Brink is a game we've been watching closely ever since it was announced in June of 2009. Its unique art style with bright colors and exaggerated characters immediately caught our eyes, but it was the announcement of 8 player co-op with drop-in and drop-out play that really hooked us. Recently, I got my hands on an early PlayStation 3 version (it'll also be out on 360 and PC) of the game at a hotel in NYC overlooking Bryant Park. Sitting down with other members of the media and with members of the Splash Damage team around, I went to the Brink and I think you'll like what I saw.
After watching a brief cinematic giving you the back story, you are given a choice - save or escape the Ark. The Ark is a giant floating city set in the ocean after Earth became flooded. Originally designed for a small amount of citizens, the population has simply grown too big for it to handle. By "saving" the Ark you take the side of the Security, a police like force trying to put down the Resistance. The Resistance on the other hand are a more gritty group of thugs attempting to leave the hell hole they live in.
Brink lets you customize up to 16 persistent characters that you can use through your campaign, co-op and multiplayer. Characters start with a base body type - heavy, medium and light with certain weapons and abilities locked depending on your body type. For instance, the light class is capable of moving across and climbing up objects much easier than a heavy character, but the heavy character is capable of wielding more powerful weapons. Obviously the medium is the balance of the two - and with Brink's levels designed for sliding, climbing, and movement using the SMART system, I tend to think most players will lean in this direction.
As you progress through any part of the game you'll earn XP and unlock tokens to purchase and customize your characters and weapons. Each one of your characters have two distinct looks, one for each side. Simply pressing the a button in the character editor lets you see what your character will look like on each side - and each side has unique and specific items to use. So while the Resistance might have a bad-ass looking hockey mask for your face, the Security would have a pair of police style sunglasses or a mustache called "The PI." I was really impressed with the character customization and spent an enormous amount of time just sitting and tweaking things like facial hair, body armor, and tattoos. Speaking of tattoos, one interesting side affect of applying one is that's it's permanent on your character - no take backs later. Finally the last piece of making a character "you" is choosing one of 8 voices.
As deep as the character customization is, it gets deeper when you approach the weapon system. Using this you can modify all of the 24 weapons in the game to suit your play style. Little tweaks like magazine size, grip, sights, and muzzles change a weapon's look as well as the way it behaves and performs. I asked Paul Wedgwood, founder of Splash Damage, about this - wondering if this could hurt player balance in multiplayer games. He assured me that there's always a trade off for adding a piece to a weapon - so while a gun might end up being more "powerful" it would probably be less accurate, slower to reload, or some other detrimental factor.
Finally after all this customization for your character there's a perks like system that allows you to customize the abilities of your character classes in the game itself. These perks can be for any class - like combat intuition which puts little yellow indicators on the screen so you know where you are getting shot at - to specific perks for classes like giving medics the ability to revive themselves.
Ok, so after all of this customization talk, lets talk about the actual game. Your campaign, multiplayer and co-op are all chosen from the same set of missions. When you start a mission, you are given the choice of how you want to play it, limiting which sides the players can join. From what I could see, there were 10 missions available on each side and each one is a series of mini-objectives with an over arching goal. The levels themselves are laid out in such a fashion that promote the use of the SMART movement system, players can slide into cover, climb up containers and ledges, and leap small gaps all while holding a modifier button. It gives the game a bit of a Mirror's Edge feel, but most importantly, it changes the strategy when approaching combat situations.
One mission we tried involved us playing as the Resistance trying to break out one of our comrades that was being held captive. But to do this required numerous mini quests during the game - for instance we needed to breach a door which required covering someone to plant explosives. Another required a Operative to hack a terminal to gain access to a different area. Throughout the game these objectives become dynamic to the class that you choose - classes include Engineer, Operative, Medic and Soldier. Not only does each class perform unique tasks in the mission itself, but each brings something vital to co-op and team game play.
Medics are able to give healing buffs and revive teammates, Soldiers resupply ammo and can blow up targets, and Engineers can buff weapons turning the tide of battle. Now here's the kicker - while most shooters would be fine with giving XP just for killing the enemy, the bulk of the XP earned in Brink comes from supporting your team mates and completing objectives. This dynamic almost forces players to work together and to think about which class to choose - classes are changed at stations placed throughout the level so you can change them up on the fly. I was surprised to see my character earning bonus XP just for standing near my team and covering them when they got shot. This focus on XP becomes most obvious when you look at the leaderboard during gameplay - players are ranked by XP.
As we progressed through the mission to rescue our friend, it became evident there's an ebb and flow to the matches in Brink. Eventually one side "figures out" the best way to stop the other and there becomes this sort of transitional state. Players realize the team needs more of a certain class and things shift to "solve the problem." I compare it to the FASA developed Shadowrun FPS that came out a few years back. While many people didn't appreciate the game, there was a solid group of my friends that enjoyed the game which featured a similar dynamic because of its class based gameplay. I mentioned this, almost embarrassingly, to Splash Damage, but to my surprise they seemed OK with it and agreed. The only problem I had during my playtime was it took a little too long to get back from the previous command post into battle at times, this was especially evident as we tried to evacuate our guy from the compound and get him to a helicopter. The distance we had to travel to get back "into battle" took a long time and we ended up getting split up and picked apart quite easily. Obviously, communication is key here.
Its hard to put a "time" on a mission because depending on how well a team works together, they may be able to complete it quicker than others. Combined with the flow I talked about earlier I saw times ranging from 10 minutes to almost 30 to complete a map. With such a focus on co-op some may be worried about taking their game online because of a lack of communication between players. Luckily the game "auto" requests a lot of things. If you run low on ammo or health, your character will call out in his voice that he needs it, and the appropriate classes will get a notification on their HUD.
Brink looks to set the tone to be a different kind of shooter when its released later this Spring. Combining class based shooting, character customization, seamless play for any game mode, and lots of replayability should make for an addictive game. There's so much here we didn't even touch on - little things like totally customizable controls, host migration, an in-game tips DB, collectibles and more. Obviously we love the focus on cooperative gameplay and the little things Splash Damage has done to assure players working together get rewarded. We absolutely can't wait until May 17th to get 8 of our friends together to save the Ark...and to escape it.