The Xbox Live Summer of Arcade will be upon us soon, and one of the games coming with it is Hybrid, a multiplayer shooter from 5th Cell. I had a chance to see Hybrid in action at E3 this week, and while the frenetic combat in a tiny map (the smallest one the game had to offer, I think) was at first hard to follow, once it all began to click the game actually looked pretty cool.
Here's the premise: the red guys and the blue guys are fighting for world domination. They do so by shooting at each other.
That's a bit of a simplification, but it doesn't change much. The details are these: there has been a disaster, and the world is being remade. The Variant (red) and Paladin (blue) factions are fighting it out, territory by territory.
For the first moment, I wasn't particularly impressed with what I was seeing. There were a zillion guns to choose from, all sorts of unlockable stuff that could be purchased with tokens earned through fighting. The 5th Cell representative I was having my demo with flicked quickly through the options, but in general they were the same kind of options you get in pretty much any big PvP shooter. At least, at first.
The map started, and it was a tiny map. The smallest, I was told. There was a lot going on and it took me a minute to get my bearings. Then I realised, I was having a hard time getting my bearings because the game was behaving in a way I did not expect. The jet packs on all of the characters weren't optional upgrades or fancy fast travel; they were required. Huge areas of the map had no floor at all.
But there were ceilings. And walls. And that was when Hybrid began to click with me.
After dodging quickly away from the place where the other guys were all under cover, the 5th Cell rep's character took cover on the ceiling. Her character's head and gun dropped in from the top of the frame, and while I took a moment to wrap my head around the perspective change of finding the gun upside-down, she merrily blasted away the guys on the other team who were no longer safely hidden behind their little wall.
She explained a number of other features to me while the game carried on, including special weapons. There was one that basically made a bubble where you aimed it, and anyone within that bubble began to take damage over time. It was designed to force players out from cover, particularly in the case of, say, a well-hidden sniper.
"I prefer to play as a well-hidden sniper," I informed her. I looked back at the gun. "Bastards."
Of course, if your opponents are too savvy to your careful sniper tactics, you can swap out builds on the fly. Any time you get killed and respawn, you can switch your loadout and your character build, which is handy.
Hybrid also rewards skilled (or lucky) play with, well, more and better ways to kill people. Killstreaks earn you drones, like decoys that draw the fire of enemy drones or, if you manage to get to a killstreak of five, a guided missile that basically kills everything. Of course, getting to a killstreak of five is harder than it looks.
I only got to see the Team Deathmatch mode in action, which works, well, exactly how it sounds. There will be six or seven game modes at launch, including Kings (defend the base), Crazy Kings (defend the base, except the base moves around the map), Team Deathmatch (as it says on the tin), and Artifact, which is almost a bit of a hot potato mode. Like capture the flag, Artifact mode requires players from one team to grab an enemy artefact and haul it across the map to their own territory. The catch is that the artifact appears and hovers above the player's head, visible to all at all times, and that points are awarded based on how long you are able to hold onto it before you get killed.
Overall, Hybrid looks to be very fast-paced and very competitive. But for all that the weapons were cool and the explosions were cool and the maps were well laid-out, my favourite aspect remains that unexpected use of the full, 360-degree space. We aren't necessarily all good at remembering to look up and make the best use of the full space around us, but Hybrid won't let you forget.
Well. You can still forget, but you'll be respawning and reloading rather often.
Hybrid is due on Xbox Live during the Summer of Arcade event; exact price and release date TBD.