Brink is what the offspring of Borderlands and Team Fortress 2 would look like, and not just in its tastefully cel-shaded appearance. It's got both the obsessive character and weapon customisation of Borderlands and the exquisitely balanced team interplay of Valve's ultimate team shooter (if not its sense of humour). Over the course of a twenty-minute match at gamescom, it was easy to get a feel for the rhythm and pace of Splash Damage's innovative FPS, but there's far more to it than can possibly be communicated during a single game.
It's certainly fast-paced – carelessness and mistakes are punished by an abrupt death at the hands of either a fellow player or an AI bot, and the tide of a battle can turn in ten seconds. But despite those typical genre characteristics, Brink feels different from other team-based FPS games, largely thanks to Splash Damage's SMART movement system.
It stands for Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain, and it means that the level environments are more than just a static maze – you can actually interact with what's around you. Hold the sprint button and your character will nimbly run over, under and around things automatically, like a strapped Altair, scaling stacks of crates to find a sniping point or fleeing under gaps to avoid fire.
The dockside battle we're dropped into seems specifically designed to screw with our FPS perceptions. You'll instinctively hide behind walls or strafe around crates, like you've been taught for years, forgetting that you can clamber over and around them. Our task is to escort a robot through enemy territory in order to steal a bioweapon, then escape in a helicopter. Our team of eight is up against an annoyingly but impressively intelligent team of bots.
Bots make it possible to play through all of Brink's campaign on your own as part of an eight-man team with and against the AI, but multiplayer and co-op are clearly where the real action is, even if our team of GamesCom attendees is unfortunately rather hapless against practised artificial soldiers. Each taking our pick of Brink's four classes, we manage to blow up a gate and get the robot through before getting bottlenecked in tight corridor whilst the resistance team peppered us with fire from above.
You're not tied to your class at all in Brink. You can switch it before every match, and in-game at any command post – in case you forget what your current job is, your class is helpfully indicated by the colour of your gloves. Every class is highly customisable, too, but we'll get to that. Each one completely changes the way you engage with your mission and your teammates.
Soldier is the simplest option; they're tough, can resupply ammo and carry explosives to complete a mission's attack objectives. Engineers are given the near-impossible task of keeping the robot functional during our match, and can place turrets at strategic points – an inspired turret placement was what eventually pushed our team past the bottleneck and onto the next objective, just as the timer was about to run out.
Medics can both buff health and revive fallen teammates – every time you die, you have the option of either respawning at a command post or waiting for someone to throw you a life-saving adrenaline syringe. Operatives have the most specialist role, able to disguise themselves as someone from the other team and complete hacking objectives.
Customisation works across all four classes – you pick abilities, not stats, from a massive selection of performance-enhancing attributes. You can buy more health for your soldier class or the ability to throw grenades further, and then boost your hacking speed for the next time you feel like going Operative. You can spread your experience across all four classes rather than needing to specialise in one.
Brink is both adaptable and excellently balanced, and there's nothing about our first match that warns us to dampen our expectations for Splash Damage's first venture into original IP. It''ll take a lot of playtesting to ensure that balance isn't easily disrupted, though, which easily explains the game's recent delay.
We shouldn't be impatient; 2011 is shaping up to be a hell of a year.