It’s natural to have questions when playing a game for the first time. Questions like, “So this is Gears of War with jetpacks, right?” for instance. Or perhaps, “Is that guy shooting at me from the ceiling?” Maybe even, “What’s that sou — oh god, is that a cybernetic assassin?!” Gamers who partook in the beta for 5th Cell’s Hybrid already know the answers to those questions. For the uninitiated: no, yes, a cybernetic assassin and see: previous answer.
When a studio that is known and loved for creating a specific type of game — those in the Drawn to Life and Scribblenauts vein, in this case — announces it’s taking that brave leap of faith from the comforts of its nest to attempt a flight towards previously uncharted territory, there can be some trepidation among gamers, perhaps some skepticism, even. Take just one look at 5th Cell’s Summer of Arcade third-person shooter and it’s plain that it is one such departure. Five matches in a noisy convention hall (seriously, Activision, did Black Ops II have to be that loud?) is a sample size too small to categorically abandon all concerns over whether or not the studio has the chops to pull this thing off. However, it is large enough to glean that Hybrid has all the makings of the next XBLA shooter that will keep gamers up until the wee hours of the morning on many occasions. Now might be a good time to start banking up that sick leave at work.
Watching footage of Hybrid reveals that the multiplayer shooter has three basic elements: flying, shooting and cover. But this isn’t Gears of Wars’ cover. And this isn’t Halo: Reach‘s flying. A controller must be picked up in order to fully grasp how the three work together, and it takes a few rounds before it starts to click. But when it does, it’s more akin to the clicking of a detonator than of that damned TV/Video button on the remote you can never seem to locate quickly enough. Players don’t run around on the ground, hopping from cover point to cover point in an attempt to gain an advantageous position. They must move between said points, but doing so is accomplished by aiming at one of several small platforms and flying on-rails towards it. Once there, a tap of the Y button will cause a hop from one side of cover to another or a press of the A button will initiate flight somewhere else.
Normally, levels comprised entirely of little platforms that are traversed only by on-rails flight would be cause for concern. Not so in 5th Cell’s latest. If ever proof was needed that maneuvering on pre-set courses could prove fun to modern audiences, it has now been uncovered (quite literally). Combatants are free to aim around with the same precision that would normally be reserved for grounded combat thanks to the flight trajectory being locked in. It makes for some thrilling midair battles that become even more fun and a bit strategic once changing your destination and reversing the direction of flight are mastered. Both moves are accomplished with single button pushes, but it’s easy to forget the option is there when the bullets are flying or that assassin is coming for you.
Much like in a Call of Duty game, those
tactical nuclear strikes assassins can be unleashed to deliver death to a target of one’s choosing once enough of a kill streak is built up. They can be killed if the adversary hears them and reacts in time, but the assassins seemed to be winning most of these showdowns during during XBLA Fans’ time with the title at E3. Before they are earned, two different levels of AI-controlled drones must be unlocked by lesser kill streaks. The bots can be gunned down but prove a real nuisance when ignored for too long and allowed to pair up with other bots and/or enemy players.
There were three brand new maps available to play on the show floor (the final game will have 10 in total), and each of them were plenty enjoyable. That said, describing the differences between them — except that two had ceiling cover and one didn’t — would be a challenge. Speaking of that ceiling cover, it’s an interesting element that forces players to think more vertically than they wold in many shooters. When you’re the one hanging around like some sort of assault rifle-wielding Andrew Garfield, shooting accurately takes some adjusting to, but it felt like another one of those features that gamers will love once mastered.
5th Cell had previously asserted that all players must choose one of the game’s two factions right at the beginning and stick with it until the end of days. After doing so, you’ll then advance the meta “World War” game that sees the two chipping away at each other for supremacy. A representative from the team wavered a bit when asked whether or not this was truly a permanent decision. When pressed, he admitted that there will in fact be a way to switch sides but declined to go into detail about it. The decision to let players flip-flop will be a welcome one for any who are accustomed to playing competitive games over XBL in parties consisting of a rotating cast of friends. After all, shirking responsibility and staying up late to shoot ceiling-dwellers is more fun with friends (probably).