Giant Bomb Review16 Comments
by Brad Shoemaker on
Hybrid's less-is-more approach somehow makes shooting other players on an Xbox feel sort of new again.
It probably shouldn't be a surprise that if anyone could actually do something fresh in the online shooter space at this point, it would be the people who made...Scribblenauts. Just when I thought I couldn't stand to play another multiplayer game with level progression and unlocks, along comes Hybrid with a less-is-more approach that subtracts freedom of movement and gains an increased importance on tactics and positioning as a result. You're still going to pull one trigger to aim at enemies and the other trigger to shoot them, but enough of the gameplay around that basic shooting feels original to make Hybrid worth checking out.
Except for the one key difference, Hybrid is like every other shooter on the market. Aim at guy, shoot guy. Occasionally activate your secondary ability to teleport, see enemies through walls, or heal nearby teammates. Check your kill-death ratio afterward and feel a deep sense of shame. And every few matches, gain a level that lets you unlock a new weapon, ability, passive buff, or helmet to use in subsequent matches. But it's that one difference--the inability to just run freely around the map--that gives Hybrid its unique identity. At all times you're stuck to one of only a handful of predefined cover points on a given map, and your only freedom of movement is to sidle back and forth behind the cover, flip over to the other side of it, or jetpack your way to one of the other cover points that you've got a direct line of sight to.
Since there's only a small number of places you, your teammates, and all your enemies can be at any one time, where you are in relation to where everyone else is becomes of extreme importance over the course of each match. Things like flanking an enemy position from two sides or circling around the back way to creep up on someone who isn't paying attention become regular matters of course. You also have to learn how to make the best use of your limited movement, by knowing when to do things like charge someone's position and wildly blind-fire at them from the other side of their own cover, or hit the retreat button and hurtle backwards to get away from someone who's about to kill you. The matches have a unique flow to them in an online-shooter context, especially since the three-versus-three match size is notably small.
Hybrid goes a step beyond the typical multiplayer-progression metagame with a second layer of between-match progress that takes every player's performance collectively into account. It's a persistent war spread across the entire world's geography, where you pick between multiple zones on every continent before you start matchmaking into a game. Winning matches in a particular zone advances your faction's progress in that zone, and the first team to hit 100 percent there earns double the points of the other side (who still has to hit 100 itself before a single point is awarded).
It was pretty exciting in the first few days of release to see my faction struggling to pull ahead of the other guys in the point totals, though it got a bit less exciting once they gained what looked like an unrecoverable lead over us. Lo and behold, my side ended up winning the first season after all, due to more strategically targeting low-traffic zones rather than focusing on a smaller number of high-value ones. It's a shame there's no sort of in-game bulletin board for members of a faction to coordinate their efforts, or at least a better at-a-glance way to highlight the most contentious zones; as it is, you have to drill way down on the map to see which areas you should focus on. But the persistent war is still a cool idea that gives you a reason to stick with the game for a relatively long period of time.
Actually, the very beginning of Hybrid's release was pretty much a complete disaster, as a server outage rendered the game completely unplayable on day one. That problem was fixed in a few hours, but it's worth noting that the same thing could theoretically happen again in the future. The matchmaking can also be pretty slow, and coupled with the long loading times, sometimes it feel like it takes forever to get into a match. (The game uses a neat trick of pitting you against "traitors" from your own faction when it can't pull a team full of enemies, at least.) Also, while every weapon and ability in the game is unlockable purely by leveling, and the leveling curve isn't any slower than any other game of this type, you can also spend real money to unlock whatever you want right away, or to give yourself an experience buff. That feels a little gross. It's made worse since the type of weapon or ability you unlock at each level is fixed, and there's no way to test out a weapon before you burn an unlock on it, which in a couple of cases led to me going for a weapon that sounded cool but which I immediately ended up hating. After you pick, say, a new shotgun, it's going to be several hours of leveling before you get a chance at another shotgun, unless you want to pay hard cash.
Hybrid's peripheral shortcomings are easy enough to ignore, though, since the core idea is so well executed. Even if you thought you couldn't prestige again to save your life, the game feels different enough from the pack to be worth your time. In the highly specific category of inexpensive downloadable multiplayer Xbox shooters, it's one of the best things going.