These drones can all be helpful and deadly, or they can be easily destroyed and contribute to your enemies' kill streaks. Figuring out when to best deploy them is an interesting tactical consideration. You can have one of each stored for deployment, and unleashing a host of drones as you approach an enemy position is a good way to tip the odds in your favor. Drones emit a burst of light when created, which means they can give away your position, but they also persist after your death, potentially earning you kills from beyond the grave. The fact that they are awarded at such low thresholds makes these kill streak rewards an integral part of regular gameplay, rather than occasional anomalies that disrupt the flow of combat.
Things get even more interesting when you factor in abilities. These powers operate on a cooldown timer, and you can equip only one at a time, but the sheer diversity makes for a lot of possibilities. Grenades come in many varieties, including deadly explosives, disorienting flares, and a sinister little number that instantly converts enemy drones to your side, making them fire on their owners. There are also ammo enhancements (like poison and health siphon), defensive aids (like an overshield and a grenade defuser), and team support powers (like a radar sweep and an ability recharge).
Certain abilities even let you self-destruct, destroying any nearby enemy, or instantly teleport to cover to get the drop on unsuspecting foes. Though the latter can be tough to defend against, most abilities have some kind of counter-ability to help balance things out. On top of all that, you can choose a specialization, which can offer a passive boost to experience gain, weapon damage, drone strength, and so on. You select only three elements for your loadout when entering battle, but the variety of weapons, abilities, and specializations creates an impressive array of ways to play. Hybrid's battlefields feel lively, deadly, and full of opportunity for experimenting with new strategies.
Matches consist of three-on-three battles in a variety of game types, though team deathmatch is far and away the most prevalent. There are two versions of king of the hill, a mode in which you must capture and hold onto an artifact, a bomb-based mode with no respawning, and a mode that focuses on individual kill streaks. You earn experience points for dispatching enemies and meeting a particular mission goal, and these points increase your level and earn you unlocks in the armory. Guns, abilities, and cosmetic helmets await, and if you're impatient you can purchase credits with Microsoft points to unlock items faster. Everything can be unlocked over time, and you earn unlocks for weapon categories, not specific weapons. This means that anyone can have any weapon fairly early on, so the pay scheme doesn't appear to have an unbalancing effect on the game.
All of your skirmishes contribute to your faction's progress on a persistent world map. You choose Variant (red) or Paladin (blue) before you get into the action, and you are pretty much stuck with that faction for the duration (though you can switch once per world cycle and not lose any personal progress). The only story tidbit you get is that there is dark matter and both teams want it, and your influence on the world map is hard to discern. You fight in various regions across the globe, though as the game points out, the region you choose in-game does not correspond to a server region. Though Hybrid suffered serious network issues on launch day, it runs smoothly as of this review, despite some occasionally sluggish matchmaking.
This is crucial because Hybrid is online multiplayer only. It does only one thing, but it does that thing really well. Hybrid subverts one of the core mechanics of this popular genre, while skillfully implementing many of the elements that have made its predecessors so addictive and successful. The result is an enjoyable blend of the new and the familiar that makes Hybrid something special on the shooter scene.