E3 2012: Hybrid hands-on

Developer 5th Cell is widely known for its Scribblenauts series, which pushes players to be inventive and creative. This style of game has managed to make 5th Cell not just a game developer, but a creator of experiences that are fresh and unique. So when you think about the fact that the studio is currently working on a third-person shooter called Hybrid, you just know it's going to be something completely different from that brown-and-gray breed of bro shooters. After spending some time playing the demo for Hybrid at E3, I can certainly confirm that that's the case.

Hybrid is an online shooter that features three-on-three match types, and it's a very fast-paced game throughout. Regardless of what mode you're playing, 5th Cell has made it a point to emphasize that even despite the cover-based mechanics, gameplay will be a delightfully hectic experience.

Rather than running around a huge field and taking cover behind massive walls and piles of debris, Hybrid requires you to move around arenas by jumping and hovering between platforms by pressing the A button. If you're looking for cover across a large gap, your aiming reticle will turn into a large dot, indicating that there's an area for you to jump to for cover. If you start to hover toward a platform and need to retreat while in the air, you can do so by pressing the B button. It's a simple formula that really works, and it keeps the action flowing smoothly and quickly.

In Hybrid, you're constantly on the move. Though you employ cover-based tactics, it's important to jump around the map, because you never know when you're going to be blindsided. Acquiring kill streak points grants you access to special drones that you can deploy to help you in battle. Likewise, any of your enemies can also utilize drones, so you need to stay moving to avoid the possibility of one of those suckers sneaking up on you. Drones are fully destructible, so if you spot one, you should definitely take it out.

There are three types of drones in Hybrid. Stalker drones follow you around and provide you with some extra firepower. The Warbringer is a larger drone that flies around, is heavily armored, and deals great damage. Last is the Preyon, a super powerful drone that zones in and attacks its target relentlessly like a heat-seeking missile. These drones really added to my action-packed session with Hybrid, enhancing the experience and giving me a leg up when I needed it. I also found myself on the receiving end of enemy drone attacks, which hurt my ego just a bit.

While gameplay options such as capture the flag variants and most headshot missions all add variety to Hybrid, it's the global domination aspect that will likely keep players completely hooked for a long time. The game features an overlying theme of conflict between two groups: the Variants and the Paladins. The two groups are fighting for a resource known as Dark Matter, and upon beginning the game, you'll get to join a side. You can battle to take over different continents, and the game keeps track of how much territory each team has taken control of. It's a greatly competitive and compelling feature that will allow for some intense competition, one-upsmanship, and team pride.

While specific launch and pricing details were under wraps at the time of my session with Hybrid, producer Caleb Arseneaux let me know that the game would launch sometime this summer as part of Microsoft's Xbox Live Summer of Arcade promotion, sporting a cost that's in line with other Xbox Live Arcade titles. If you're a shooter fan and you're looking for something new to play, keep an eye on this one. Likewise, if you're not really into shooters, Hybrid could still be for you. I don't fancy myself a big shooter buff, yet I still cannot wait to join the fight between the Variants and the Paladins. I'll see you on Xbox Live. Ain't no one taking my Dark Matter!

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