Splash Damage’s Brink: This Is How It Is

By Alec Meer on September 18th, 2009 at 6:06 pm.

Earlier this week, I saw Brink, a game whose substance no-one had hitherto seemed terribly clear about. Pray allow me to try to correct this…

You can tell this is a Splash Damage game because it’s about two teams of players fighting an eternal, bloody war against each other in objective-based maps. It’s not nominally an Enemy Territory game (as have been SD’s two titles to date, Wolfenstein: ET and Quake Wars), but for all the Kent-based developers’ claims that Brink is something of a new beginning, it’s very much a natural extension of what they’ve done previously.

You can’t tell this is a Splash Damage game because, well, everything.

While they might be broadly sticking to their genre guns, it’s not as if this young studio has that much in the way of hallmarks yet – so far, they’ve specialised solely in hyper-quality modifications of id games/franchises. Brink is where they’re going to create those hallmarks, how they’re going to establish their own voice and style, so that in future someone will confidently say “now that’s a Splash Damage game.”

Brink is about dudes fighting on big maps and earning experience points: this is what Splash Damage do, and it’s something they reckon they were one of, if not the, first to do when they released Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. But it’s nothing so simple as a multiplayer game. It’s a singleplayer game too, consisting of a string of levels within a story-led structure, documenting the near-future conflict between the refugee-descended Resistance and the ruling Security. Neither side is right or wrong – they’re simply fighting for their own rights and safety, though they are, it’s hinted, potentially misled by erroneous information from on-high. The land they fight over is The Ark, an enclave surrounded by the waters of what they’re told is a flooded Earth.

But where Wolf and Quake Wars were simply Good Guys vs Bad Guys, be the latter Nazis or Strogg, here there’s a story to be told. This is Splash Damage’s own universe, and it isn’t simply a canvas for bloodshed. There is mystery. We’re going to find stuff out. It’s not what you’d expect of a team-based multiplayer shooter, and the reason for that is, quite simply, that Splash Damage aren’t preaching to the converted here. They want to preach the guys who’d traditionally run screaming from Enemy Territory or Battlefield, to the guys who don’t even realise that Call of Duty has a multiplayer mode.

Story’s just one way in which they’re trying to achieve that. Where Quake Wars was a tale already told, hampered by what, in SD’s lead writer Ed Stern’s own words was something of a “HUD from hell”, this is Bioshock-like trying to attract people with the promise of A New Place. To make that clear to a passer-by is the graphical approach, a fusion of hyper-silly and hyper-macho: halfway between Gears of War and a Pixar movie. It’s hard not to think of Borderlands when you see it, but, with all due respect to Gearbox, the detail and solidity here makes the upcoming Diablo-with-guns look several years behind. In the played-live stuff I saw, Brink is beautiful – the only whiff of bullshot about the screenshots you see here are the unlikely camera angles and an ungodly amount of anti-aliasing.

Then there’s movement. You and I know how to navigate a first-person videogame world, and how to muster at least a degree of the momentum necessary for survival in a multiplayer shooter. Many, many people don’t – the coordination and forward-planning necessary for bounding over or ducking under obstacles isn’t something they already know how to do. So there’s the SMART system, a one-button control that auto-hurdles walls or slides under barriers. It’s not as simplistic or detached as Assassin’s Creed – while it does do a fair chunk of the legwork for you, it’s context based. So, look up while running to signal that your intent is to jump or climb when you approach the next obstacle, or down to home-run-slide under a low-slung thinger.

I can feel the heat of the fury-steam of the “OMG dumbed down for consoles!” crowd from here. Yes, it is designed to be accessible to those who would normally run a mile, but you don’t have to use SMART. You can jump and duck and whatnot manually if you wish, and SD claim doing so does give you an edge (presuming you’re good at that kind of thing). Player matchmaking is done according to their level, so if you’re unnatural good at shooters you’ll find yourself levelling pretty quickly and, in turn, facing off against folk of equivalent experience/ability rather than feckless newcomers. Or me.

