GDC 11: All is not what it seems with 5th Cell’s Hybrid

When it comes to a developer like 5th Cell, I’ve learned that you have to expect the unexpected. After all, these are the people who came out of nowhere with inventive titles like Drawn to Life and Scribblenauts. Even knowing their propensity for surprise, I was still caught off guard by their latest effort, Hybrid.

Sure, it looks like your standard, science fiction shooter with a third-person perspective. You control soldiers in powered armor shooting other soldiers in powered armor. But people who go into Hybrid expecting it to be the same old grind are in for one hell of a shock, right about the time they first try to move.

(Xbox Live Arcade)
Developer: 5th Cell
To be released: 2011

We use the term “cover-based” to describe the action in a lot of games these days, but cover is literally the foundation of gameplay for Hybrid. All movement you perform in the game consists of travel from one piece of cover to the next. With a quick flick towards your desired position and a press of a button, your soldier goes trotting off in that direction outside of your direct control. You can switch to a new position on the fly with the same flick-and-press system, while there’s another command to retreat to your prior position.

Eliminating the need to perform the action of running somewhere frees you to focus on shooting enemies. At least, it should. I’ll never lay claim to great skill when it comes to games of this sort but I had a hell of a time getting adjusted to the way Hybrid moves simply because it was so alien. The single match of 3 vs 3 multiplayer available in 5th Cell’s demonstration just wasn’t enough for me to really grok the control system. 

Hybrid is a strictly multiplayer game, and one limited to a maximum of six players in team combat. While players might balk at such a low player count, rest assured that there will be far more to be shooting at than just the other three guys in the room. That’s down to another innovation 5th Cell has developed, something they call “squads on demand.”


When you score a kill, it doesn’t just merely add to your score. It also awards you a “Killpoint,” which can be spent on bringing AI-controlled teammates onto the field. Ground-pounding grunts who accompany you (named “Stalkers”) only cost one of these Killpoints, while powerful but stationary “Warbringers” level suppressive fire on your opponents for one more. Spend three and you unleash the “Assassin” class of bot, a lithe ninja who kills enemies in one melee strike. Any kills your generated squad members make add a bit to your score, as if you had provided an assist in combat.

These elements are combined with the tried-and-true progression gameplay popular in online shooters. Players will create a loadout from a range of weapons, which can be customized with rapid fire, faster reload speed and other bonuses. Rounding out the options are an assortment of buffs for movement, damage, even bonus Killpoints to quickly field units.

In addition to all of this strangeness, there are also going to be persistent world elements at work in the game. The details of how all of that will be working is something that 5th Cell wasn’t prepared to divulge yet and, frankly, I don’t know if I could have handled it if they somehow managed to make what is still a somewhat nascent subject in online multiplayer war games into yet another surprising twist. One can only take so much change, after all.

It’s far too early for me to tell how Hybrid is going to turn out. It’s just so different that I cannot begin to presume how gamers will react when it releases later this year. 5th Cell is clearly trying to do something very outside of the box and that’s to be applauded. With luck, their efforts will bear fruit and we’ll be playing a fresh and original shooter in Hybrid when it releases later this year.


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Conrad Zimmerman
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