Brink multiplayer hands-on preview

We got a chance to try out the PlayStation 3 version of Splash Damage’s forthcoming shooter, Brink. Here’s what we thought...

I’ll come right out and admit it: when it comes to playing games online, I have two left thumbs. I may sail through the offline campaigns of, say, Halo 3 without too many problems, but as soon as start competing against actual human beings online, I’m cut down in a hail of bullets.

In a majority of online shooters, a newcomer barely has a chance to work out the lay of the land before they’re repeatedly shot in the head. For all but the most adept, seasoned players, many multiplayer games are harsh and unforgiving.

In the case of Brink, however, developer Splash Damage has attempted to craft a game that will provide skilled players with a deep, exciting online experience, while at the same time catering for those who’ve perhaps been put off by the inherent harshness of online shooters in the past.

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Depicting a futuristic war between Resistance and Security forces, Brink’s an 8v8-player class- and objective-based shooter. Forming two teams of four, we engaged in an entertaining mission that involved our Resistance forces escorting a robot/drone/vehicle type thing through Security territory.

Classes can be changed at any point: you just run up to a computer terminal, hold square, and pick your profession. There’s Medic, Soldier, Operative and Engineer. Experience Points are the lifeblood of Brink’s shooty experience – you earn them not only for completing objectives and gunning down opponents, but also for helping out your teammates. As Splash Damage pointed out, you actually earn more XP by helping out your comrades (by boosting their health or throwing them a clip of ammo) than you do by dashing around killing people.

The advantage of this approach for new players is twofold. One, it gives more seasoned gamers less of an incentive to pick on newcomers, and two, it means that noobs who haven’t yet learned to shoot straight (me, in other words) an alternative way of getting into the game.

As a medic, I had a thoroughly great time just rushing around, healing the better players on my team and helping us on our path to victory. In Brink, even the most inept gamers can play an important part in the war effort.

The ability to switch classes in-game also adds greatly to its enjoyment. Teams can adapt to the changing requirements of a mission, rather than get halfway through and realise that they don’t have, say, an Operative to hack a computer.

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In the second mission we played, being a medic was downright vital for success. Our team had to chaperone a hostage through enemy fire, and as he took the inevitable hit, a medic had to be on standby to make sure he didn’t pop his clogs.

Between missions, we were given an opportunity to have a look at all the ways we could customise our characters and weapons. In terms of character customisation, only one option will have a tangible effect on how you approach the game, and that’s the body type you choose. Heavy body types are tougher but slow and less agile, while light body types can run and vault barriers, but are far weaker. In fact, they’re the only character in the game that can be killed with a single head shot. For the non-committal, there’s a medium body type that offers a middle-ground between these two extremes.

While we spent several minutes happily tinkering with the various kinds of apparel, hair-styles and tattoos on offer, we suspect that weapon customisation will provide an even longer-term appeal in the finished game. Like Gearbox’s Borderlands, there are an insane amount of options to tinker with, and successfully completing in-game objectives will unlock a wealth of new stocks, magazines, muzzles and other components to completely change the way weapons look and operate.

The most satisfying aspect of Brink, however, is the way it plays. Movement is fast and slick, aided by Splash Damage’s SMART system, which allows you to slide under (or vault over) objects without breaking your stride – while you can still jump and lean around corners manually, this context-sensitive interaction with the environment gives the game an eloquent, free-flowing atmosphere.

Brink’s a great-looking game, too. The caricature-like character designs won’t be to everyone’s taste, but its futuristic environments are handsomely rendered, and the game as a whole looks and feels highly polished.

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Best of all, though, is the amount of thought Splash Damage has put into Brink’s interface. Your current objectives can be brought up with a tap of a directional button, and the location of mission-critical landmarks or characters are clearly marked irrespective of where you are on the map. It might sound to some like dumbing down, but what Brink’s system does is allow team members to coordinate themselves quickly and easily, with the minimum communication. Everyone knows what character classes are needed for a mission, and where they need to be to complete it.

Brink is therefore a game that’s both fun and inclusive. The seven other players I spent time with ranged from the expert to the less skilled, and it’s a testament to the quality of Splash Damage’s design that we could all find our own way of enjoying the game and levelling up our characters. 

As a new property, Brink may not have the big name behind it of other shooter franchises, but the fact that it’s both deep and accessible may just give it the edge over its numerous FPS rivals.

Brink is due for release on 26 March for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.

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