Brink Hands-On Preview

Splash Damage and Bethesda Softworks want to change how we all play first person shooters from now on. With Brink, their first multi-console FPS set to release in May 2011, they have crafted an ambitious new IP that seeks to emphasize team play moreso than kills and killstreaks. Earlier this month, I fragged with Lead Writer Edward Stern and Splash Damage CEO Paul Wedgwood during a hands on preview event for the game.

Three years deep in the making, it is clear that there is a lot of love and anticipation in the title for those involved. Walking into this preview event and seeing the title in real time on networked PS3s made me instantly see why critics all over are saying that Brink has that hard to achieve ‘WOW’ factor. One look at the amazing character detail in the character creation screens, the cutscenes, and in the gameplay itself clearly shows that Splash Damage wants your experience in the world of Brink to be unlike any other shooter on the market.

The look of the game is exaggerated and yet realistic with plenty of emotion and personality. As I sat down and explored the customization options for the character, it was quite clear that they want a unique experience each time you play. Built upon an XP unlock system, you progress through the game unlocking everything from character voice sets, tattoos, outfits, gasmasks, facial scars, hats, facial paint, hairdos and more. Of course, all the usual weapons are here as well, including, but not limited to railguns, shotguns, assault rifles, SMGs, grenade launchers, automatic pistols and more.

Edward explained that as you play, the more that you see a character wielding and wearing, the more you know about how long that person has been playing and it’s probably safe to assume that they’re pretty good. Not only that, but just about every gun in the game had barrel, magazine, grip, and scope attachments that also affected the use and look of every gun. So much time can be spent customizing and changing the look of both players and guns that I simply didn’t have the time to fully explore this feature of the game during the event. I do look forward to really diving into it though once the full game is out.

Also key to the customization is the fact that you have four key classes that can be used to approach the game’s objectives. We get the soldier, the engineer, the medic, and the operative. The soldier is simple. He is the brawn of the bunch. Equipped with moltov grenades, C4 charges, and the ability to give ammo to teammates, the soldier is essential to any objective. The engineer is a pure support trooper. They can repair equipment (typically objective related), install gun turrets, and upgrade teammates’ guns to do more damage.

The medic is standard as well. They revive downed teammates and boost the health of themselves and others. The operative is the most interesting (though I didn’t spend a great deal of time playing as one). Their abilities include the homing beacon (which is placed on one enemy to reveal a radius of enemy movements), interrogating downed opponents to reveal enemy positions, a timer based sticky grenade, hacking equipment (take control of enemy turrets and control panels), and disguising themselves as the enemy. When in disguise though, you cannot fire any weapons.

All of these core abilities can be improved and there are also additional abilities to acquire. For instance, the ammo upgrades apparently change if acquired through unlocks, giving you armor piercing or explosive ammo. Engineers improve the lethality of their turrets and eventually drop land mines. Medics gain access to bio weapons. Operatives can play dead and learn a “self destruct” ability where they can blow themselves up when dead rather than wait for a medic. Each of these abilities are unlimited in usage but have a time delay on when they can be used again.

As I tinkered with the look of my character and a few guns, Edward told me about the genesis of the project, referring back to their earlier games like Enemy Territory Quake Wars and Wolfenstein as being key to the experience. Seeing as the ETQW community is still alive with thousands of players today is proof that the formula that they built back then has immense potential. Using the id Tech 4 game engine (think Doom 3), Splash Damage aimed to capture the immense freedom they provided in ETQW and focus in on the personal war aspect rather than jump into the vehicular combat all at once.

Edward explained that their focus was to bring in many different elements of modern day shooters and use them to allow you to approach an objective (notice I said objective and not just killing) in many different ways. In doing so, this makes the game a shooter that allows for the casual fan to enjoy and be good at without the need to get massive killstreaks.

Do you want to sneak around on air ducts above the killing fields and rain fire down on your prey? You can do that. Want to change your character class without having to commit suicide or die? You can do that. Want to change your weapon that you tricked out with a new scope mod or magazine mod you recently equipped? You can do that. Want to use certain abilities to help your team without having to kill 3 or 5 or 10 people in a row first? You can do that as well.

When I finally jumped into a match with Edward and a few others, our objective (as the Security Force) was to escort a bomb defusal bot through a junky, shipping container filled slum area to a certain point. Past that point, I’m not certain what the mission objective was since my team was repeatedly thwarted by the Revolution forces. The bot moved by itself to certain points on the map and awaited our team to blow open a gate and operate a crane before moving on. Protecting such a big bot with spawn points that were rather far away led my team to having trouble progressing the mission much further. Instead, we all found ourselves tinkering with the lethality of each of the different classes and getting a handle on the various controls which were tight and easy to settle into given previous FPS experience.

