GamesCom: Brink Hands-On

By Lee on September 7, 2010, 10:09AM EDT

From the second you clap eyes on the characters' big goofy faces, you know that Brink is going to be at least a little different. There's no grizzled army types, no spacey blando-armour and certainly no vague and dusty "Middle-East" setting. Brink has a look all of its own. Could you say the same of Call of Duty, Medal of Honour, Battlefield Bad Company et al? No, no you couldn't.

But Brink's uniqueness isn't just relegated to it's big-chinned avatars. Brink has ideas. Ideas like, "Hey, why don't we create a class-based, super-nimble, ultra-customisable FPS that melds single-player and multiplayer together in a way that's entirely fresh!?"

Presumably the answer around Splash Damage's boardroom table was, "Um, yeah. Go on then."

Broadly speaking Brink is a team shooter of the Team Fortress 2 variety. Set on The Ark, an enormous floating rescue-boat island thing for Earth's survivors, it plays host to two warring factions duking it out over capture points. There's Security, the bossy, well-equipped authority types, and the Resistance, the raggedy guerrilla chaps.

Before you plunge into this perma-war, you'll first have to navigate Brink's character customisation option. Decked out in sexy, slick menus it's a big old feast of fiddly bits. Everything about the appearance of your character, from build, to clothes, accents, scars and sexual orientation can personalised. Apart from that last one.

In addition to this you can swap-out your weapons, stability grips, sights, magazines and perks to an almost overwhelming degree. Unfortunately, our time with it was pretty short, and we were keen to get into a match, but rest assured there are so many options that you could write an entire stand-alone preview for it. But we won't. Let's talk about the game itself.

SMART, that's the silly acronym for the parkour-ish business you'll be enjoying in Brink. It's lovely. Using a simple one-button set-up it allows you to leap over, under or through whatever gets in your way. It's not like Mirror's Edge, you won't be jumping from wall to wall Faith-style, but it is a lovely diversion from the clumpy-footed oafs of most shooters.

It's also less of an overbearing feature and more of a refinement to the stunted, awkward movement found elsewhere in the FPS genre. Rather than build an entire game around the one gimmick, as others would, Splash Damage merely slip it in there, a perfectly executed embellishment that might just change your expectations of future titles.

The 8-player co-op mode we played tasked our team with escorting a bomb-equipped robot vehicle to a destination in a shipping yard, a rusted, container-filled maze of metal. This is achieved by capturing a number of points before delivering the payload and blowing the stronghold sky-high.

While there are a number of choke points for the action, feeding into these were several different routes allowing for different tactical approaches. It's an airy cliche, but properly co-ordinated teams will have a massive advantage.

Although you can swap-out your character-class during re-spawns, I chose to stick with the medic throughout. Whenever a teammate's health reaches zero, an icon appears on the screen leading you to the wounded. Similarly, if you find yourself bleeding out you have three options; you can either revive yourself (if you're a medic), you can wait for a medic (if you're not), or you can wait to respawn, therefore avoiding any increase in your team's death count.

Perhaps the most interesting this about the game, however, is its approach to multiplayer. It is, essentially, a single-player game with cut-scenes and an overarching narrative - yet infused with multiplayer abilities. Let us explain that properly. Say, for example, you fire the game up on your own, you can play through perfectly happily against AI opponents. However, at any point you can invite friends or strangers in to join your team or the opposition and the action will continue seamlessly.

It's an approach so simple you wonder why nobody has attempted to pull it off with such panache before. It also makes the old delineations between single and multiplayer seem a little outdated.

And that's probably the main draw of Brink. It's innovations and iterative improvements feel like a genuine evolution of the genre. It doesn't necessarily invent groundbreaking features the likes of which we've never seen, but it does combine a number of really nicely fleshed-out ideas to create something that just works. For that alone Brink is worth keeping an eye out for.

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