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PREVIEW

BRINK

Cops and robbers of the future? Far from it, as Quake Wars developer Splash Damage brings something new to the FPS table. Get ready for territory capturing, olympian style.

Brink's developer Splash Damage is located in Bromley. Its a Borough of London, located some ten miles from the city's centre.

I mention this as much to remind myself as to inform you. Because such is the gusto and enthusiasm generated for duration of its hour-long Brink demo I'm convinced the studio members on hand have been replaced by Team America. That, or a squad of Energizer Bunnies.

We get a energetic pep talk of a presentation to begin, and come the hands-on we don't know what's louder - the gun fire emitting from multiple HDTVs or the continual stream of commentary by the team as they paces the room. They excitedly pointing out gameplay mechanics, possible strategies and the occasional shout of appreciation when something cool happens on-screen.

It could be someone's put something in their morning coffee, but it's probably truer to say the studio is just enthused about their game, and the rapid-fire comments are more a side-effect of jamming a lot of new mechanics, or twists on established ones, into a established genre. They're jazzed at their design, and want you to be too.

Even without the director's commentary, its likely that enthusiasm would still exist, if the hour's worth of play is anything to go by. Because Brink is extremely likeable.

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The game's sides are split between Security and Resistance forces.
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The Operative class can assume the identity of any downed foe - just don't get spotted.

On course for a May release, the multiplayer-centric FPS is built from the same foundations of the developer's previous works in the Enemy Territory franchise: team-based, objective-orientated gameplay, two sides, class system, defend or attack.

Instead of the realistic warfare of, say, Battlefield, Brink skews towards the bright and brash style of a Team Fortress or Borderlands. We're in a far future, with a 'utopia crashing into anarchy' story spin, with gameplay that offers a dabble in weapon and character customisation as well as a dash of Mirror's Edge parkour.

Its this free-running element that gives Brink its vitality and, partially at least, its uniqueness. The standard territory-grabbing dynamic is given a fast-paced flow as walls become walkways with combatants bounding up and over them with only a button hold, while others speed run between cover points, or slide through tight grills with a tap of a button. Understanding your directional intent is all programmed on the fly by SMART, Splash's acronym-munching Smart Movement Across Random Terrain system, meaning you're never left ineffectually trying to time a leap. Just get a run up and off you go.

It's an important point of play, as it means that success can shift between sides in the blinking of an eye. Mapping the numerous routes through each level and keeping one eye on the radar means you can by-pass a whole troop of enemies without firing a single bullet. Things move very, very fast in Brink.

Game time reflects this. In our brief glances to the clock on the two maps played - the previously seen Container City and a new map that's yet to be officially named - we were charging through roughly ten to fifteen minutes apiece. There's a lot going on in that period though, Splash crunching in multiple objectives that grow naturally out of each other. Container City's initial mission to blow the doors open into a complex built entirely of shipping containers segues into providing cover for a mobile robot heading to the next set of doors, repairing a crane to carry across a gap, and rebuilding foot bridges to offer alternate routes for your team through the level. All this, while trying not to get your head blown off.

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Heavy body types get access to the big guns, like Ol'Painless here.
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The character customisation is massive, and offers some interesting choices.

There are multiple objectives at any given time, and you can set your waypoint with a button press to call up an objective-wheel. I found most objectives needed the engineer class to complete, one of four on offer, each with their own perks. You're able to change classes at remote stations nearby each of your spawn points, with the game noting how many of each class were in play at that given time and thereby letting you choose how best to aid your team.

Teamwork is an integral part of Brink. In an interview with lead writer Edward Stern, which will appear on this site soon, he proclaimed that Brink subtracts most, if not all, the annoyances of the MP FPS field, with its own mechanics forcing players to play cooperatively.

Medics, for example, can revive ailing teammates by throwing them a health-charing syringe while they're bleeding out. Engineers can buff up teammates' weapons for more damage, as well as their own. Experience points are a lot more substantial with selfless acts. Splash Damage even go as far as marking out the selfish amongst your crew - when downed markers will note your team's medics, and which ones are actively trying to get to you and those that ignore their HUD GPS pinpointing your location. An on-screen radial dial will tell you how many shots of your special ability you got before you need a cool down period to recharge.

The team play starts coming together surprisingly quickly. As we slide in to start repairing the damaged robotic walker, teammates take up position at cover points around us. While repairing anything in the game you can still move to a degree, letting you hide from bullet fire. A press left or right and the engineer shimmies around the walker as he works - given its size you can hide for crucial seconds until the work is complete.

The warm up over, the understanding that teamwork is necessary pounded into our collective gaming minds, we roll onto the new map, a big office complex with multiple stairways and levels. Again, doing our best Michael Caine and only blowing the bloody doors off is the opening objective, but initially the small courtyard becomes a bloodbath as teams flow into it and we've a Naked Gun moment as a firefight opens up between opposing sides crouched either side of the same cover.

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Artwork showcasing the character and clothing designs.
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Sliding is a good way of avoiding getting your head shot off.

There's good reason for this, as opposed to poor level design. In a post-match lull, Splash Damage discuss a newly unlocked Body Type, another customisable part of your character. Hit level five in experience and you've the choice to play as a Heavy - a muscle-bound bullet sponge of a man who has access to the bigger guns in the weapons catalogue, but forfeits the right to free run with any grace of agility. The Heavy is a tank through and through, and the courtyard is packed with them.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, bookending the Medium body type is the Light, unlocked come level 7, a lightning fast runner with little ability to survive sustained weapon fire. The choice of the three diversify the field even further and it'll be interesting to see the stage layouts of the other fourteen levels on offer (divided equally between the two side's campaigns) and if there's any advantage to playing a tank in essentially what is a country of grenade-tossing cheetahs.

There is a story to Brink and its told with lavish production but minimum fuss with the game's intro, with a rather fantastic stop motion sequence as the game's history is retold while watching the construction of a city-sized diorama. Future world going to hell, self-sustaining floating city built then quarantined from the rest of the world by being ferried into the ocean. The Ark becomes a battlefield for two factions, one trying to save the city from the shanty town its rapidly becoming, the other looking to escape it. Broad strokes to establish the background and the design - as well as the multi-cultural cast you can choose from in both look and accent when you customise your character to begin.

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The hulking Container City map offers multiple smaller routes through it.

Each side has eight missions apiece, but if there's one worry, its if these levels are enough to sustain a online community for long. By the time our play session is up, we feel like we've already gotten a good grasp on what each of the two levels have to offer. We're undecided if that's a good thing or not, as its the maps, as much as the weapons and character customisation, that need to offer plenty of variety in design and depth to warrant repeat plays.

NPCs will quietly replace players were needed, but this is a game that will thrive in the online market if it gets its audience. And that's another concern. We've seen what's happened with new IPs entering swamped markets in the past, and with the FPS field as it is, a new idea is something that could be easily ignored. If it happens to Brink, it'll be bloody stupid. It's a brash and confident twist on a genre and market that needs to celebrate and embrace diversity.

I'm looking forward to seeing if Splash Damage can deliver the goods - the hands-on experience is extremely positive. And that's even without a developer enthusing in my ear.

At is stands Brink is one of those games you'll openly jostle your friends into buying come its release. Not just because its a refreshing FPS experience than brazenly flips the bird to the modern warfare scrum as it leaps overhead with a self-confident grin plastered on its face. No, its more in fear the game's going to be ignored come launch and land with broken ankle into the bargain bins. Such is the power and curse of a new IP trying new things.

Note: you have been advised. You have been warned. Blink, and you'll miss it.

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