One thing in particular that I noticed was that the melee attack isn’t an instant kill maneuver. It does damage but instead of killing you it knocks you back and slightly disorients you. Depending on your health, the attack may even knock you to the ground to. Also, at any time during the gameplay, you could hit up on the D-pad and bring up a handy objective wheel that would list the different objectives (whether reviving or boosting a particular teammate or different mission objectives) that were available at any time during the game. This always allowed for the ability to score a lot of XP regardless of when I popped into the game or where in the mission the rest of the team was at.

It was interesting that not many of us ended up using the operative since our objective typically required most of us to be out in the open near this big druid and keeping it moving. Soldiers, Medics, and Engineers made up most of our forces and we found our enemy was flanking us from various points above and around us as they clearly were accessing areas of the map we knew nothing about. As they did so, Edward made a point to mention that how they got there was with this handy feature called the S.M.A.R.T. system.

The S.M.A.R.T. (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain) System is another key feature to give the player the freedom to approach these objectives on each mission in various different ways and paths. By pressing and holding the sprint button, this ‘mode’ allows your character to automatically leap, climb, and maneuver his way to hard to reach places. You no longer have to spend time practicing how to get to that air duct or perch in that hard to reach area. Of course, Splash Damage also made sure that you don’t HAVE to use this way to move around in order to achieve your objectives. Instead, it is merely a tool to help you play the game differently.

Splash Damage saw the ills of the FPS genre and simply wanted to change the landscape. As I sat down with other gaming journalists, Edward and Paul made sure that we understood that the entire experience, whether it was single player, co-op, or multiplayer, would be completely seamless. They wanted to be sure that you no longer have to sit in a lobby and wait for others to drop in for you to begin. Your friends can jump into your game at any time and vice versa. If you so choose, you can allow strangers to drop into your game as enemies as well.

But what good is a battle with guns and explosions if you don’t know what your character’s motivations are? Splash Damage thankfully found a creative way to do that as well. Edward explained to me that they didn’t want Brink to be a simplistic battle against good and evil. They wanted both sides of the battle to feel as if their course of action was morally right. No more evil terrorists against the righteous special forces team. In Brink, the landscape that you fight for is called the Ark. There you take on the role of the Revolutionists who are fighting to survive and overthrow what they feel is an oppressive and resource hoarding government. On the flip side, you can be the security force that is tasked with maintaining order on this crumbling utopia against what you feel are terrorists hoping to destroy the Ark. Trust me, the story is much deeper than this but in the short amount of time that I had to experience the game, this was the quick summary.

Before I left, Edward set me up again in another game with him where I was escorting a wounded teammate to an extraction point. This part of the game occurred in a much more sleek and clean environment with offices, lobbies, and various staircases all about providing a lot of vertical gameplay. As the NPC moved slowly about, Medics stayed close and healed him to keep him moving forward as the rest of the team wandered about picking off opponents. Surprisingly, we were able to handle the onslaught as our enemies focused more on taking us out than injuring him to slow him down or stop him from progressing. Aside from Edward telling us bits and pieces of the storyline from time to time, I noticed that none of my teammates really needed to speak to each other that often. The ingame characters chatted quite a bit always letting you know what needed to be done, where the enemy was, or what was happening. Splash Damage wanted to be sure that by default, you weren’t forced to have to listen to that annoying 12 year old that had been playing the game for days non-stop and was hell-bent on singing as he spewed racial slurs and left his teammates. Still, the VOIP can be turned on or isolated to only people on your friends list so don’t worry about feeling like you are alone with no one to talk to when you play this game.

Congratulating us, Edward then wound things down by explaining to me that Splash Damage wanted to make sure that in the midst of all of this freedom even an FPS noob would be able to pick this game up and have fun. Showing us the tutorial mission selections, this mode of the game would even have merit for experienced players. Upon completing these missions with grades of 1 through 3 stars, you could unlock character customizations, weapons, and weapon accessories for use with your characters. On top of all that was spoken about above, there are even equipable abilities that improve default abilities and actions specialized to each class as well as universal. Allowing you to save multiple characters, you can have a multitude of characters at different levels that are customized for varied styles you like to play. So many possibilities and so little time!

As I left this event it was clear that Brink was definitely worth the buzz it has been receiving. The amazing amount of customization, features, and polish on this game are reasons enough to make this one of the must buy titles of the year. The shear amount of passion and love that Splash Damage has poured into making this their first original IP for consoles certainly shows.

Brink is scheduled for release on May 17th.

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