Hybrid you know?
The image of Hybrid is all wrong. That is to say it seems people's idea of what Hybrid is all about is wrong. I've heard many people dismiss it as another third person cover shooter with burly men in power armour, only this time you don't have direct control of your man as you can't leave cover.
Well I suppose they're partially correct. It does feature men in power armour what with it being set in the future and all. The story, what there is of it, is largely guff as well and 5th Cell (better known for Scribblenauts and Drawn To Life) clearly know that. The intro sets the scene and basically says “suddenly aliens! Billions dead! We don't know why or how – but here's a gun let's go shooting!” I'm paraphrasing of course, but it doesn't feel like by much and that's as far as it goes. There are no more cut-scenes, no expository text, no anything – just the war.
They're wrong about the control system though. It's true that you can't just snap out of cover and move freely, instead you aim at the next cover point you want to move to, click A and your man flies via jet-pack to that point. The simplicity of that description betrays the depth of the system, which offers a lot of tactical options, as you can strafe a limited amount in all directions while flying, retreat back at the push of B and also change what cover point you're heading for mid-flight. It's most obvious benefit is this leaves you free to concentrate more on shooting, which is a good job because even with all that butch armour the combatants are remarkably susceptible to gun fire.
This fragility of life is a good thing though, matches are between two teams of three, in appropriately small levels so anything else would probably slow the game down too much. The matches do tend to feel more crowded though as 1 kill earns you a little per robot that fights along side you. A three, then five kill streak earns you more powerful robots, with the final one called Preyon who the equivalent of Mario Kart's annoying blue shell, a single use homing one hit kill fembot of death. She can be shot down if you're quick but I've seen that robo-bitch clip through walls leaving no time for reaction so she sometimes feels as fist-clenchingly unfair as the blue shell. Even without Preyon stalking you cover certainly isn't safe, as you're in constant danger of being flanked, there's no spots to hunker down and even the more easily defended spots are susceptible to a grenade. It all gives the matches an intense feel, and they're over quickly so the “just one more match” temptation is strong.
Hybrid has another good idea – choose a side at the start of a “season” (which appear to be a week or so in length) and save for the ability to change sides once per season you have to stick with your choice. The Earth is split up into continents and each continent into zones with the sides earning XP to move a bar in each zone to 100%. Once enough zones are captured that side wins, and busy zones give you a small XP boost. It gives a good feeling of persistence to the world and also gives you something almost tangible to fight for. It's not a new or original idea I grant you, but definitely one I would love to see more often in games.
As you level up it drip feeds you weapon and ability unlocks to create your own load-outs with. The starting equipment does remain competitive but despite the obvious work with the balancing, the nicest stuff is definitely locked away. The proof of which can be seen by the amount of players I'm seeing rocking the shotgun/teleport combination over the last couple of days. Still, at the lower end the levels come dripping in at a decent enough speed for it to appeal to that little part of your brain that says “Yay! Rewards!” in such a Pavlovian way that 5th Cell might as well be ringing a little bell in your ear.
Of course all this good is somewhat undone by the fact you can pay to boost XP or unlock weapons and abilities, making it feel a bit pay-to-win. Why play well when you can pay real money to advance in levels instead? Suddenly the game begins to lose it's point, and the longevity of the game is reduced as you realise earning XP doesn't have as much meaning when people can just buy progress instead. Your mileage may vary I guess, but it certainly left a bad taste in my mouth.
If you read the press-release put out by 5th Cell, they call the control system “revolutionary” - it isn't, it's a unique talking point that sets it apart from other games but I doubt we'll see it copied again in the way Gears Of War popularised the cover-based shooter in the first place. That's OK, because instead Hybrid is solid, well put together and a lot better than you probably think it is. Hybrid probably won't change the mind of anyone who doesn't like, or is a bit fed up of this type of game but if you're on the look out for a new online shooter then 1200 points is reasonable for something a bit different.