Picking up a controller to play a third-person shooter for the first time, you tend to know what you're getting into more often than not. There's probably going to be a cover system, and there's probably going to be a sprint button that lowers the camera view awkwardly close to your character's butt. We live in the post-Gears of War era, after all, and most third-person shooters these days reside somewhere in that mold.
At first glance, Hybrid looks like that type of game. You play in a postapocalyptic sci-fi wasteland and spend most of your time hunkering down behind waist-high slabs of concrete and steel waiting for the right time to fire off a few rounds at your enemies. But when you decide to leave cover and start moving around the map, that's when all the third-person shooter muscle memory you've developed over the past half-decade suddenly becomes a whole lot less useful.
Hybrid employs a control scheme that makes the game feel like a third-person shooter crossed with a chess board. The left stick lets you highlight potential cover objects in the distance, while the A button sends you automatically running to that point. That's the core of movement: highlight cover, run to it, and repeat. Within that basic control setup, though, are a number of variations that let you wiggle around more freely and strategically. For example, double-tapping A lets you quickly fly over to an object with a jetpack--a tool that can also be used to take vertical cover behind objects jutting out from the walls in a fairly mind-bending display of sci-fi acrobatics. Then there are the usual options like swapping sides of cover and alternating which shoulder the camera sits behind.
This probably sounds confusing. And in fact, the control scheme takes a bit of getting used to, which is why 5th Cell had us spend a good five minutes alone on a map just testing out the controls before jumping into a live fight. But we got the hang of it much sooner than we were expecting, and we were able to dash, fly, and flip around the map with a pretty decent amount of ease. The whole movement system of preselected destinations makes for a very interesting twist on the third-person shooter genre and makes the game feel very much like a board game of sorts.
There's strategy to be found in other areas of the game as well. Matches in this multiplayer-only game are made up of three players on either side, which sounds like a small number until you hear about the "squads on command" system. At any point in the game, you can instantly spawn in an AI squad member to help in the fight. There's the stalker, who more or less mimics where you go and what you do; the warbrain, who acts as a stationary turret specialist; and the preyon, who's a nimble sword-wielding assassin that can quickly and lethally charge at far-off enemies. You can summon these squad members only so often, however, so you need to be clever about how and when you use them. Beyond that, Hybrid also offers an ability system that works a lot like perks in a Call of Duty game, only you can swap these out midgame during the downtime between spawns.
Based on the relatively brief amount of hands-on time we spent with Hybrid, we're eager to see where developer 5th Cell goes from here. The movement system has a unique quality to it, and the developer has teased the concept of a "persistent world war" that keeps track of an ongoing battle between the game's two warring factions. It will be interesting to find out more about that before the game's TBA 2011 release date on XBLA.