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Opinion

EGExpo Dev Session: Brink

An attendee's view of the Splash Damage Developer Session and their upcoming title: Brink.

Most of you will be aware that the Eurogamer Expo is going on right now. It wrapped up the Leeds leg of the show and is now open in London. TSA has a few staff members going on various days who will no doubt be writing up impressions on what they’ve seen over the coming week but for now here’s a “Guest Correspondant” – haz360 – with his impressions of the Developer session he saw with Paul Wedgwood on Wednesday.

On the Brink of Something Brilliant

There was loads of stuff happening at the Eurogamer Expo this past Wednesday. Hands-on time with massive new releases and upcoming games, a careers fair, an Indie Games showcase and last but certainly not least, developer sessions. There were several developer sessions throughout the day and they consisted mainly of various games studios speaking about their games, their companies and how they got to where they are today.

I was personally most excited for the developer session with Paul Wedgwood, the CEO of London based studio Splash Damage. He was there to talk about his company and, more interestingly, unveil his new game Brink for the first time to the UK public. So at 1:30PM made my way into the extremely limited seating conference theatre to get a brief eyes on with Brink.

When I entered the room, the first thing I noticed was, of course, the massive screen displaying the main menu of the game. I was pretty impressed straight away. The menu showed a topless, muscular character, with his back to us, staring out to sea. The whole scene was moving. Birds flew past, the character breathed in and out, waves crashed. It was very atmospheric, and this was only the menu!

After everyone was seated, Paul Wedgwood took the stage and after introducing himself, his company Splash Damage and bigging up publishers Bethesda, he got straight to the good stuff. Brink was being shown to the UK public for the first time at the Eurogamer Expo, it’s currently in a pre-alpha state, but is scheduled to be released for the Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and PC in “Spring 2010”. Not too long to wait then?

Paul then went on to give some background information on the game and the basic narrative. Brink is a First Person Shooter, set in the year 2045, in a place called The Ark. The Ark is a purpose built city constructed on the ocean which, by the year 2045, has lost contact with the mainland and the two opposing factions within The Ark, The Resistance and The Security, are on the brink of a civil war (hence the name).

The first thing that Paul did when controlling the game, was jump into an enemy-free map set inside The Ark’s Airport. He explained that, when The Ark was in its prime, the Airport was the place to be. A spot often frequented by celebrities and The Ark elite, it is now a very dangerous place to be.

Paul used the time in the airport to show off the game’s “S.M.A.R.T” gameplay mechanic. S.M.A.R.T, which stands for Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain, is basically a new form of free running in video games. You simply hold the S.M.A.R.T button (which doubles up as the sprint button) and run at any object you wish to get around. Your character will then vault over/slide under/run up the object and new routes, and more importantly, new tactics will be available to you. The way the character moved, the animations and such, remind me of Mirror’s Edge, with a very realistic and kinetic sense of movement at all times. The S.M.A.R.T system doesn’t just consist of you running at a wall and watching a pre-rendered animation however. You keep full control of the character at all times so, the example given was, if your character runs at a high wall, he’ll push back off it. But instead of waiting for an animation to end before you can continue to play, as soon as your character’s right hand is free you can shoot and as soon as the left hand is free, you can reload. It’s a cool feature which could lead to some interesting gameplay and provides multiple routes and strategies in any given situation.

Next up, Paul went on to describe how character progression and customisation will work in the game. There’s tons of character customisation in Brink, including a pretty deep looking character creator, which allows you to change everything from your player’s weight to how many scars they have on their face, to the colour of their body armour. As you progress in the game you can unlock more and more things to adorn your character which you can mix and match at will, making sure that no two player’s characters will look the same. After creating a pretty tough looking guy, Paul exited the character creation lobby back to the main menu, which now contained his newly created character staring out to sea! I found this extremely cool, but had little time to reflect on the excellent main menu (again) as Paul began to explain the progression system found within the game and went into more detail on the narrative aspects.