That said, Me will be Me in Brink. There is, thank grud, no Alec Meer player model, but there is an elaborate character editor, a little akin to City of Heroes and APB. You choose your face, your body type, your hair, your tatooos, your beard, your clothing…

With three quick clicks, the default character design is made into a guy that looks entirely different. It’s a far cry from picking Bloke With Hat or Bloke With Slightly Longer Coat – you construct a character that, we’re told, will essentially be unique to you. As you level up, you’ll also collect/unlock more items to further customise your beefcake of choice. A Resistance character starts off wearing armour made from junk – a breast-plate of tyres, for instance – but as he hits the high notes he looks far more like a proper soldier. Bar the comedy nose and massive tattoos, anyway.

So you’ve got your guy, you pick your side, and you drop into a fight. If it’s you on your todd, you play with or against bots. If a mate pops up online (via Steam – despite this being a Bethesda-published game, SD are adamant we won’t have Games For Windaaaaargh Live inflicted on us here. They’re agreeably if cautiously rude about it, in fact), you can invite him in and he’ll take over from one of those bots. If he has to leave, a bot will replace him.

Once in the game, you and any other player pick a class – Soldier, Medic, Engineer and so forth – and then a Specialisation beyond that, which affects your weapon set. Each class can do things the others can’t – certain obstacles can only be removed by Engineers’ tools, for instance.

Which is a problem if no-one’s an Engineer. Except it isn’t, because you can change class at will, simply by popping to a terminal in your base. On top of that, everyone gets to pick missions – some reflecting the entire team’s objectives, such as get this barrier down, defuse this bomb, keep the enemy from the gates…

Others are tailored just to your situation and class. If you’re a medic, you can accept a quest to go heal a fallen comrade, and win bonus XP for it. If you’re an Operative playing for the other side, you can accept a quest to go finish off or interrogate said fallen chap. Crucial to this is that you’re explicitly rewarded for doing stuff that other team-based shooters just expect you to do anyway. Everyone wants XP, but no matter how hatefully selfish they are, they get it by helping the cause, by helping their team-mates. All carrot, no stick. The harder the task, the more XP you get – but it’ll be harder because it requires co-ordinating with a few team mates. And the mission system responds to that – if you accept a certain big goal, a bunch of new missions will be offered to your squad, promising rewards for assisting you.

Is it the answer to the omnipresent selfishness of public servers, or is a molly-coddle too much? I can’t say until I’ve played it, but I think the pairing of our lizard-brain desire for experience points with objectives that help your side really could achieve great things.

What I do know is that I don’t want to repeat the experience I once had when I dropped into a Battlefield 2 server and was made Commander. No-one was in squads, no-one was giving or following orders. I requested a couple of times that my side got into squads so we could all co-ordinate our offense/defense. No-one obliged or even replied. We were decimated. At the end of the map, I was voted out of my Commander’s chair for having the temerity to try and organise this motley crew. If Brink’s mission/XP system can stop this self-defeating selfishness, I’m all for it.

It’s a Splash Damage game. It’s not a Splash Damage game. For both those reasons, I think it’s going to be stellar.


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65 Comments »

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  1. jsutcliffe says:

    Screenshots look very pretty, but why do people even bother with trailers like that — what is the point?

    There’s a guy — he has an eye. Oh, he’s bleeding. Videogame!

    • Ybfelix says:

      Still I like this kind better than the “developer talking heads interrupting every gameplay sequence with irrelevant and cliched comments” kind of trailers.

    • yhancik says:

      @Ybfelix
      “We’re very excited about this project”

      “We want to deliver the Best. Gaming. Experience. Ever”

      “… with RPG elements”

      “”cinematic experience””

    • mootpoint says:

      I suspect the reason they bother with trailers like that is because they think they have a story to tell. At least to my tastes that trailer told me a whole lot more about the ambition of the game than all the diablo III gameplay trailers strung together.

  2. jwc says:

    When’s it gonna be released? Come on man, don’t make me look it up.

  3. lumpi says:

    “I can feel the heat of the fury-steam of the ‘OMG dumbed down for consoles!'”

