Here's a little history about me. I was a mere 13 years old when I picked up my own console. Sure my household had a PC and many consoles (from as early as a Sega MegaDrive, up to a Sony PS2), but this time round, I was the one buying it. I had saved up my money, and I went and got myself an Xbox 360, which at the time was a whopping £280 pounds.
Over 8 years later, about a few moments ago, I was browsing the Xbox Store and it hit me, as I picked up a digital copy of Lara Croft: Temple of Osiris, how much everything had changed. This Lara Croft game is a sequel to Lara Croft: Guardian of Light which, when it was released, was part of programme called Summer of Arcade. Microsoft promotes, what we now more refer to as indie games in some cases, Arcade games and puts them on a nice parade about Xbox Live. One of those games was called Hybrid.
Hybrid was an online only 3rd person shooter with cover based shooting. Nothing unique here, right? Quite the opposite actually, because Hybrid was, well, a hybrid. It utilised what can be described as a real-time turn based movement system. Imagine X-COM Each map is made of pads with cover. To move across the map, the player has to leave one piece of cover and jet pack to another. No strafing, sneaking, crouching, or much of what would define a shooter. Hybrid makes a mechanic out of moving, and it worked.
By simplifying and restricting the player's movement, it made every decision vital. No position was truly safe, and camping was rarely seen because each map acted like a race course as there was a level of flow to each map that meant players could advance, retreat, flank, or creep behind, with ease. This put a large focus on working with your teammates and moving as a unit, rather than a lone gun.
This comradery was extended into Hybrid's meta game. In summary, a catastrophe that struck Australia caused Dark Matter to appear all over Earth, an alien race called the Variants came to take that resource, which sparked a war between humanity and the Variants. So when a new player logs onto Hybrid they a prompted to pick a side, and fight to take control of the Dark Matter sources of Earth. Each individual match mattered, not only personally, but globally, as each territory on Earth granted certain bonuses and as more matches were won for either side, control of that territory would tilt and change until one side reigned supreme. This happened until every inch of the Earth was claimed by either faction, and the faction with the most territories rewarded all of its members with special cosmetics.
Much like the 'war' between the Alliance and the Horde in World of Warcraft, or the battle between Vanu Sovereignty, Terran Republic, and New Conglomerate, the meta game of Hybrid spurred a fire in every player's heart, making each kill against the enemy fulfilling. People in the voice chat would chant and shout as they jetpacked toward the enemy, and you felt like you part of something, that each kill you earned was for something bigger. Those flames would be amplified when the game disguised certain matches where not enough of the other faction could connected as matches against people of your own faction who were going betray your faction and join the enemy.
I would love to see these features in so many more games. They made playing with strangers like playing with friends and when accompanied some element of strategy (much like Hybrid's cover and movement system) makes each match enjoyable and worth the time you invest. Sometimes it's good to have more than just levelling up and unlocking guns as player investment. Investing in the player's motives and meaning to play can better the experience.
But sadly I can't power up my old 360 to play Hybrid, as the servers have been shut down. But I can reminisce at least...