Anyone who's been attracted by the promise of online team-based shooters will undoubtedly lament one fact; no matter how good the game, getting a team that works for the good of the squad rather than for personal scoreboard-ranking glory or (even worse) just spending the whole time wailing on "noobs" is a near impossible find. Brink, the latest game from developers Splash Damage, who have previously been responsible for the likes of Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory and Quake Wars, may be the first game to truly support an unavoidably team-based set up. And, from what we gathered from our hands-on preview session a week ago, it's all the better for it.
Set around the struggles of two warring factions, the "Security" and "Resistance" parties, Brink's action takes place on a divided, failed utopia called The Ark. With a campaign mode that seamlessly bridges the gap between online and offline modes, identical settings for each mission face both opposing factions in each gun-toting bout, with a short cut-scene unique to each team laying out the details of the plot.
The integration of both online and offline modes is one of the key draws to Brink. Creating as many as ten persistent characters spread across each faction, players rank up their XP and earn better equipment both in single and multiplayer modes. While a bonus is applied for playing online, this shouldn't put off those who prefer a single player experience; the game plays identically in both modes, and is created in such away as to alleviate many of the bugbears of other online shooters.
For instance there are no scoreboards ranked by kills, but instead by XP alone. This means that playing for the team is more likely to grab you fame and fortune than going lone-soldier, Rambo style. The idea is built right into the way the game's class mechanics work. Four classes work across both factions; medics, engineers, soldiers and operatives. Medics heal, revive and buff the health of team-mates; soldiers have unlimited ammo, can replenish their squad's bullet reserves and throw flash grenades; engineers can lay, build and repair turrets and vehicles; operatives can spot and plant mines, hack computers and disguise themselves as the enemy. Each of these class specific roles is easily carried out by a single button press (prompted onscreen), making it simple to see who you can help your team and achieve the overall mission objectives. In theory, you could top the end-game XP leaderboard just by healing your team-mates.
In this way, Brink encourages teamwork not often seen on console shooters, but the innovation doesn't end there. Splash Damage have implemented a clever free-running style mechanic that allows players to scale nearly any object on a map. Not only does this mean it's easier to launch surprise attacks by flanking enemies or climbing to higher ground, but it also means that levels can be strewn with the sort of path-blocking debris that would otherwise break an FPS map. As a result, the levels we played through we're engaging in both scale and decrepit, rubble-filled detail.
It's not only the levels that are looking great, but character models too. They're given an exaggerated, almost caricature-like feel, and what's best of all is how deeply they can be customised. There are literally thousands of combinations of facial types, clothing options, tattoos, shoes, hair colours and styles to choose from, meaning that it'll be incredibly easy to create a unique character with which to explore the world, as well as create menacing-looking clans. While it's mostly aesthetic in terms of creating a character, one attribute does effect the game significantly; body type. Either slim, normal or heavy, each applies permanent benefits and drawbacks to your characters. A slim character for instance is weak and limited to light weaponry, but is able to skirt around the levels at a blistering pace and reach areas of the map other players will take an age to get to. Heavies on the other hand will soak bullets up like a sponge and carry heavy and powerful weaponry, but ponder about at lumbering pace. The normal body type acts as a bridge between the two.
This level of customisation carries over to weaponry too. All manner of scopes, bullet clips and muzzles can be attached to tens of guns. Each adds unique characteristics to a weapon, perhaps for example improving reload times or iron-sight zoom level. They can also potentially offer life-saving visual cues in-game too; a clan all sporting the same muzzle will be able to recognise their team-mates barrel flashes, and identify them from afar across a battlefield.
From what we've seen so far, the attention to detail and care to build a truly team-based game in Brink is absolutely stunning. We're not normally ones to get excited about class-and-team based FPS games, but Brink looks to buck that trend for us. We can't wait to give it a go out in the real online world, and see if the system works as well with strangers as it does with a rabble of hardened games journos.
Brink launches on the PS3, PC and Xbox 360 on May 20th. We'll have a full review closer to that release date, so keep an eye on Tech Digest for our final thoughts then.