Brink Impressions

We check out an extended demo of Bethesda and Splash Damage's upcoming futuristic shooter.

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Jumping from a brief teaser trailer to a half-hour live game demo in the space of a week is a brave way to build interest in a game, but Bethesda seems to be handling it well. Brink is the new, futuristic first-person shooter from Quake Wars studio Splash Damage, which has gone to great lengths to inject some personality into this sometimes-predictable genre. We got our first taste of Brink in a hands-off demo at Bethesda's booth during E3 2009.

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Brink takes place in the year 2035 in a floating city called The Ark: humanity's last refuge after Earth's near-total destruction. Two warring factions, the Security and the Resistance, are going head to head in a bid to outdo each other and take control of The Ark. What sets Brink apart from other shooters is that players do not take on the role of a pre-assigned protagonist. Rather, they create their own using the game's character-customization tool. You can take your pick from a variety of clothes, face shapes, hairstyles, scars, weapons, tattoos, and quirky add-ons such as bloody bandages. You can even pick your race. Players are also given the choice to pick from the two factions and play the entire campaign in both.

Splash Damage CEO Paul Wedgewood began the Brink demo with an abandoned airport just outside The Ark to demonstrate the game's S.M.A.R.T system (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain). The system looks set to work a lot like Mirror's Edge, whereby jumping from platform to platform is achieved simply by moving the camera in the direction in which you want your character to go. In the demo, Wedgewood reached a higher platform by holding down the sprint button and pointing the camera upward, which prompted his character to jump to the destination.

In the next part of the demo we were taken to The Ark dockyards, where Wedgewood demonstrated the different combat roles in the Security faction. Splash Damage has really tried to do something new by introducing this element of gameplay, and from what we saw it appears to work smoothly. Once you have picked a faction, players will also be able to pick a class of combat in that faction. For example, Wedgewood began the dockyards mission as an operative. However, he was soon prompted to change his class as he advanced through the mission when his team leader hinted that the team could really use an engineer to deactivate a particular switch and repair a land mine. When this happens, players will need to find one of the command posts scattered throughout the game and change classes as required. For example, Wedgewood had the option of becoming an engineer or a soldier, and chose engineer. Each class has its own benefits and preconfigured weapon layouts (which players can choose themselves). The class menu also shows players how many experience points they will receive for becoming a certain class and completing that mission.

Brink's combat appeared to follow the basic shooter formula. The demo that we were shown was very combat-heavy, and the enemies took a long time to go down. However, objectives change constantly depending on where players are and what they are doing, and will often call for a class change. So, if you're an engineer, you may find yourself doing less shooting and more tampering. Although we saw some cool guns (such as a grenade launcher), there did not appear to be a cover mechanic.

Although the game seems to have has a very solid single-player campaign, the attraction will be co-op and online multiplayer. The game supports eight-player co-op and an online multiplayer mode that lets you play through the campaign in either faction with other players as your teammates. No matter how you choose to play, all of your actions and missions let you collect experience points, which go toward weapon upgrades, customization upgrades, and unlocking new abilities, classes, and mission types.

Splash Damage has also made an effort with Brink's distinctive art style, which, though not stepping too far from such shooters as Gears of War, seems to also remain in a class of its own. The characters appear with slightly elongated faces and mismatched body proportions, which gives them a cartoon/comic-book feel. On the other hand, the environments are highly realistic, which makes for an interesting combination.

After our first demo, we think Brink appears to have fulfilled Splash Damage's vision of creating a first-person shooter with a bit of a twist, and we look forward to more impressions and hands-on time with the game.

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It is slated for release on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC in 2010.

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