A couple of BRINK previews have graced the pages of VideoGamer.com already, each summing up Splash Damage's intentions to bridge the gap between single-player and multiplayer shooters. These write-ups have detailed the four character classes, explained the emphasis on objectives, and shed some light on the much talked-about SMART (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain) system. If these are the first words you've read about the game, I'd suggest going back to a previous article; I'm not going to retread any old ground here. Instead I'm going to focus on the new stuff, namely the fantastic customisation screens and the brand spanking new map, Security Tower.
Game director and CEO of Splash Damage Paul Wedgwood was visibly excited at the thought of us going hands-on with his studio's game. After treating us to some enthusiastic ramblings about the concept behind the shooter, he encouraged us to go ahead and create our own characters. The first option here is to choose an archetype; a character base defined by several exaggerated features. The Geezer, for example, is old; his face a canvas for scars and acne. The Look is the opposite, a computer generated take on Usher, or somebody equally as young, black and handsome. The Psycho has a mad glint in his eye, which can be brought to the forefront with some clever use of face paint. The character models look gorgeous, with a caricature approach to design a la Team Fortress.
I went with The Chin, in the end, whose defining characteristic doesn't need much explanation. After giving him some green dreadlocks, slapping on some clown face paint, dressing him in a shirt, sleeveless top and three-quarter length shorts (reserve judgement, fashion snobs, he looked desperately cool), I jumped into the Ark for my first match.
For those that weren't paying attention in previous previews, the Ark is a floating city that gently bobs up and down on the waters of a flooded Earth. Once a 5,000-person utopia, the city is now the battlefield for up to eight players to scrap with AI opponents across a number of objective-based levels. My first experience of the game took place in Container City, which has featured in numerous trailers and gameplay videos already. This was my opportunity to acquaint myself with the basics of play: controls, classes and objectives. I'll avoid describing this experience too much as it was little more than a distressing series of deaths narrated by BRINK's Media Director Richard Jolly, who jumped in with helpful information on how I should go about not dying the next time. There's more to BRINK than first meets the eye, and it takes a little while before everything clicks.
The second of the two levels - the never-before-seen Security Tower – is much more interesting to talk about, not just because it's new, but because I actually knew what I was doing by this point. The mission here was to fight our way through the high-tech security facility where one of our comrades was imprisoned. After busting our NPC buddy out, we were to escort him back to the start of the level, making sure that he came to no harm along the way. Medics therefore played an instrumental role in this mission, and needed to be constantly on hand to make sure he was happily plodding along to the destination. That said, a whole team of medics would be useless; who would concentrate on laying down some fire on the countless enemies intent on taking his life? Co-ordination of classes and communication between team mates is important in ensuring success here.
Within the overall framework of the mission are several smaller objectives, each of which offer experience for completing. By hacking enemy command consoles, identifying mines and healing other members of your team, you're contributing to the mission as a whole. Pressing 'up' on the d-pad brings up a wheel that details each of these assignments, from which you can choose to make one active. While any class can attempt any objective, certain classes are clearly more in tune with certain tasks. Engineers don't take half as long to exploit enemy technology, for example.
I played as an Operative for the most part, swiping the clothes from my fallen enemies' backs and jaunting about enemy territory without a care in the world. Interestingly, the only opponent who can see through this disguise is the guy whose clothes you stole, so it's important to stay out of his way once he's respawned. Towards the end of the level I mostly relied on the Medic, furiously healing our NPC pal as he strolled through warzones without the slightest consideration for cover. What's nice about BRINK - with its objectives and on-the-fly changing of classes - is that you're never lacking options. A different strategy is at your disposal from the nearest command console.
The map itself was a sprawl of clean, futuristic architecture, peppered with strange technologies, gun turrets and hackable computer terminals. It was a sizeable environment, teeming with shortcuts and interesting nooks and crannies. The maps have clearly been designed around the SMART system, with plenty of crates, pipes and ledges you can scramble over by holding the sprint button.
Playing with the Splash Damage guys hovering over our shoulders was great fun. The British developer has an immediately obvious passion for not just BRINK, but multiplayer shooters as a whole. As we played – my team under the guidance of Richard Jolly and the other looked after by Paul Wedgwood - the developers whooped and cheered, celebrating our victories and making excuses for our failures. Jolly and Wedgwood were just as competitive watching us as we were playing. For their sake, I hope BRINK does well. It has enough genuinely interesting features to deserve to, but as a new IP going into a crowded genre I fear it might struggle. Let's hope I'm wrong.
BRINK is due for release on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on May 20.