Toying with the dynamics of the competitive, team-based shooter is an unexpected move for the developer of Scribblenauts, a game defined by its lack of prescribed solutions. Doubly so when you consider this is an experience in which you cannot even run freely, instead flitting from cover to cover using your jetpack. There is little room for emergent gameplay here, although 5th Cell’s predilection for confounding expectations is clearly found in the broader canvas of the game. Hybrid may live up to its name in its appearance, a visual mash-up of Halo and Vanquish, but in the systems it’s quite unlike anything else.
Its small stages, designed to ensure the game’s relatively small three against three fights remain intense, comprise yawning gaps and the odd piece of masonry, inevitably decorated with a waist-high wall. Highlight any piece of cover within view and you may fly towards it with a tap of a button, strafing while in the air but otherwise plotting a set course toward your destination nub.
When you land you stick to cover like glue, your options limited to vaulting over to the other side, choosing a new destination or retreating to the previous one. In transit, you can shoot (although peering down the reticule will slow your flight), boost towards your target cover, or pick a new landing spot and divert your flight path accordingly. It sounds limiting, but in practice the system quickens the pace of firefights, producing a fascinating matrix of flight trails.
With each enemy takedown you earn a droid. One floats around your shoulders like an R-Type drone, picking out new enemies for you. The last of these, the Preyon – awarded for a five-streak kill – is a cyborg assassin that streaks off towards an enemy, an execution guaranteed unless its target happens to have an AI-fuddling grenade, which will turn your minion back on you. With just two weapons and one ‘ability’ allowed per battle, the number of ‘rock, paper, scissors’ combat options is engrossingly small, and the three man squad set-up encourages genuine teamplay, even for beginners.
Hybrid’s meta-structure, influenced by Steel Battalion’s grand online war between two factions, pits the Variants against the Paladins. You must pick a side, every battle contributing towards your faction’s performance that ‘season’. A range of match options attempts to keep the experience fresh, but Team Deathmatch, with its weighted rewards and immediacy, proves the biggest draw, leading to a sense of repetition after extended play. This is a rich, interesting design, then, but one whose capacity for long-term competitive play is questionable.