Brink Hands-On Preview -- Can You Play a Shooter Without Firing a Shot?By Michael Thomsen - Posted Feb 28, 2011
There’s reason to be skeptical when a developer says it’s possible to play through their online first person shooter without ever firing a gun. That was my response when Edward Stern of Splash Damage made the claim as I sat down with a near final version of Brink. I wasn’t dubious about his intentions but was momentarily hopeful that there might in fact be something new and hopeful in Brink, something that I really wanted to be true.
Brink is a team-based shooter with a heavy emphasis on tactics and support play. The game can be played as a single-player experience using bots or with online with--and against--other players. “We wanted it to be totally seamless,” Stern told me. “The experience you have in each map will be the same whether you’re playing alone or with friends.”
In blurring the distinction between single-player and multiplayer, Brink sits in the continuum of games like Left 4 Dead and Splash Damage’s Enemy Territory games. It’s sent in 2044 in a city called Ark. The city is a beautiful white metropolis that’s increasingly become overcrowded with lower-class rabble who threaten local stability and prosperity. You can play as the Ark’s Security forces or the Rebellion faction, a group of energetic rebels seeking justice. Each faction will have their own unique campaigns with eight maps apiece. You can choose to play the maps sequentially in Campaign Mode, create your own custom matches in Free Play, or compete in a Challenge Mode where the game gives you specific objectives in any given map.
Like Team Fortress and Enemy Territory, there are several different character classes, each with their own unique abilities. There is a standard soldier class with heavy guns and grenades; an Engineer who can build turrets, buff team members’ guns, and build stairways at various bottlenecks in the map. There’s an Operative class that can steal the uniform from killed enemies and infiltrate enemy turf to hack command centers. Finally there’s a medic who can heal teammates mid-fight or revive downed players by handing out syringes.
Maps have a number of sequential objectives, a structure that will be immediately familiar to old Enemy Territory fans. I played in one of the early maps in the Ark Security campaign, a big maze of rusty shipping containers. My team’s first objective was to defend a mobile recon unit as it slowly crept through the corridors. There were also several secondary objectives, which could be viewed by pressing up on the d-pad for a radial menu.
When you select a particular objective the camera rotates to point you in its direction and gives you an outline of the final destination that shows through the environment in the same way players do in Left 4 Dead. Secondary objectives included defending our team’s leader--who plays a role in the game’s cutscenes--defending the Security Command Center, or reviving players (I was playing as a Medic in the early going).
Gunplay in Brink has been balanced to favor team-tactics instead of reflex-based insta-kills. All enemies have health bars and it will take at least 4-5 bullets to kill someone depending on the gun and character class you’re using. Grenade damage has also been lowered in a neat way. Instead of simply killing you, a grenade sends your character flying back several feet and knocks you to the ground. This is accompanied by a heavy blur effect and a sideways view that lasts for a few seconds. It’s briefly disorienting but you’ll be able hop up and rejoin the fight in a matter of seconds.
Each map has an XP system, and you’ll earn points for a variety of actions from killing soldiers to building staircases. You can use earned XP to unlock new weapons and customization options in the game’s nicely directed character creation tool, which is a great showcase for the game’s visual style. The game mixes the anodyne futurism of Mirror’s Edge with the dilapidated scrap heaps of Borderlands. Characters are uniquely exaggerated, with bulging eyes and sour smirks that reminded me of Free Radical’s Time Splitters series. The game is wonderfully detailed and there are lots of small touches that add a great sense of physicality, like being able to slide naturally over barriers and the great depth of field effect that happens when you aim downsight.
In hindsight, the promise of playing Brink without ever firing a gun is a bit of an exaggeration. It’s technically possible but it’s a possibility that would probably entail lots of downtime and scurrying for cover while other players picked up the slack. But it is exciting to consider just how many meaningful interactions Spalsh Damage has included in their design besides shooting. This multifaceted approach to team combat was on of the definitive charms of Enemy Territory and it seems like Brink will be a beautiful revision of that experience. It’s got colorful visuals, a fanastic animation system, and a story set in the moral grayzone of class conflict. Brink doesn’t seem like it will upend the shooter genre, but it so far seems to be a suprisingly rich and thought-provoking variation.
Brink will arrive in North America on May 17, 2011 on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC.