination by declaring a new move order mid-flight. While moving, therefore, the player is left entirely free to focus on evasion and aiming, meaning that combat becomes a matter of taking the best shots possible as a predictable course moves you towards the target. Strategy is added by the ability to change course mid-flight, allowing players to wrong-foot the opposition by changing direction – or even aborting the move to return to their starting point and get another pass over an enemy position. This movement is boardgame-like – the Gears of War tabletop game uses a similar system of dividing the board into sectors and only allowing movement between specific sectors – and as a result use of cover becomes paramount. Knowing when to move, when to stay still and in the case of larger cover zones where best to land to avoid fire is the real strategy of Hybrid and the slower pace of it makes it a game that anyone can master.

Automation in third-person shooters is increasingly evident, with Ghost Recon Future Soldier using a similar “move to next cover” function, but by ensuring that only two actual manual skills are needed to succeed at Hybrid (being able to aim and dodge in known ways) and automating the rest, the playing-field is levelled considerably. While some would say removing one aspect of skill has an overall effect of dumbing down the game, the fact is for Hybrid it simply makes the others more important.

Hybrid‘s armoury is unimaginative stuff, with standard machine guns, shotguns and rocket launchers predominating, although the gimmick “Gambler” weapon which either misfires (killing the player) or produces a single, powerful shot is balanced enough to be worth using and a skillful player will benefit from its strengths enough to compensate for the risks in choosing it. The use of a killstreak system is similarly adjusted to benefit both skilled and amateur players; while only kills of other players count towards victory, the destruction of enemy killstreak rewards counts towards the player’s own. With the longest streak needing five points to activate, it is easy in Hybrid to see all the game has to offer and as a result the powers given are not unbalancing.

Again, the simplicity in weapon and killstreak choices (the latter comprising two ranged-attack drones and an automated melee attack robot) is counterbalanced by a more passive complexity, this time in the form of abilities and perks. Perks are improved via the game’s persistent-world elements, where each faction as it wins games upgrades its members perk choices, while abilities are unlocked like weapons. They are activated during matches and comprise simple grenade abilities as well as more interesting advantages like weapons doing ongoing damage, or improved movement speed. The potential depth of picking a weapon, perk and ability – and the largely good weapon balance meaning there are few dud choices – again cement Hybrid‘s status as a thinking-player’s game. Victory is as much about mastery of the rules as manual dexterity. While the in-game progression is supplemented by the ability to buy any upgrade immediately, there is little need to do this since in a nod to beginners, one perk offers faster experience gain in order to address level imbalance. Similarly, if a game ends up with unbalanced teams, a passive bonus is applied to the smaller side to even the odds.

Currently the main criticism that can be levelled at Hybrid is a lack of content; it has a comparative lack of maps of interesting game modes. Basic deathmatch is the most popular by far and of the maps on offer, a couple are too simple in design to be fun. However, it is a game that it is quite possible to keep coming back to simply because of its accessibility without compromising quality; while certain elements have been simplified to give the game its unique feel, the overall experience is still rewarding and the mix of almost turn-based, stop-and-start movement with real-time combat evokes a multiplayer Valkyria Chronicles of all things. Furthermore, the amount of content on offer is good value for its price point, and the decision to use small player numbers in games means that each match remains fast and focused.

In all, Hybrid may shy away from the full potential of its selling-point via lacklustre map design and unimaginative weapons, but as a complete game its mechanical innovations make it stand apart from the crowd. At the very least, this desire to innovate and bring to the foreground the action of the shooter while removing the movement makes it a unique experience within a crowded and tired genre.


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