Hybrid is ambitious in that it turns what you thought you knew about cover based shooters on its head. Instead of hiding behind cover points, the game focuses on movement in and out of them, forcing players to deploy way more dynamic tactics than they would in your typical game in the genre. Intense, reactive, fluent action, that is both fun and addictive - and with a total disregard of gravity.
After completing the tutorial and a short practice round your three minutes of single player Hybrid are up - from here on it's purely a multiplayer experience where you enroll with one side of the conflict to help the war effort.
I have a vague idea of what the conflict is about, and apparently the blue guys are terribly evil in the eyes of my reds. There is a world map with conflict zones where players are directed to help out in small skirmishes of three versus three size.
You pick a personal objective for bonus XP, and you also gain XP from your actions on the battlefield, and if your team manages to capture that mission node and thus wins the match. Your experience points are then used to further your character, unlocking new abilities and weapons as you'd expect. Abilities include things like team heal, grenades, hacks, and the likes. The game also supports microtransactions, that allows you quick unlocks of additional weapons.
The player never moves around freely. You're always stuck behind cover or in transition to a new one.
Target a cover point with your reticule and press A to start your jump towards it. You can boost to speed up the process and even strafe and shoot (which slows down your progress and makes you a bit of a sitting duck). You can blind fire from behind cover, and as you get kill streaks you unlock various drones to accompany you.
These range from simple drones that fire on your target to the five kill streak reward that sends a robot assassin named Preyon towards your enemies. The scream of a Preyon as it closes in is enough to send chills down my spine, and you really have to take it out in transit or you'll die in an instant. Once a few streaks have been reached on either side, quite a few drones are in play and the action gets very intense.
What Hybrid does well is its core element - the action. The intense claustrophobic levels provide us with action from every direction, and there is never a dull moment. Eject the classic strategies and apply some new ones that work with the play style and there is a sense of accomplishment that tells us that 5th Cell made a lot of great decisions in designing this game. No, the problems with Hybrid lies elsewhere.
When Hybrid launched last week, 5th Cell had to take the servers down just after launch as they weren't performing as well as could be expected. Even when they went back up, the matchmaking and time it takes to load a game is still a serious detriment to our enjoyment.
Spending approximately half of your gaming sessions in menus, lobbies or waiting for things to load is not okay in what should be a lighthearted and quick multiplayer fix. It could be that there isn't enough players around, but then again there isn't likely to be more players around in the weeks to follow.
Forcing players to listen to the same robotic voice cues as you choose your region for battle is a pain we could do without, but the real problem here is that we don't care about the war and the game doesn't even seem to try to make it interesting. I don't necessarily need to be spoon-fed a story, but the lack of context in combination with the generic visuals just makes it hard to care about Hybrid.
Whether you care about the greater whole or not is largely irrelevant when a match is on. There are around ten maps, and a wealth of game modes varying from staples like King of the Hill and Team Deathmatch to more exotic object based modes. Sadly, I found it a bit difficult to get in to other game types than Team Deathmatch, only occassionally managing to find artefact or bomb matches. It's probably something that a larger player base would cure (around 12,000 players are currently engaging in Hybrid), but it's unlikely to happen if the game fails to take off.
For those who engage in Hybrid and care about the meta game, there is something unique and special to be had here. The action is both frantic and tactical, and the maps a very well crafted in their splendid simplicity. It takes a little getting used to the flow of the action, and the many different game modes can be a bit confusing at times and intimidating at first, but once you're into the flow of things it's highly enjoyable.
An option to play unranked matches with your friends outside of the meta game would have been nice as you're now locked into teams that you can only switch from once per season (a week or so of action presumably), making it more difficult to play with and/or against your friends a bit than it ought to be.
Overall, Hybrid is something different, and for that 5th Cell should be commended. It manages to reinvent the genre, and the core of the experience is rewarding in the short term. However, the developer's ambitions don't include the meta game, and it's this that ultimately drags the experience down a couple of notches.
The story is bland and almost non-existent, the world map is cluttered, and not very helpful, and I feel as though I'm just playing for my own amusement and experience points. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but as the meta game and the matchmaking makes up a large portion of what could have been an easy going drop-in, drop-out experience, forcing me to spend lots of time in menus and waiting on other players/maps to load, it does detract from the fun factor. Even if it must be said that once your enjoying a match, it's definitely worth the wait.
If you can handle that, and if you can convince a couple of friends to buy Hybrid along with you (playing as a team of three who work together is the ideal way to experience Hybrid) - you could find something special here - a diamond in the rough if you will, but that roughness will put many players off.