"Cover is everything," as the adage goes within the shooter genre. Keeping your head down is paramount to keeping it from getting blown off in the fluid multiplayer arenas of first- and third-person shooters. Hunkering behind something is as routine as reloading your weapon. That said, it isn't the type of concept to be taken extremely literally.
When developer 5th Cell unveiled Hybrid during a low-key demonstration at GDC last week, I abandoned every form of expectation. Here was the studio behind Scribblenauts, eager to prove their worth in the explosive Xbox Live Arcade downloadable market by creating a squad-based third-person shooter. A clear departure from the happy-go-lucky nature of Scribblenauts, Hybrid represents a mixture of genre standards…and a very interesting take on player movement: You don't directly move your character at all.
Essentially, Hybrid eschews traditional free-form movement for a dedicated reliance on cover. During a match, every combatant on the game's two forces — Paladin and Variant — crouches behind wall sections or large pieces of rubble that are seemingly attached to every surface, including the ceiling. To get from one place to another, players select a nearby defensible position using the control stick and press the movement button (or hit it twice to activate a speedy jet pack), resulting in their avatar dutifully sprinting automatically to the new destination.
In theory, piling on the importance of cover and dialing back the degree of movement allows players to shift their focus entirely to filling the opposition with lead. In practice, the whole shebang gives off a very distinct impression of constantly being on rails, something wholly foreign (and potentially unwelcome) in the context of multiplayer gaming.
Perhaps 5th Cell is seeking to instill a new benchmark on the ideal of cover instead of resorting to rehashes — although I'm personally hesitant to get behind the notion of restrictive motion in a shooter. No matter the reason, Hybrid's stance on cover and motion is nothing short of ambitious. Whether it carves a niche for itself within the shooter community or not will be made known when the game releases later this year.
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