Stace Harman goes head-to-head with Brink's latest build and lead writer Ed Stern, finding guns, guns and more guns.
As Keza discovered at Gamescom last year, a certain amount of readjustment is necessary when you sit down to play Brink for the first time. A few minutes are required to disabuse you of the notion that you’re best off finding a cubby hole and staying put. Thanks to the Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain (SMART) system, hiding behind cover and popping out to squeeze off a couple of rounds will likely work for around thirty seconds, until an opposing team member vaults the wall you’re crouching behind and shoots you in the head.
This hands-on session is about looking at just how much attention has been lavished upon the gun that shot you and the avatar that’s holding it. The devil, after all, is in the details.
Guns: lots of guns
As I cycle through the vast array of customisation options in Splash Damage’s upcoming team-based shooter, one thing is very clear: there are a lot of unique guns in Brink. More specifically, there are a lot of ways that you can customise your load-out, with the ability to upgrade and tweak weapon sights, ammo clips and attachments, coupled with whether you choose a light, medium or heavy body type for your character. Uniqueness is key here, as Brink’s lead writer Ed ‘BongoBoy’ Stern explains.
“There’s no point having dozens of different guns if they’re not meaningfully different,” he says.
"The scorecard at the end of the round doesn’t show kills."
“In an FPS, effectively the gun is you. It’s your avatar, and so it better be an interesting character. That’s how we think of the guns in Brink – ‘Well this guy looks, sounds and behaves differently to the other ones.' Frankly, it’s pointless having four dozen assault rifles if they’re all clones."
The concept of clones is something Splash Damage is keen to move away from in other areas too, and so the customisation extends to character appearance and voice, facial archetypes, clothes, armour, tattoos, hairstyles and face masks, all with multiple colours and tints for each.
As you level up you earn more gear, which Splash Damage hopes will increase sense of ownership over your avatar and serve as a status symbol online.
Intelligently, your character and customisation options are persistent whether you’re playing offline or online, so the character you’re playing will always be of your own creation, not typecast.
While much of the customisation of your character’s appearance is purely for aesthetics and has no effect on in-game abilities, the body type you choose does. Heavy, medium and light body types bolster what may initially seem a limited roster of four character classes - Soldier, Medic, Engineer and Operative - and affect not just the obvious attributes, such as the amount of damage you can take and how fast you can move, but also the kinds of guns you can effectively utilise and how agile your character is when traversing environments.
This, combined with the SMART system, means you can create a Parkour-style soldier or a heavy-set medic, and allows Brink to further distinguishes itself from the likes of Team Fortress, in which a Heavy Weapons Guy is always a Heavy Weapons Guy.
To the victor, the spoils
Underpinning the class system is XP distribution. XP is distributed with an eye on how effective a player you are being for your team, not how awesome you are at headshots (which, incidentally, will only ever result in a one shot kill if you manage to land one on the very agile and fast moving ‘light’ body type).
“The scorecard at the end of the round doesn’t show kills,” Stern explains.
“Of course we track that information and if you want to set up a multiplayer server that’s all about that, the data is there for you.
"But we’ve seen what happens when you rank players by kills on objective-based maps: you get medics that won’t revive players and soldiers that won’t give out ammo, because everyone is just chasing kills.
"We look at how to incentivise players. We give you much more XP for buffing your teammates than for kills, and we smother you in XP for actually doing the objective. In addition, the XP that we do award for kills is proportional to damage, so if you cause 90 percent of the damage to an enemy and someone else swoops in and delivers the final shot, you will get 90 percent of the kill XP.”
It’s evident that much of Brink is designed to be slick and fast-paced. The UI is clean and uncluttered, and changing character classes can be achieved at any in-game command point by selecting one of the four available from a wheel based menu.
If you get lost during any of the objective-based maps, pushing up on the D-pad and selecting an objective will physically turn your character in the right direction as well has highlighting what you’re supposed to be doing next. Even the medic’s ability to revive teammates is swift, achieved by tossing an self-administrable adrenaline shot to a downed player, ensuring the medic doesn’t become a sitting duck as he stands over a prone player to revive them.
“We’ve taken all the things that we know make online gaming fun and made it easy for players to get into and removed all the things that we know are irritating about online gaming,” insists Stern.
This streamlining extends to the movement, too. The SMART system makes it necessary to view environmental obstacles as structures than can be vaulted over, run through or slid under, but rarely should they be stood or crouched behind for any length of time. The brief tutorial video we see reinforces this by advising us to ‘move more than you shoot’. It’s evidently an area that Splash Damage intends to form as a key characteristic of the game.
“One of the key things we’ve worked on is movement, which we think has been lagging behind graphics in FPS for years now,” Stern tells me.
“I call it the fridge-on-roller-skates problem, because in some FPSes you’re like, ‘Hang on, I’ve got this beautifully detailed, brilliantly animated super-fit commando who cannot jump over a wall that’s chest height? That’s ridiculous.’”
"If you cause 90 percent of the damage to an enemy and someone else swoops in and delivers the final shot, you will get 90 percent of the kill XP."
Rounding out today’s hands-on are the challenge maps, a series of self contained levels that sit outside of the main game’s narrative and set challenges to encourage you to get to grips with each class.
In fact, there’s so much packed into Brink that it feels almost churlish to ask if there’s scope for further character classes to be introduced at a later date.
“We’re sticking with four,” insists Stern.
“We started with a, frankly, terrifyingly blank sheet of paper on this project and we really thought long and hard about where we wanted the complexity to be. We had to decide whether we wanted that complexity to be between the class types, or with the different combinations of abilities within those classes. We think it’s less intimidating to starter players if there are fewer classes and then certain abilities that you only get access to at higher levels. That seems fairer than having a whole bunch of classes and players being bewildered.”
Time will tell if this new, multi-format FPS IP will inspire or bewilder, and we’ve not got long left to wait to find out. Brink is set for release on PC, 360 and PS3 on May 17 in the US and May 20 in Europe.