    Oh good. So my psionic powers have reached you.

    You know, why not just have a “PLAY” button that plays the game for you. All you have to do is watch the pretty explosions. And it’s better than a movie because it’s a little different every time!

    Sigh.

    I don’t really understand the interpretation of “accessibility” in modern game design. Why exactly would you want to cater towards people who would “run a mile away” from your genre of choice? Why not make a game for the millions of existing players?

    • Theory says:

      Because the other group numbers in the billions?

    • goodgimp says:

      Wow… seriously? Moving takes too much coordination?

    • Spectre-7 says:

      Why exactly would you want to cater towards people who would “run a mile away” from your genre of choice?

      It wasn’t “run a mile away” but “run a mile”, meaning (I believe) someone who actually gets exercise every now and again and doesn’t spend all of their free time sitting in front of a computer.

    • Theory says:

      I wouldn’t get too carried away with the lone example of AI-assisted ducking (which Left 4 Dead has too, by the way).

    • Impossible says:

      Bayonetta has a mode almost exactly like what you described…

    • Diji says:

      Why does it bother you so much? If you think it makes your game to easy or something, elect to manually jump and such. Sounds simple enough to me.

  4. Shalrath says:

    I’m worried slightly about it – although the last game of theirs I played (that worried me) was Quake Wars – I was not impressed with their last game. I found QW to be unbalanced, infuriating (my record was 5 deaths in a row to artillery/etc in my spawn, and having a tank sit outside the spawn firing INTO it…), and just not that fun. There were parts I thought were good ideas, but I wasn’t fond of it. This was the beta, however.

    I do like the ideas I’m seeing here. And I know how much working on an existing IP, well, sucks.

    I hope this is good, because it’s the kind of game I really want to play.

  5. Theory says:

    Want-o-meter rising…

  6. Aldaris says:

    This is what UT3 warfare mode should have been, here´s hoping SD doesn´t cut away all the good parts. This and Borderlands are pretty much my wishlist for non-freeware games.

  7. SteveHatesYou says:

    I love the art style. Between this, TF2, Mirror’s Edge, and Borderlands, it feels like we’ve finally shaken off the boring, splodgy grey/brown look that so many games have been stuck with.

  8. Heliocentric says:

    I thought to “pick mission” aspect of quake wars was one of the weakest. You can farm xp without really being productive, you can massively help your team without having any missions which reflect this.

    The missions are just artifacts of what happens naturally in TF2. Instead of rewarding “interrogating a corpse” why not reward suppressing enemies from pushing down a side path while you are out numbered in that area. Or reward sniping the enemies medic leading to dropped enemies not getting revived? Things which are actually relivent in a shooter?

  9. Ybfelix says:

    I feel dumb here, after finish reading the article I still can’t make a picture of what this game as a whole would be like in my head.
    Maybe it’s because I never played Quake War style games.

  10. BigJonno says:

    Hang on, how many first-person shooters are there with complex movement controls? Unless we’re talking about slightly po-faced military simulators with three different buttons for crouching, the FPS genre is still mostly about WASD, jump and duck. I read about the movement thing and thought “cool, that sounds like a bit of Mirror’s Edge-lite scenery interaction instead of the usual bunny hopping bullshit.”

  11. Railick says:

    Dude on the left in first picture looks like Bruce Willis

  12. DK says:

    The online/singleplayer integration sounds a lot like The Crossing – infact, it sounds exactly like The Crossing. It was basically dark messiah of might and magic’s melee combat system (which rocked) in an assymetrical templar-ninja vs punks vs police game set in a semi-post-apocalyptic Paris.

    A far more interesting setting that yet another angry-shooty-men with guns and bulging muscles.

  13. autarch says:

    “if you accept a certain big goal, a bunch of new missions will be offered to your squad, promising rewards for assisting you.”

    This sounds very interesting. If they can meld the compulsive desire to complete quests with the satisfaction of semi-organized teamplay, that could be quite huge indeed.

  14. eyemessiah says:

    I’m all for increasing accessibility in multiplayer games, because I am sick of playing with you bunch of grumpy puritans! Zing!