He first mentioned that the entire game can be played from two separate perspectives, either from the Resistance side or the Security side. Playing as either side not only changes the look of your character (the Security for example have riot gear, whereas the Resistance have makeshift belts created from car tyres), it also gives you totally different mission objectives and separate narratives. Character progression is also handled well in Brink, as no matter whether you’re playing offline or online, you continue to level up the exact same character. Anything you do while playing offline, earning XP and upgrades for example, is carried over as soon as you connect to the online world. That leads me nicely onto XP gathering…

You gain XP for doing pretty much anything in Brink, from killing enemies, to completing mission objectives, to healing squad mates. This XP not only counts towards your overall rank, but can be used as “credit” to buy new upgrades and attributes for your character. So basically, the better you play, the more cool stuff you can unlock.

After talking about XP, Paul played through a mission as a Security character, set in a place called Container City. This abandoned dock area is now a city inhabited by some of the Resistance fighters and the mission made for an explosive example of Brink’s core gameplay. Before Paul even got to the shooting though, I got my first real chance to absorb the visuals. Even in its pre-alpha state, the game looked amazing in motion. The highly stylised and exaggerated character models complimented a gritty yet almost painted looking backdrop. If Killzone 2 and Team Fortress 2 got together one night, had a few drinks and did something they both regretted in the morning, Brink would be the end result. It really was beautiful and rather than being unlike anything else I’ve ever seen, it was more like all of the best bits from everything I’ve ever seen, all put together in a pretty little package. Other visual effects impressed me as Paul played, such as the animations when arming bombs or equipping new items. All in all, a really good looking game, even in these early stages.

The gameplay was the strong point of the game however. Heading to a computer terminal, which act as checkpoints throughout the levels, you can change your class (the usual soldier, medic, scout etc) and your weapon loadout to suit your play style or to best fit the situation. One of the cool things about Brink however is how the game generates mission objectives on the fly depending on which class you’ve chosen. A mission objectives wheel shows several mission objectives at a time, with an XP rating next to it. Some were simple, such as covering a team mate and offered a small amount of XP, whereas some were more complex, such as destroying a blockage so your team could move around it, but these offered more XP. The whole of Brink seems to be based around a risk versus reward system, where more involved objectives offer higher XP rewards.

As Brink is a shooter, the weapons should be pretty important, and the few that were on show certainly didn’t disappoint. They consisted of your usual pistol/shotgun/assault rifle/grenade launcher varieties, based on real weapons but created just for the game, but every shot fired packed a punch. This was due mainly to the sound design, with every bass-heavy explosion shaking me in my seat, and every near-miss ringing through my ears. The sound really was atmospheric and dramatic, adding a sense of realism and tension to proceedings. Without going hands-on with the game, it was hard to tell how the game felt to play, but it certainly seemed to have a heavy, yet somehow fluid feel to it, making it as realistic as possible. While Paul played through the level, there were several other gameplay features and weapons that were quickly utilised, such as remote explosive charges, tazers for interrogating the enemy, and a particularly bad-ass deployable turret!

As Paul came closer to the end of the mission, it became a lot clearer as to what Brink is aiming to be. There are no “classic” multiplayer modes, like deathmatch or capture the flag, just the campaign mode, which can be played solo, or with up to 15 other people, 8 playing as the Security and 8 as the Resistance. Imagine Killzone 2’s Warzone mode, where objectives and game modes are brought up randomly, and then imagine it all linked together with a narrative which gives you a reason to be fighting and you’re half way there.
The game features full drop in and out support, so you could be playing offline, invite a friend and then the two of you be playing without a menu in sight. The game even generates objectives for your new team mate depending on what you’re doing in game and also encourages you to play co-op online by “bribing” you with a massive XP reward. Splash Damage wanted to focus on catering for hardcore FPS players and newbies alike, and Brink certainly seems to achieve that.

Paul had a few points to finish off with, mainly regarding how the game will be supported by the developers and some technical specifications. On consoles, the game will be peer to peer hosted, complete with host migration, and the PC version will feature dedicated servers (take that Modern Warfare 2!). There will be no cross platform play, the PC version could possibly contain the ability to create mods but nothing was confirmed, and the same was said for post-launch DLC.

I went in to the Brink developer session not really knowing what to expect, but left the theatre with a big smile on my face and another game to add to my pre-order list. It’s hard to say how the game will fare without any traditional multiplayer modes, and obviously the story has to be of a certain quality to make it worth while, but for the game to be in such an early state and still look so polished is enough to get me excited. I’ll definitely be looking forward to it when it’s released in Spring 2010.

TheSixthAxis would like to thank haz360 for taking the time to write about this for us.

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