Brink at Eurogamer Expo 2010

Apologies to anyone who queued for three hours to play Brink on Friday, specifically those queuing when I bunked the fence. I would not have done it had it not been for the comedic moment when a clan mate and I, having just asked the perimeter guard if there was a queue (it was tucked round the back and we didn’t see it at first), witnessed a lad slip under the cordon and plonk himself down on a stool, right in front of the foot soldier, who did nothing about it. That’s like a red rag to a bull in my eyes. Do it, said my brain. I did it. I regret it, but not as much as I would have regretted not trying this game out.

If I hadn’t seen Rage being demoed upstairs I would be calling Brink game of the show, but after a glimpse of the graphically beguiling expanse of id’s jaw-dropper, Brink will have to settle for playable game of the show.

Set on a floating island, Brink’s near future story, one that pits the island’s founders against the unwelcome newcomers who flocked to the Ark when the seas began to rise, has been written with both multiplayer and solo gaming in mind. We’re told that you can play Brink either way from the outset, blurring the lines between the two. What this means is that you can start the story off solo and, once you’ve become accustomed to the game, switch to multiplayer at any time, seamlessly.

Talking to Splash Damage’s Ed Stern, lead writer on Brink, the following morning (I busted a nut to get to the front of the queue Saturday morning for another go and still had a half hour wait) brought forth the fact that though there were eight screens to play on, each were split into a group of four, with four AI characters being thrown into the mix. I didn’t notice it at all, which goes some way to explaining how this solo/multiplayer balance is going to work. Go from solo campaign to multiplayer, and if there aren’t enough players online playing that specific chapter of the game, the blanks will be filled in by AI on both sides.

Primarily the game is about the constant struggle between the haves and the have nots, a sort of class war for the eco warrior generation. You have a choice of playing either as the security forces trying to maintain the status quo or the renegades intent on bettering their lot. Imagine Rio De Janeiro if it were a floating island with the favelas at one end and the city proper at the other and you’ve got a good handle on the Ark’s geo-political structure.

But so far, aside from the nifty little multiplayer/solo blend, Brink sounds like your typical FPS, right? Damn, if there isn’t a lot more to it. Let’s take the classes. There are four options on either side: Medic, Soldier, Engineer, Operative. Soldiers, as you’d expect, are the gung-ho, charge in and shoot it, front line. They’re the ones to seek out when you need more ammo and they’re also the ones with the bag of grenades. Medics, naturally, can patch up their team mates when downed (when you’re all out of health you can choose to either call for a medic and wait to be revived where you are, or wait to join the next batch of reinforcements), or give them a health boost willy nilly. Engineers have the power to repair or build all manner of equipment and are supposed to be the tactical defense squad. Operatives seem to be created for the hardcore FPS player as it’s up to them to hack enemy defence systems and slip behind enemy lines to deliver recon intelligence. What’s more, they can steal a dead enemy’s identity, slipping on their clothes to wreak havoc from within their midsts.

Furthermore, like Battlefield Bad Company, each class scores leveling up points through their actions – medics for health boosts, engineers for boosting team mates’ weapon stats, and so on. Just simply running into a battle and shooting at everyone will not necessarily make you top scorer. In fact, the big points are scored through completing missions. And in Brink the missions are different for every player. Say you’re a medic still following the game’s plot and the main mission in that chapter is to stop the security forces from nabbing the top secret stuff your resistance boys had earlier nicked from them. The primary goal for everyone on your side is to protect that package. But every individual playing has their own specific objectives. So whilst you need to stop the enemy from getting that package, you also, as a medic, need to revive a particular team mate on the battlefield. And that’s not all. Calling up an objective wheel, you will be presented with a selection of missions to choose from. Though your primary objective is at the top, there are others that will also score you big points if completed.

These objectives are based on real time battlefield data; what class you are, where you are on the field of combat and in what condition you are in will affect your list of objectives. During the demo, I didn’t notice any changes in my objectives, but this is probably because everyone playing was more concerned with running headfirst into battle and blasting holes in each other. In the games that I played we, the resistance, successfully repelled the enemy attack, holding them at the first place we met until the clock ran out. But it didn’t matter much, the simple pleasures of shooting each other were enough for me and everyone else to enjoy.

The ways in which you can play this game are many, then: alone, with a clan, with strangers, with just one buddy; straight up gun fight, tactical team game, covert operator. Follow the plot or ignore it completely and just head to the multiplayer maps. It’s really up to you.