  15. ChampionHyena says:

    No one’s mentioned the hop-in hop-out botplacement friendhelping?

  16. Dominic White says:

    As someone else mentioned, Bayonetta is another game that is going to have a ‘non-gamer friendly’ mode. Training wheels for hardcore games, if you will. Which is good, as both Brink and Bayonetta (online shooter and arcade-style brawler) are genres with notably steep learning curves, and are commonly very hard for a true newbie to get into.

    Doesn’t stop them from having ‘no assists’ servers or, in Bayonettas case, upper difficulty settings which the developers warn are among the hardest in the genre (right up there with Ninja Gaiden 2’s toughest), but it means that there are new inroads to genres that might have scared the newbies away otherwise.

    Bravo indeed.

  17. Moorkh says:

    No female avatars & stupid excuse -> no buy.

    Way to sell games by publicly painting your likely customers as idiots in every interview…

  18. eyemessiah says:

    No female avatars?? Wtf?

  19. Tei says:

    Lovelly art.

    GO GO GO ARTIST!

  20. Tei says:

    I hate consoles with passion. I have my own reasons to add to everyone reasons, and more, and maybe some irrational reasons to add to the rational reasons.

    But a contextual button don’t shout to me “dumbed down”. I have to play this (a demo?) to be able do decide if is a normal (is not he first contextual onebutton thing ever) thing, or a stupid one.

  21. Psychopomp says:

    Is it just me, or are brown shooters dying out?

    I, for one, welcome the death of brown.

  22. An Innocuous Coin says:

    I love the artstyle, and I absolutely adore rewarding players for working as a team. I think my time playing TF2 has actually be lessened because I cannot for the life of me find a server with a playerbase that consistently works together, much less coordinate to accomplish an objective! So adding incentives for that sounds like a mite of brilliance, to me.

    And to those raging about the controls; not everyone finds it as easy as you do. Also you are funny.

  23. Heliocentric says:

    Years from now we’ll reminisce about when games had brown in them.

    • SteveHatesYou says:

      I imagine it will be in the same way we reminisce about FMV games: with laughing and pointing.

  24. Adam T says:

    Now I kinda want a lovely brown shooter, with nice airy level design and colorful accents.

  25. Surgeon says:

    I found the mini objectives in Quake Wars one of the most compelling aspects of it.
    So I’m glad they’re expanding on it with Brink.

    Sounds like this is shaping up quite nicely.

    Brink FAQ here, if people are interested :
    http://www.splashdamage.com/forums/showthread.php?t=18079

  26. Doctor Doc says:

    Looks cool, but is this going to be any interesting for us that does not have a bunch of Steam friends or will it be kind of like L4D in that aspect?

  27. Lack_26 says:

    So far this game had done no wrong. I love the art style, I trust the developers and the game play sounds excellent.

    If they can pull this off I will be very impressed and happy. If they don’t, it’ll still be awesome.

  28. espy says:

    Yeah, the rolling front concept central to QW was an excellent idea that deserves reviving, and I’m excited about this purely on the basis of how utterly excellent the original Enemy Territory was.

  29. Aubrey says:

    There is a tendancy to conflate improvements in accessibility with an implicit reduction of actual gameplay depth. I don’t buy it, personally.

    I think that this perceived tendancy occurs because quite often, simplifying controls results in exposing the fact that a game might actually have been pretty shallow in the first place; complex interfaces could simply masquerading as perceived depth, when they’re really nothing more than an unnecessary* barrier.

    While this is a common occurance in recent years (a side effect of developers generally making better interfaces and control schemes, but having less time to develop deeper and deeper mechanics – such are the standards of polish expected from games), I don’t think that the two are directly related. I believe you can have accessibility and depth.

    Accessibility is about reducing barriers which don’t add anything to a game (except a rather masochistic satisfaction at overcoming the shortfallings of an interface). So long as the skill ceiling/expression space remains high after removing those barriers, there’s still a lot of actual (rather than interface-implied) depth to go around.

