Splash Damage, the developer behind Brink, knows a thing or two about team-based shooters. Both its prior efforts, Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory and Quake Wars: Enemy Territory, met with positive critical success but never quite built the top-tier size player base to match. The team drew on the lessons learned from creating those games and watching people play them to help make Brink easier to get into without dumbing it down. I recently got a good, sit-down session in playing the game and there's a chance they may just hit the mark.
I played two missions in my demo, both from the side of the Resistance (the game's story pits the Resistance against Security forces in a futuristic utopian city). The first was Container City, a level that has been shown before. It involves leading a team past a series of defenses to capture secret documents and then escape. The second was Security Tower. It turned out to be a classic jail break scenario: get in, find our detained comrade, and safely cover him during extraction.
In both missions, the most impressive thing was how transparent the whole command system for playing together was. That's not because there wasn't a lot to be done, quite the contrary. My team was on the attack in both cases, and to advance we had achieve specific objectives. Some of these were simple, such as blow the gate; others were more involved, like covering the escaping prisoner in a fighting retreat through the prison complex.
Brink makes sense of it all by dynamically assigning whatever needs to be done next to the players on the team with appropriate skill for the task. Sometimes these assignments will be class specific, as in the case of needing an engineer to blow the gate. Other times, it is based on just the team needs, such as getting everyone around the escaping prisoner.
There are also sub-missions that can help the team along the way. Fixed command posts can be captured to enhance your team's supplies for example, or as a medic you may be sent to revive a fallen teammate. The game keeps track of everything that's happening, looks at the situation, and matches the assignments at any given moment to the team composition and tactical situation.
The result put me in positions where I always felt like I was contributing the team, without ever having to think about it. If I hadn't known I could pull up a quick menu and pick my own objectives, I'd never have missed it. As it was I only ever used it once and then only to see if it worked. For the rest of the game I enjoyed simply playing my role, and always having something valuable to do.
This deceptively simple but eminently practical approach extends to voice communication as well. It surprised me to find "off" as the default setting for chat in a team game. Talking to one another in a team game seems like a given, but then in the real world chat often goes unused, or worse yet becomes a juvenile yelling match. Brink ensures game sustaining communication happens by auto generating all the voice traffic that would go with a well coordinated team. So when the game assigned me to capture that supply command post, it also told all my teammates that I was headed to do that.
Even the basic step of starting a game gets the Brink simple and better touch. Unlike most mulitplayer games which use filters and lobbies to put together groups which then more or less come to an agreement on what to play, each player controls their setup choices in Brink. This works thanks to a combination of a smart drop-in system for adding real players to a game and computer controlled bots that know how to play the game and can fill out any number of open roles.
In practice, starting a game is easy. I choose which mission I want to play and select whether I want to play against AI or allow real people to join the opposing team as well. At that point Brink goes looking to see if there's an existing match that meets my criteria. If there is, and if that game has started recently enough that I can still get into the flow of it, then I join that game. If not, it creates me a new game to play in. And, of course, however I set things up, I can invite friends to play alongside me and have them travel with me from game to game in a group.
The best sign that these steps to streamline Brink work as intended is that I didn't really think about any of them until I stood up at the end of my demo. While playing I'd been completely focused on the action, exactly where my attention should be in a good shooter. At the same time, I was getting the extra sense of satisfaction from doing more than just mowing down enemies. I left eager to play more Brink, ready to start unlocking skills for my different classes and playing challenges to get new custom parts for my guns.
[This Brink Hands-On Preview is based on a near-final version of the game played on PS3 test hardware at an event conducted by Bethesda, the publisher, at a hotel in Los Angeles.]