Last year when we were offered our first glimpse of Brink at E3 2009, we weren’t really sure what to expect. All we had seen in the lead up to the event was a gameplay-less teaser trailer and a few scant feature details, so we were very pleased to report
that the gameplay walkthrough Splash Damage were exhibiting at the event showed a lot promise.
Fast forward a year to E3 2010 and unfortunately Brink’s release date has slipped - we’re now looking at an Autumn (US Spring) 2011 launch. Additionally, the level of community support regularly dished up by Splash Damage in their developer blogs and forum interactions means there’s not really much left to be revealed in terms of gameplay features.
What we can offer this time around, however, are our hands-on impressions, courtesy of a little quality time with the game at the Bethesda E3 booth.
For those not familiar with the game, Brink represents the next evolution of Splash Damage’s previous two releases, the class-based first-person shooters Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. As online multiplayer-focused games, both ET and ET: Quake Wars had two main hurdles standing in the way of wider appeal. They had no worthwhile solo option to speak of (although Quake Wars introduced AI bots, the experience was just a bland clone of multiplayer, without the challenge) and both had a very steep learning curve.
Brink aims to address both of these issues. Not by boxing up the game with a separate single-player campaign like most shooters and action games in general do, but rather adding a greater narrative element to the multiplayer to make it more enjoyable offline, which in turn offers a way for newcomers to hone their skills before venturing online. This concept of synchronising a game’s multiplayer and single-player content is something that hasn’t really existed before outside of cooperative games so it’s going to be very interesting to see how this one shakes out.
The demo units on show this year at E3 were Xbox 360 versions of the game, focusing on a freshly revealed map called Reactor which you might have seen a bit of footage of in some of the feature videos from E3, (including our accompanying interview with Paul Wedgewood
Before the PC crowd get up in arms, I’m sure the creators would have loved to show it off running at higher resolutions with the rest of the trimmings that come with the desktop platform, but let’s face it, consoles are much more practical for these kind of portable presentations.
The demo stations were configured in a way that multiple players could join the same game, or you could go solo. Being that I was most interested in seeing how the game would hold up in pure disconnected offline play, I opted to just charge in alone against the bots.
Just as you would do when starting the game for the first time, we kicked off the demo with the character creation interface. The level of customisation here really surprised me. We didn’t have time to get really creative but suffice to say that players should be able to really tailor their game avatars to their liking for that real MMO-style identity in the online game-world.
Beyond the physical appearance of your avatar, the character customisation menu is also where you can tune up your weapon load-outs for each class as well as select and configure your various unlock abilities.
Jumping into the game, movement immediately feels - for lack of a better expression - very solid. Much more grounded like Modern Warfare 2, as opposed to say Halo. The SMART movement system is well-executed and surprisingly intuitive. If you want to vault up onto higher terrain parkour style, you just hold the SMART button and look up as you approach the obstacle - the same goes for sliding under things. I’d even go so far to say that there’s little doubt that we’ll see this mechanic adopted by many other fast-paced shooters in the future.
It’s a bit of a diversion from the skill and practice required to perform some of the old Quake engine trick jumps, but it brings that same kind of map navigation down to the level of the average player in such a way that feels as natural as any other method of movement in a first-person shooter. Depending on level design, and of course the agility of your chosen character class, it seems like there’re still going to be a few tricky leaps that will be tough to master.
Firing weapons and general combat feels very similar to Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, only now there’s RPG style damage numbers that float off your targets. The recoil and sound effects are dependent on your load-out and modifications and one of the first things I tried after the initial tutorial mission was fitting a silencer on my shotgun - it functioned as expected and although the damage was reduced as a result I now had a gun suited for quiet close-quarters kills.
The objective and mission system functions the same as ET and Quake Wars, but has been much more streamlined to make it quicker and simpler to figure out what you need to be doing and what can best help your team out. When you bring it up as a radial menu, the most pertinent objective for your current situation is always at 12 o’clock. Being able to pop back to the nearest command post to change your class on the fly also aids in keeping the game dynamic.
It’s tough to say if the AI teammates and opponents have improved much since Quake Wars, but although being set to the easiest difficulty (clearly so as not to scare away those not as talented as us games press types) they were still performing the supporting roles you would expect. If as the only human player in a game, you aren’t presently playing as the class required to complete the next key objective for your team, one or more of the bots will indeed attempt to fulfil the role themselves.
The addition of a stronger storytelling element, deep character customisation and the new persistent unlocks and upgrades seems to be doing a great job of overcoming the monotony of playing plain old ET with a server full of bots and although I only had about 30 minutes in the middle of a hectic E3 day to really get into Brink I thoroughly enjoyed the experience - no human opponents required.
It remains to be seen if Splash Damage can maintain the narrative in a way that will keep offline players wanting to keep slogging through level after level, but what we’ve seen so far is certainly a good start as we can wait for the next taste.
Unlike some other recent shooters, it has been confirmed that the PC version of Brink will support dedicated server solution which is a big plus for Australian gamers who want to enjoy low-latency games against nearby opponents. Although it hasn’t been made clear if any kind of community mod or user map creation support will be available or what Splash Damage’s ultimate strategy is for future expansion content, but at least (As evidenced in our accompanying interview with Paul Wedgewood
), we know that these guys “get it”. This is a development team forged from the modding and competitive gaming community, after all.
Gamers fortunate enough to be attending the annual QuakeCon next month in Dallas Texas will be able to get the first public hands-on taste of Brink and we’ll hopefully be hearing from some of the more experienced competitive players on how they find the player vs player gameplay so be sure to keep an eye out for that.
Brink is slated for an Autumn 2011 (US.Spring) launch, simultaneously on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.