    *Then again, there are also games whose complex button presses and awkwardnesses can add to a great sense of kinaesthesia – the feeling of pulling off a FADC SRK to Ultra in SFIV, or manually copying pass codes into fake computer interfaces in Deus Ex, placing you in the scene via recall of well known real world interface tropes.

    • AndrewC says:

      Rock on Aubrey, I’m with you.

    • Sonic Goo says:

      I was going to write a big rant about this, but I’ll just +1 this comment instead. :)

  30. Cael says:

    Please let there be no vehicles and let it be closer to wolfenstein enemy territory than quake wars.

  31. Mo says:

    My sister *loves* Grand Theft Auto. We’d play GTA 1 & 2 together all the time. When GTA 3 came out I let her have a go and … well, it was amusing to say the least. Couldn’t walk in a straight line if her life depended on it! We (gamers) have grown used to it, but if you really think about it, moving two hands independently to control basic movement is actually quite difficult.

  32. Melf_Himself says:

    The problem with giving people points for completing objectives is that usually the objectives are not necessarily what is needed to win.

    For example in TF2 you get “points” from killing people. Naturally people want to increase their points. Now, killing people is nominally good for team progress in the map, whether it be CTF, or point capture, or a payload map. But, killing particular people in particular positions is often entirely fricking useless and does not help your team at all.

    Yet, people will gleefully pursue whatever avenue gives them the most points, regardless of whether the team is helped or not. This leads to the inevitable “sniper tards” standing around trading shots in some maps.

    I think the only way to fix this is to make the victory condition a direct product of the scores of the individual players. So if you want to take the approach that players get points for completing these little “quests” during the game, you need to have team victory awarded by who completed the most of those quests. Not something indirectly related such as capturing a flag etc.

    The game looks cool, I hope they get it right.

  33. Lucas says:

    Quake Wars still really needs one more patch for things like automatic team assignments (often everyone waits around trying to go on the offensive side), the over-nerfed MCP escorting and spawn un-capping, and fireteam invites (why can’t I invite EVERYONE easily?). I really hope it gets the Quake Live treatment someday, because some extra content and more spit and polish and better team balancing would be great.

  34. LionsPhil says:

    In Quake Wars, the missions didn’t seem to auto-assign to you if you were in the middle of completing them, which would have been a useful timesaver.

    That said, both Enemy Territory games so far have been ace, and if SMART means an end to helplessly humping impenetrable waist-high fences because mantling died off some time around System Shock 2, I’m all the more for it. Seems like a rare case of interface streamlining that removes no actual capability or information.

  35. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    On the BF2 anecdote: Oh yes. I think we all know how it’s like to be Commander. It’s like they expect you to just be a UAV/Artillery dispenser and do nothing else.

    • Heliocentric says:

      Really though, this is only my experience on small servers.

      Anything over 25 players i’ll find a squad who is receptive, i’ll reward them with constant support and in response they will be even more likely to follow commands.

      Once others see and hear whats happening you will often get a better answer to a request for a defensive mission and it snowballs. Especially if you start winning decisively.

  36. Matosh says:

    I will buy this game solely to reward the developers for choosing Steam over freakin’ Games for Windows Live. Because 1) I am an ardent user of Steam, and have no interest in fucking around with other online services, especially bad ones, and 2) GfWL sucks, and should therefore fail, regardless of the amount of money that Microsoft pumped into it.

  37. Rinox says:

    I still don’t really know what to imagine from that “assisted” and “context-based” movement system. Someone mentioned L4D had a similar system, but I don’t know how. I seem to be crouching and jumping myself in L4D. I think.

    (note: not a flame, I honestly don’t know what to imagine. It’s probably so minor that I’ll end up wondering why it’s mentioned by a dev as a feature anyway. ;-) )

    • Vinraith says:

      If you don’t crouch in L4D on your own, the game crouches you automatically after a brief pause. It’s pretty silly, actually. If you just play like a normal gamer you don’t even notice.

    • Fumarole says:

      Think of entering a vent. You auto-duck when entering and auto-rise when exiting, assuming you were standing before entering.

