Brink Preview

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Brink Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Splash Damage

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC
Official Site:

Humanity built the Ark as a self-sufficient habitat, made up of hundreds of floating islands, drifting in the middle of the ocean. In the mid-21st century, The Ark lost contact with the rest of the planet. Perhaps the rising ocean levels drowned everyone not fortunate enough to live in a floating city. Perhaps it was something more horrific. Whatever the cause, the Ark's inhabitants, their descendents and tens of thousands of refugees have been confined to the Ark for 25 years. In that time, population pressure and ideological disagreements have plagued the last refuge of humanity with a brewing civil war.

Projected Release: Spring 2010
Kyle Ackerman

It's no secret that I'm a fan of developer Splash Damage. I'm not alone. Enemy Territory: Quake Wars and Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory have garnered tremendous critical praise and hordes of fanatical followers. I'm particularly excited about Brink, because it looks to be the game in which Splash Damage is finally unfettered by the confines of someone else's license. Instead, Splash Damage gets to pursue the kind of class-based shooter action that it expertly creates, surrounded by compelling fiction that nicely enhances that style of play.

A Dystopian Disagreement

With Brink, players can join either side of this burgeoning civil war, Ark Security or the Resistance, on an extended campaign that determines the future of the Ark. The campaign features a series of battlefields that can be played alone (in a scripted campaign with a detailed narrative), cooperatively with up to eight players working together, or competitively, with players filling up both sides of the battlefield. Paul Wedgwood, the founder of Splash Damage, wouldn't say exactly how many players maps would support, but did say that 16 (eight vs. eight) was the sweet spot, and that "more isn't always better." The entire campaign can be played from either side, and so should offer a tremendous variety of play.

Unlike Splash Damage's previous games, which allowed players to improve skills over the course of a short campaign, players in Brink will gain persistent experience from play (offline or online) that will unlock weapons and character customization options. Both sides will have similar equipment, so the weapons and equipment that you unlock will persist, regardless of which side you decide to play. Also, visual character customization options that you unlock will be specific to the types of roles you play, so your appearance will make it clear to experienced players the kinds of roles you've played before.

Persistent Character Growth

The visual style of Brink was completely different from Splash Damage's previous games (and absolutely stunning), though many of the dynamics were refined and polished versions of previous games'. The objective system and various combat roles are similar to the exciting parts of Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, but seem easier to learn, with more intuitive controls and more obvious functions. For example, the engineer could erect turrets, buff other players' weapons and construct objectives, while the soldier has heavy explosives and access to heavier weapons. I saw an enemy interrogated to complete an objective, which seemed to involve electrocuting the man with a taser until he broke.

The persistent experience that helps your character grow comes from completing missions and killing the opposition. Even more so than in Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, objectives and the experience reward for those objectives are dynamically determined depending on your role, location and the state of the battle. It looks simple to call up a radial menu that will offer rewards. To an engineer, that might be to construct an objective. To a soldier that might be to blow up an obstacle, creating a short-cut. If a particular mission isn't being pursued, the experience reward will increase as an incentive for troops to properly diversify – that reward might even require changing class to a needed specialty. Most importantly, the mission system ensures that players always have a clear goal.

More than anything, it's the class-based multiplayer combat and remarkable objective system that make me excited for Brink. It looks to be the logical extension of everything great that Splash Damage has produced before.

It's SMART to Sprint

The big advance that Wedgwood was touting was the "SMART" system. With a chuckle reserved for the clever marketing acronym, Wedgwood explained that the team wanted to "improve the kinesthetics" of moving around the battlefield, and so created the "Smart Movement Across Random Terrain" system. The idea is that when players hold down the sprint button, the character will automatically perform "free running"-style moves, jumping over chairs, leaping up to grab ledges and sliding under obstacles.

Splash Damage didn't want a player to be stymied by a simple low fence, and didn't want levels to be kept perversely clear to make movement possible. Wedgwood emphasized that the leaps were not scripted, and were a natural response to the terrain so that SMART movement can be used actively during combat.

Fighting, Container to Container

What I did get to see of battle on the Ark was a skirmish in Container City in which Security forces struggled to reach a dirty bomb held by the Resistance. Container City was a wonderful example of the decaying world of the Ark. Once a dockyard filled with containers storing the possessions of the wealthy Ark inhabitants, Container City now shelters refugees as a makeshift shanty town. Security's objective was to escort a robot to the container in which the Resistance was holding the bomb. Over the course of the combat, Wedgwood repeatedly changed roles to meet the needs of his team, blasting resistance forces while rebuilding a magnetic crane to lift the robot over an unpassable obstacle.

Seeing the game in action emphasized how polished the visuals are, even now. The concept art looks great, but the game in action really shows off how detailed, individual characters can battle in an environment that is, itself, gorgeous. The environments capture the sense of a decaying utopia, and are pleasantly more colorful than the browns and sepia tones that dominate current games. The audio, too, is already sounding good, with shouted commands linked to the objective system and thunderous report of weapon fire filling the air.

But however good the game looks and sounds, even this far in advance of the game's release, I most look forward to the class and objective systems that are already shaping up to be another advance on Splash Damage's trademark style of play.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on June 6, 2009 4:00 PM.

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