At a recent preview event for journalists in San Francisco, developers from Splash Damage took the wraps off their upcoming, team-based first-person shooter “Brink.” I played for about an hour and got a feel for how the game’s multiplayer would work.
“Brink,” due out May 17 on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, is set on a floating, overpopulated city that’s on the brink of civil war. You can play through its chapters as either of the game’s two factions, Security or Resistance.
The Security faction, as the name would imply, represents law and order on The Ark, a sovereign platform built to support 5,000 residents in a future in which most of Earth is flooded. The Ark’s problem, though, is that an influx of refugees means it has 10 times its optimal population competing for scarce resources. Representing the have-nots is the Resistance, a ragtag bunch of self-styled freedom fighters whose gear and weapons appear cobbled together out of duct tape and twist ties. (Don’t let that description fool you; it’s just as effective as the Security gear.)
As you play, you’ll work to accomplish team-based objectives, such as securing control of a particular asset, or temporarily protecting another one.
Like the “Left 4 Dead” games, “Brink’s” multiplayer is pretty much the same thing as its single-player game. That’s a relief if you’re like me, and like to finish the campaign by yourself before jumping online. You could do nothing but spend the first year after “Brink’s” release playing solo or against bots, and when you jump into online matches with real people, you’ll be trying to accomplish the same goals and using the same abilities you’ve unlocked while playing alone.
The game is built on customization. When I first started the demo, I was encouraged to go in and tweak my characters’ appearance. (You can customize both your Resistance and Security characters.) There are a ton of options to choose from, and some of the game’s preorder bonuses add even more. You can even pick which voice you want your character to speak in, with somewhere between a half-dozen and a dozen options available. (Sorry, because the demo was team-based, I didn’t want to make everyone else who was playing wait while I took copious notes. My best guess on the number of voices is eight or 10.) I promptly set about making my character look as goofy as possible and gave him the most off-the-wall voice I could find.
In an era where a lot of shooters try to shoehorn players into one or two preset control configurations, “Brink’s” controls are completely customizable. Splash Damage has included six preset schemes that correspond to what players of a lot of popular shooters are used to. Each has a clever name that’s easy to figure out what game it’s referring to, such as “Duty Calls,” “Green Marine Chief,” “Zone of Killing,” “Field of Battle,” “Oh My Gears” and “Zombie Killer.”
Once you’re done tweaking and start actually playing the game, you’ll have four different classes to choose from. Soldiers are the generic, utilitarian class that uses guns and explosives to accomplish objectives. If you play as a soldier, you can refill the ammunition supplies of your squadmates and yourselves. Medics can replenish their own health as well as allies, and are the only class that can revive downed teammates. Engineers can improve the effectiveness of weapons and place automated turrets, and Operatives can hack certain targets and also play dead to ambush unsuspecting enemy troops.
While medics, soldiers and engineers can heal and buff themselves, the game only awards experience points when you come to the aid of teammates, encouraging a spirit of cooperation as you progress through the level.
What’s more, your team can also adjust its mix of classes on the fly within a match. If you notice, for example, that when your soldier dies, medics never seem to come to your aid because your team doesn’t have enough, you can switch your class from soldier to medic at any command posts that your team has captured. (You always spawn at a command post, so you can effectively switch classes any time your character dies, but also within the flow of the game if you happen to come across a command post.)
Like “Crysis 2,” which I previewed a few weeks ago, “Brink” mixes in a little bit of light parkour with its first-person shooting action. If you hold down the appropriate button while you run, you’ll automatically scale or leap over obstacles with ease. (In an interesting twist, one of the customizable features in “Brink” is your character’s body type, which appears to affect the speed at which your character can scale the environment.)
What I like about this setup is that it encourages you to experiment and find a role you’re good at. The demo was the first time I’d really played “Brink,” and I sometimes found that I had trouble finding my way to the next objective. This problem was easily fixed by switching my class to “medic.” The map showed me the locations of downed teammates who needed my aid, and I simply went to their position and revived, buffed and healed as many allies as I could find. Similarly, when you’re a soldier, the game shows you how much ammo each of your squadmates has, so you know when to run over and refresh their supplies.
In general, the game is great at letting you see how many of each class your team has deployed at a given time. My squad at the preview event seemed to have a lot of people wanting to play as engineers, so I primarily stuck to medic, with a bit of soldier thrown in as a change of pace.
As you play and accomplish objectives, you’ll level up and earn points that can be used to unlock new weapons, or reconfigure existing ones. I also noticed that some of the appearance-related settings were unlockable at higher difficulty levels. If you want a really skinny, fast-moving character, for example, the “light” body type wasn’t immediately unlockable. I assume that’s to discourage rookies from choosing a relatively fragile body type, dying a lot and getting discouraged.
I’m a big fan of competitive co-op stuff, like the “Left 4 Dead” games’ versus mode, and one of my big gaming regrets is not getting heavily into Valve’s “Team Fortress 2.” “Brink” looks to scratch a similar itch while also appealing to the completionist fetish that the “Call of Duty” games’ experience-point system encourages.
I liked the way the game kept tabs on my squadmates and let me know who needed my help. Even though none of us was really talking to each other or coordinating attacks and movements over our headsets, Splash Damage’s developers praised our level of coordination and ability to work as a team.
Indirectly, Splash Damage’s devs were really praising their own heads-up display, interface and game design. I’m looking forward to seeing how the game’s tendency to encourage folks to play as a team holds up throughout all of its levels, and with gamers who don’t all play video games for a job. The early signs look good.