    • Rinox says:

      Oh ok, thanks for the explanation. Like Vinraith guessed, years of PC gaming have already made me master the infamous jumpcrouch autopilot, so I must have never noticed.

  38. Lan says:

    While I can agree that oftentimes games implement a large amount of extra nonsense that has you jumping through hoops and what not, then touts the “depth” of the game because somehow pressing an 8-button sequence to climb on top of a box makes you feel like you are “really there” or something, I don’t think that this superfluousness is always a bad thing. Having what is, in essence, a completely unnecessary mechanic of a game, say travel in a MMO, still adds to the game experience. It might not necessarily be in the form of depth, but it keeps the game from turning into a glorified Dragon’s Lair, where you are basically just watching a movie and pressing a button at the right time. That is where most people take issue with automating or “dumbing down” the gameplay, because they feel that the control scheme, or whatever else is the issue at hand, adds to the entire experience of the game.

    Almost any FPS is a perfect example of this. There are portions of many FPSes where the player is forced to randomly interact with the terrain by jumping, climbing around on things, running at the right time, etc., to get to the next area, not really engaging in anything but random displays of coordination for the sake of prolonging the game. Removing that would undoubtedly make the game much quicker-paced and the action would be much more consistent, yet at the same time, you would kill the experience of the game, because then it ceases to be a kind of all-in-one experience and turns into a movie theatre arcade game or something where an alien pops up and you shoot it in the face. Those extra idiosyncracies are what make the game

    In the case of Brink, since it is catering to console gamers, it is wholly understandable that they want to implement a system that allows people to eliminate what is otherwise a completely awkward experience when controlling an FPS with two analog sticks. By removing that frustration, I believe the gameplay is probably enhanced and nothing is lost. However, when that translates to the PC, that is where I see a problem. Now there’s just a system for people to be, in my opinion, lazy. Splash Damage claims that you can opt to control things on your own, and that you’ll be that much better off for it, and if that’s how it pans out then that will be nice. But a large portion of the skill involved in a FPS is the ability to maneuver through the game world, or use terrain to your advantage. You can be incredible at aiming and thinking on your toes, but if you spend 25 seconds with your face in a corner trying to crouch jump onto a crate, or end up backpedaling into a wall while trying to escape a firefight, you’re dead. So if you give randomgamer_x the ability to not have to learn anything but “look up and hit ‘ T’ ” or whatever, and get rid of any need to know the timing or positioning involved, you’re removing a sizeable amount of what everyone else has had to master to be successful in the game.

    All that being said, everything is conjecture at this point, so the interaction system could possibly have absolutely no effect on how I enjoy the game. It looks to be extremely interesting and hopefully everything will come together in a way that can appeal to both crowds, because personally I’d love to have more people get in on great games that might otherwise be killed by the lack of a community because it was too niche.

  39. Singapore Web Design says:

    Trailer is awesome, 3D graphics looks real.

  40. JayeRandom says:

    Is it just me, or do these screenshots look like the work of French SF comic book artists?

  41. C00kieM0nst3r says:

    Maybe it’s because the Art director is french…

    might have this kind of influences

  42. Brink - ZOMG! says:

    I heard that it will be released 26th March in europe and 18th May in America. I saw it here: http://vgreleases.com/Xbox360/ReleaseDate-335891.aspx#

  43. Ataris says:

    You know, while the whole ducking thing sounds bad, really, as the community of the game increases, people will probably stop using it and the people who do will immediately be marked for destruction. Or, at least, master players will.

    And it will probably have a disadvantage (i.e., you move much slower when doing it that way, versus someone doing it manually could breeze right past the obstacle and have their gun up your –throat– before you could even have pressed the DUCK button.

    I still really want the game.

    They already have PLAY buttons, except you have to watch someone else’s avatar. This way, you could watch your OWN avatar live its life while you ate popcorn and listened to your favorite music.

  44. The Lone Wanderer says:

    So is this going to be like LOTR: Conquest, or something like a multiplayer/single-player RPG?