And for once in a shooter, the medic class is not limited to weak guns. In Brink all the guns are available to every class. Stern let slip a little nugget of info when he said that playing as the medic is the easiest way to level up because the points for reviving a player on the field far outweigh any kill scores.

But I’ve said too much, none of the above would matter if the game sucked, right? The game does not suck. Oh no. The game is formidable.

In this demo we were playing in an encampment made up entirely of shipping containers. The security forces were tasked with grabbing that package back and the resistance had to hold them off. Both times I played I was dropped into the resistance forces. We start out at a small base camp where you can switch class at any time in the game (it’s also possible to change classes at any of the bases on the map, as long as your team has captured it, a very welcome touch). I played as both a medic and an engineer, each could gain points from boosting team mates’ health and weapons simply by facing a character and hitting the X button when in range. I kept doing this, especially as the medic, watching my score increase, while at the same time mixing it up in the frantic gunfight. In each game there was a bottleneck where every player congregated to swap bullets and death. As the medic, you’d be surprised just how long you can last. Standing back, seeing comrades bite the dust, taking down their killers and then reviving them before the opposition regrouped was a serious buzz. If you’ve played Bad Company 2 you’ll know how much it sucked being a medic early on with an LMG that was essentially a spray and pray weapon. In Brink, the medics hold their own. I really didn’t feel like I was outgunned at the moments when I was centre stage, taking out a couple of enemies before I was shot up wasn’t luck or great skill so much as a balanced playing field. Okay, so maybe there was a smidgeon of skill involved.

The engineer, on the other hand, has different options. At one point I’d leveled up my character and could then build a gun turret and drop it onto the battlefield wherever I liked. That bottleneck was far less of a problem once I’d set it up, and we wiped the floor with the security side.

Exploring the map as much as I could in the short space of time, I found sneaky flanking routes, fixed gun placements, little peep holes that would, in any other FPS game, be perfect spots for snipers but in Brink are peep holes for all (there are no sniper classes! Ha! Eat that all you damned sniping dirtbags!). As an engineer, I managed to infiltrate the enemy base and capture it. My score kept on rising. In the end, the best I managed playing as a medic and reviving maybe six or seven resistance fighters, was third on the leaderboard, and I would most certainly have placed top if I’d remembered my primary objective. But, well, I got so into the shooting and the reviving that I forgot all about the objective wheel.

I also kept forgetting one of Brink’s other unique selling points, the SMART system. Standing for smooth movement across random terrain, it basically means that obstacles usually requiring you to hit a button when prompted can now be climbed, vaulted, hung off and jumped over fluidly. Holding down a shoulder button is all you need to do. Okay, so I’m running down a tight alley, at the end is a doorway about five feet off the floor. Since I’m holding down the shoulder button anyway, as soon as I get close enough my character jumps for it and pulls himself up and through. It’s smooth all right. I see other players leap gaps, vault walls and slide across the floor, guns blazing. It’s a trip and it speeds up play considerably. Especially as you can shoot at any time, whether hanging off a ledge or jumping over a cavern.

One more thing about uniqueness: in Brink you can customise your character to such an extent that it will be extremely easy to recognise buddies in the thick of it. Weight, height, colour, hair, facial hair, face paint, face masks, hats, trousers, coats, tattoos, all of these things can be added or removed. There are enough options for clans to kit themselves out in specific uniforms or two man teams to dress in such a way that they’ll be able to recognise each other at all times. It’s really cool. No, really cool.

I absolutely loved playing this game – its graphical style is quite different to the glut of realistic shooters currently doing the rounds, looking like they’ve built a realistic looking game and then given it an animated finish. The multiplayer/solo blend feels like it’s going to blow a lot of minds and maybe bring some more players to the online fight than is otherwise usual and the sheer variety of missions and objectives is going to keep me playing for a very long time. But I do wonder about one thing. How will the hardcore react? What’s in it for them? In my own clan I’m lucky to have an ex-pro FPS gamer and a top five leaderboard placed Modern Warfare genius. At my level of skill, Brink has more than enough to keep me entertained for months, but these guys? I just don’t know how they’re going to react to it. The operative class is where I’d place one of them since he’s exactly the kind of player to storm through enemy lines and mix it up from behind, but the top five MW chap? I don’t know.

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Written by Neil

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