Top-down shooters always manage to catch my eye as they give off that feeling being a casual experience. Combine that with giant robots and you have well and truly captured my full attention. Hybrid Wars has done just that, allowing players to control giant mech war machines and take on hordes of enemies in a huge open battlefield.
Hybrid War’s gameplay follows that of many other top down shooters such as Enter the Gungeon and Shadow Grounds. You play as a character - either your giant mech, a foot soldier, or one of the many other machines you can jump into. You control your character with WASD and aim with your mouse. Primary weapon and secondary weapons both have a limited ammo supply.
Each level presents a number of objects for you to complete; some of them are optional but the majority will be mandatory to the completion of the stage. Whilst the game is played from a top-down perspective, there is the addition of a vertical dimension as your robots and ground troops can use jetpacks to get to higher ground before raining down hell on your foes. This feature was a nice addition but made it a little difficult to aim and maneuver when airborne as the camera perspective doesn’t adjust to the change of height.
The combat in Hybrid Wars is quick and manic. Enemies can be quite bullet-spongy at times, but there are a fair few of foes who will die in one or two sprays of your machine gun. Some levels contain “boss”-style enemies which have beefed-up HP and armor for you to burn through. Objectives are your run-of-the-mill generic aims: ‘destroy this target,’ or ‘protect this building’. None of them were very original and most felt very bland. More often than not, these same old objectives will recur over multiple missions, leaving a stale taste in your mouth after completing four or five levels of these on the bounce.
Probably the funniest feature in Hybrid Wars is the talent and ability improvement system. I am a massive sucker for talent systems - they let me plan my build beforehand to mold the character I am more inclined to enjoy and get the most out. Each of the various types of machines, mechs and troops will have their own individual talent tree, so you can build a specific archetype for different scenarios on separate machines. For instance, your mech walker could be more specialized in close combat, with higher armor and health, and your helicopter could be more suited for doing massive amounts of damage without needing to collect more ammo. The options are abundant and I found this to be the most interesting element whilst playing. There aren’t a huge number of talents to choose from each branch, but the fact you can have more than talent tree active at one time really gives Hybrid Wars that little-added depth to the gameplay.
Hybrid Wars is a really impressive title graphically. Whilst the fidelity isn’t going to match the likes of, say, HELLDIVERS, it still has a realistic charm to it. A lot of the time I was reminded a lot of the graphic style used in the 2000s hit Command & Conquer Generals. That clean, slick-yet-realistic look fits the tone of the game . Special effects from explosions and destroyed tanks look very nice too. Unfortunately, the same production value is missing from the sound effect side. There are few effects to be heard, for starters; you have your own gunfire chatter, but that’s about it. None of the enemy units make any noise when driving around, nor is there much ambient sound either. There is some voice acting featured, but this is mainly done between levels.
I wasn’t really blown away with the challenge on offer either. None of the levels made me fear actually dying. Once you have figured out the best way to utilise your machines, you can breeze through stages without as much of a scratch on your bodywork. At the upper end of your talent trees, you become more-or-less invincible anyway as you can regenerate health quicker than enemies can deal out damage.
I managed to finish Hybrid Wars in a little under 10 hours. I would say there is potential for quite a bit of replayability, but sadly this potential is locked behind another paywall - it disappointed and frustrated me that I still didn’t have the full game even after purchasing. In order to unlock all of the characters which are already out, you need to purchase the deluxe edition as well as the Season Pass. It is totally unacceptable to put two characters behind a paywall when there is only two to choose from, to begin with anyway. If the game had more than 10 characters to play as, OK, but don’t cut out half of the roster because you want more money. I could even understand adding new characters behind a paywall if they hadn’t been finished yet or they were still being worked on, but they are done and available as long as you throw even more of your hard-earned bucks at it. I wasn’t willing to pay extra just to unlock another character. Without the extra characters’ playstyle to explore, the replayability of the title goes down, as the campaign is completely linear and one playthrough is more than enough.
Hybrid Wars does a handful of things right: the talent system and impressive graphics both tick boxes in its favor, but the repetitive gameplay and poorly managed character system bring it down to a merely average game. I personally don’t see it being worth the $17.99. Maybe once it goes on sale for $10 it will be worth picking up, but in the meantime there are better options out there to fill your craving for a top-down shooter.