September 6, 2009

PAX 09 - A look at Brink from the expo hall floor

Dale Culp says One of the games getting the biggest amount of buzz this year at the Penny Arcade Expo has been Brink, and after watching the demo, it's easy to see why. The booth has been running demos every hour on the hour and quickly fills to capacity every time as people squeeze in to get a better look. From the highly detailed, customizable characters to the unique new approach Splash Damage is taking towards a more dynamic multiplayer experience, this shooter is taking some very interesting steps forward.

Brink is the tale of a city of the future: Ark – a successful experiment in self-sufficiency and the ultimate dedication to truly “green” living. But even as this floating city showed mankind a better way, the rest of the world was falling apart. As the ocean level rose, thousands of refugees fled to Ark as their last hope for survival. Unwilling to turn them away, this city – made up of hundreds of floating islands – took them in. Some 30 years later, however, Ark finds itself on the brink of civil war. You are the one who must help decide their fate.

One of the first things we saw in the demo was the way in which your character interacts with obstacles in the environment. As you run towards a platform, wall or other object, pressing a button will result in your character either vaulting over, climbing onto or sliding under that obstacle in a quick, fluid motion. You don't have to look for context sensitive areas that have been scripted in to give your character an opportunity to do something amazing, he or she just does it. Of course, while at first blush it's easy to be cynical and dismiss Brink as “just another game doing that parkour thing,” the end result is a very competent looking shooter that strives to give players the ultimate freedom of movement. In other words, Brink looks set to succeed where Mirror's Edge failed.

Aside from the parkour element present in Brink, the class selection and multiplayer aspects are what really caught my attention. Switching classes on the fly awards you with experience points while also changing the way you play the game. In one example, the demo player pulled up a class menu and selected engineer. In that instant, the game dynamically generated a scenario for the player to follow. In this example, the demo squad needed an engineer to repair a crane so that it could move a robotic unit into place. If the player had chosen a different class, however – for example, a spy or soldier – the game would have generated different scenarios where stealth or perhaps brute force were the key to getting further in the game. Brink, essentially, has an artificial intelligence acting as a director who is constantly coming up with ways to keep the game interesting.

The line between multiplayer, single player and co-op have been completely blurred in Brink. Friends and enemies can pop in and out of the game at will, choosing to fill whatever role is needed at the time. Rather than shouting orders at an AI squad member take up a certain class and complete an objective, your friends can do it on their own, anytime they want. There's no need to sit in a lobby and wait for your turn to play; just jump right in. Likewise, they can join the opposing force to work against you, and the game dynamically updates to keep everything moving along. The end result is a multiplayer game that feels like a solid, single player experience.

If everything goes according to plan, Brink should be out and on your PC, PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 by Spring of 2010. Also, keep your eyes on The Goozex Report for an interview with Splash Damage Creative Director Richard Ham where we talk more about what's going on in the world of Brink and a chance to win a Brink t-shirt, straight from the expo hall floor at PAX!