Ten minutes later I had my hands on an Xbox 360 controller and understood why Slaczka looked at me like my head was on backwards when I asked what makes the game different from other XBLA shooters. For starters, player movement is mapped to buttons -- a crucial aspect of Hybrid's bizarre, yet shockingly accessible controls -- leaving the right analog stick free to adjust the camera.
Slaczka and his team at 5th Cell mitigated the "circle-strafing with shotguns" play style of most online shooters by making movement more deliberate. The result is a game that plays like real-time, sped up, 3-on-3 Valkyria Chronicles. Which, to be clear, means it's a lot of fun.
Hybrid may look and even play (more or less) like a typical third-person, cover-based shooter, but having actual movement mapped to buttons causes some considerable change to formula. After you choose a destination, a single tap sends your avatar running to the next cover; while a double tap has him jetpack there, resulting in a quicker transfer and allowing for cover to be taken on the side of walls, as well as the ceiling.
As noted, 5th Cell specifically designed the movement like this to undermine the usual multiplayer shooter gamplay patterns, and so far it seems to be working fantastically. Also shaking things up are the AI-controlled squad mates. Each player can can deploy up to two -- I spotted a turret gunner and an assassin -- adding both more players to the map and a whole mess of new tactics.
Perhaps it was silly of me not to consider the pedigree of Hybrid's dev team -- which has created some wonderful DS games -- but I wasn't expecting much from another XBLA shooter with a bland name like "Hybrid." I was shocked, then, to discover the makings of a genuinely fresh and interesting shooter.
I'm now anxiously awaiting the arrival of Hybrid, which is set to launch on Xbox Live Arcade later this year.