In Brink, the upcoming first person shooter (with parkour elements) from Bethesda and Splash Damage, two factions fight for control of a floating utopian city, the Ark. The Ark became a final hold-out, for thousands of refugees, after a global catastrophe flooded all of the land on earth.
Will Brink, much like the Ark, offer gamers salvation from the spreading ocean of paint-by-the-number first person shooters? Or, like the Ark, is the game's SMART (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain) system too much of a good thing - resulting in an unbalanced FPS at war with itself?
As we mentioned in our interview with Splash Damage CEO, Paul Wedgwood, the developer is no stranger to the FPS genre, helming a number of projects in existing franchise IPs: DOOM 3 and Enemy Territory: QUAKE Wars. As a result, the developer has done a great job of making their new FPS title accessible (by including a number of familiar gameplay mechanics) - while also adding a number of refinements as well as a couple of unique twists that could set Brink apart from other first person "shooting galleries."
Before a player even gets into a match, they have an unprecedented number of customization options to both their play-style as well as the physical appearance of the on-screen character - not to mention controls. Splash Damage offers easy controller customization - allowing players the ability to use the default Brink controls or simply select from a large list of familiar control schemes (Gears of War, Killzone, Call of Duty,Halo, etc) - making it easy for new friends to jump in and enjoy the game, without suffering through a large learning curve.
The characters, in terms of appearance, rely on an exaggerated realism with a number of customizable base personalities, nationalities, weapons (which have their own robust customization options - as seen in the most recent Brink trailer) and apparel - in one of three body types. Each body type has specific benefits and drawbacks: skinny is the most agile (and subsequently able to clamber over shortcuts that would be a inaccessible to larger characters but is unable to carry larger weapons), heavy is the largest (and takes less damage from enemies but has limited parkour abilities), and medium is the mid-range everyman.
In addition to the body types, players can further customize their Ark resident with one of four character classes (which can be swapped out, during the match, at a secured command terminals). Swapping out character classes (without having to respawn) is a necessity - due to the game's reliance on class-based objectives. The classes should be pretty familiar to most FPS players - offering both a team-based perk as well as special ability: The Soldier can supply teammates with munitions and is in charge of using demolition charges to dismantle objectives and targets. The Medic can buff the health of other players as well as heal critically injured teammates. The Engineer can supplement the team's weapons as well as build stationary turrets. The Operative can disguise themselves as an opponent as well as sabotage a variety of the enemies resources and objectives.
As mentioned, Brink is designed around accomplishing team-based objectives - and while there is a single-player campaign with a story, for the most part, it's really just a solo venture through the same missions as the online multiplayer mode - instead of facing off against other gamers, players compete against (and alongside) a squad of bots. Given the go-here do-that mission progression in most modern shooters, it's easy to see how Splash Damage was able to fill-in a basic story around the core team-objectives.
For example, one online team-based mission requires the "Security" team to escort a weapon into the heart of a "Resistance" stronghold - with a series of mini-objectives along the way. At one point the engineer is tasked with repairing a crane, while at the same time, the soldier is tasked with defending a back entrance to the crane's control room - giving all the classes a specific goal - even if they aren't in charge of the current primary objective.
Splash Damage has certainly worked hard to build an infrastructure that relies on co-operative gameplay. Not only is each player given a number of personal objectives in each mission, it's nearly impossible to win without a balanced team. In one map, where the Security team was tasked with escorting a squad-mate out of a Resistance-controlled building (a variation on capture the flag), our team got stuck in a choke point - with the squad-mate getting downed repeatedly by the AI.
When we realized that no one was playing as the medic, one member of the team swapped out classes, and we quickly adapted our strategy to protecting the medic until he could get the squad-mate clear of the choke point - and down a path where the entire team could regroup.
Even on a lower difficulty, with a leveled up character, the AI in Brink is relentless - hinting at an intense title that, with a dedicated batch of players mindful of the necessity for a balanced squad, could provide hardcore gamers with a fast and frantic FPS alternative. On several occasions, at the previously mentioned choke point, a member of our team would take a different path, attempting to side-step Resistance forces - which would usually work once but not twice. The AI dynamically adjusts to the improvisation and guards the vulnerable short-cut - preventing players from merely charging through a less-fortified corridor over and over again. The intelligent AI communicates like a real squad (instead of a brainless wave of cannon fodder) and will keep players on their toes - even if they're not facing-off against a batch of autonomous people.
Brink is position to be a fast and furious title that could be a further evolotution of team-based played (and social gaming in general). It'll be interesting to see whether the final product can differentiate itself enough from the standard triple-a FPS titles but there's no doubt that Splash Damage has built a solid-foundation for players to experiment with - and make their own.
We'll have a full review of Brink when the game launches on May 17, 2011 for PS3, Xbox 360, and PC.