Hybrid is an online-only, three-on-three, cover-based, third-person shooter – with jetpacks. Phew! Don't worry, movement is very simple. You point your reticle at a piece of cover and hit a button to initiate automated flight. While moving quickly through the air you can aim and strafe, and you can switch your cover destination mid-flight. Flying out of cover is a big risk, but fighting in the air leads to the exciting stuff: dogfighting and jousting.
"You need to play it," 5th Cell producer Caleb Arseneaux told me. That's why Hybrid will not only have a beta, but remain an XBLA exclusive for the time being. "You need to play it to discover its charm, and so XBLA has free demos. That's a huge thing: you don't need to risk anything. You get in, you play, and we'll have a counter or whatever that will count down before you have to decide if you'll buy it. That's enough for us, because what's going to sell it more than anything else is the gameplay itself. So, yeah, we're an exclusive XBLA title right now."
As soon as I jumped into a game and started darting around, I immediately fell in love with the quick, twitchy gunplay. The customization options, though fairly uninspired, added a layer of depth to the affair – guns, individual character perks and grenade modifiers are all available. Some of the more ingenious options included a hacking grenade, which turns enemy drones against their masters if they're caught within the blast radius, and team-based buffs such as increased weapons damage or faster ability cooldowns.
Each player can set a customized ability, each of which falls within offensive, defensive and team-based categories. You can up your bullet damage – especially devastating when using a rapid-fire gun like the SMG – or beef up your team's shields. You can also augment the stats of your drones, which can be unlocked and summoned by accumulating kill streaks. At first it's a small bot that shadows you and autonomously fires at enemies, but later you unlock larger, more powerful bots and a Preyon, a screeching ninja that flies toward the closest enemy and assassinates them.
Hybrid features a persistent online world that changes constantly, based on the outcome of battles. Battles take place across continents, which are broken down into regions – once a side has won a region, it's locked out. Each region also awards the side who controls it a special modifier, and it takes only a glance to see which side is dominating a particular region.
Once you boot up Hybrid, you have to pick a side: Paladin or Variant. Once chosen, you're locked in for the long haul and fight in regions to try and capture the area and, eventually, the continent. "Everyone constantly contributes for their faction," Arseneaux tells me. "That is how players will complete the world map part of the game. They're all contributing to the same war effort. We estimate players will lock out the entire world map in two-to-four weeks. One day you may see the Paladins have locked out North America, and another day you may see the Variant has Asia." Hot Zones will show where the two factions are neck-and-neck in fully claiming an individual region.
Beyond the ongoing campaign outside combat, I value Hybrid for taking the traditional shooter, putting a jetpack on it and giving players greater freedom of movement. It makes for some intense dogfights in the air, and when two players eye each other up from across a chasm and take flight for a mid-air joust, zig-zagging from left to right and back again, it's a rush. This was the feeling that permeated the entirety of my play session with Hybrid, and I hope you get to experience it when the beta launches later this month.