Brink Multiplayer Hands-On Preview
Drop-in, drop-out multiplayer is a term that’s been bandied around quite a bit of late. Dungeon Siege III‘s cooperative multiplayer mode is built on the drop-in drop-out formula in attempts to make it seamless with the single-player campaign. Mindjack, notably, attempted the same thing with the third-person shooter, with mostly painful results.
And Brink means to be drop-in drop-out, in an attempt to make its single-player campaign and the multiplayer experience basically the same thing.
I demoed multiplayer two weeks ago with a handful of other journalists, and can say that where Mindjack made the experience awfully broken up and difficult to manage in many ways, Brink has worked to make its play more seamless. Multiplayer and single-player are basically one in the same, according to Richard Jolly, media director at Brink developer Splash Damage. Whether other people join your game or not (or you join that of others) is based on your settings when you load out the game, and it’s as simple as changing your session to public or popping onto your Friends list to find a match to join.
A little on Brink’s backstory: the story takes place on a floating island called The Ark, packed with refugees who fled there to escape the global catastrophe brought on by global warming and resource scarcity. Contact hasn’t been made with the outside world in some time. It’s become a place of haves and have-nots on the “brink” of revolution.
Brink is also a game of two factions, which you choose at the outset of the campaign. Each has its own view of the events you play through: rebels perceive themselves as fighting oppression on The Ark and stirring up righteous revolution, while the security forces on the structure perceive themselves fighting off terrorists. Each group is huge and sprawling — rival armies, really — so your character is your own to customize and define, and each faction is populated by respawning AI characters when human players aren’t available.
Customization is king in Brink. Just about everything about your character is customizable, down to his tattoos. As Jolly warned, tattoos are permanent to your character and can’t be removed once they’re added. Your character is persistent throughout your games online and off, and points accrued toward his development lead to additional weapons and attachments you can purchase.
The character choices aren’t purely aesthetic, though. Some effect the way you play the game — specifically, in your body type. There are three such choices: heavy, medium and light, with heavy characters being slower but tougher and lighter characters being easier to kill, but quicker on their feet.
The amount of customization in the multiplayer demo was insane. The complement of weapons was huge, and each weapon had a lot of different attachments that could be purchased over time as you rank up your character with experience. Your body type helps determine what weapons you can handle (rather than your class), and spending more time buying and customizing your weapons, down to their paint jobs, gives the whole Brink system a huge level of player control. Splash Damage wants you to live in Brink and make it your own, and the developer has left a lot of tools to help make that happen.
Each mission in Brink is based on objectives, since the multiplayer gameplay is supposed to meld seamlessly with the single-player campaign: therefore, players won’t be engaging in straight deathmatches, but in either trying to accomplish a specific goal or attempting to stop the other team from accomplishing a goal. In order to keep you apprised of the game situation, Brink uses something called the objective wheel. Jolly said the wheel, which players can pull up with one button, is meant to keep players on track and aware of where to go, what to do upon arrival, and what rewards they’ll receive for accomplishing a goal. The objective wheel also allows players to dynamically set what their own goals are, be they based on the overall mission of the team or of their specific classes.
Loading into a match makes you a generic soldier class, but each team’s spawn point includes a Command Center you can log into using a terminal. There, players can choose their classes: Soldier, Medic, Engineer and Operative. They’re all pretty straight-forward, and Team Fortress 2 players will recognize the choices at work here. Each class has special abilities that can be used to support the rest of the team. For those unfamiliar with Team Fortress 2 and its classes, we’ll run down the basics.
Soldiers are the basic fighting class and have unlimited ammunition. They also have the ability to distribute ammunition to other players who have a finite amount, and can upgrade the ability to give out different kinds of ammo, like incendiary rounds.
Medics can heal other players and revive teammates who have been shot and fallen, but are not dead. Every time a player gets hit and runs out of health, he falls to the ground and has the option to wait for a medic — complete with a readout of whether any are on their way — or respawn. The medic gets a limited number of revival syringes that can be thrown to downed players, so they don’t require the medic to be right on top of the downed teammate, although he has to be close.
Engineers have the ability to deploy turrets and other distributing weapons buffs to other players. The class is also necessary to repair objectives in certain missions.
Operatives have the ability to go behind enemy lines by impersonating an enemy soldier by switching clothes with him. While hidden, Operatives can sneak around and assassinate enemy players, although the person they’re pretending to be can respawn in that time and break the ruse.
So — on to playing. We ran through two maps in my preview, one of which can be seen at the top of this post, and in each the human team was responsible for completing several objectives: in one mission we rescued and then protected a prisoner from a security camp; in the other, we had to move a piece of machinery to a specific location. The entire time, enemy AI soldiers were doing their best to stop us. Combat felt pretty great, with damage meted out so that players go down relatively quickly but still have time to respond to being ambushed or flanked.
Jolly said that another function of the combining of single- and multiplayer experiences is that the AI adapts to human players, and responds accordingly.
“We’re blurring the line between single player and multiplayer,” he said. “In single player, they teach you bad habits in other games, but in Brink, enemies don’t politely spawn in front of you — they’re outflanking you and they’re teabagging you,” he said. “If you’re mowing down enemies in a specific spot and they can’t get through, they’ll actually go all the way around and find a way to get behind you.”
Indeed, as the matches wore on, it felt more and more like wave after wave of opposition was responding to our attack and working on ways to find and stop us. The constant respawning gave the battles a D-Day at Normandy quality, in which you would rush to a spot to take part in a push, only to be cut down and respawn. Both teams felt like larger armies, and were often simply relentless.
Objectives continually change and move as they’re accomplished by a team, so often players will need to catch up. Trying to find my way back to the thick of the fight was part of how I got to learn the parkour aspects of Brink — holding down a shoulder button gives the player the ability to perform “free running,” and the mechanic was not unlike that of Mirror’s Edge. You could run up stacks of debris or hop over railings and down from walls, and it allowed for players to quickly cross from high to low and back again in only a couple of seconds. The free running was able to quickly alter a battle, as players could escape by climbing or rush to fight enemies on high ground by free running up makeshift ramps to get to them.
I spent my time as a medic (my favorite FPS class) and spent most of both matches switching my objective wheel between the main goal of the mission and finding teammates to heal. Sprinting and free running made it possible for me to get to many players very quickly, and the slide ability could help keep me alive while avoiding gunfire. All the while the enemy was relentlessly hounding my team, and while there were lulls in the battle, we were never abandoned to complete and objective or pummeled unfairly.
Overall, my Brink preview was impressive, although I don’t know that our team was really working together enough to put the AI through its paces and see if it really stacks up as high as Jolly maintained. The rest of the game, though, played very well: the classes are well-made and specialized and share a balance of strengths and weaknesses, and working as the medic class reminded me not of Team Fortress 2, but of Return to Castle Wolfenstein, the expansion to which Splash Damage had a hand in. That game and its classes were extremely fun to play, and I got the same vibe and satisfaction from my medic class here as I did way back in college, playing on my Xbox.
The free running element also feels great and adds a lot of different angles to the existing FPS formula. It’s nice to be able to quickly change levels or access shortcuts to regroup with teammates. The objective wheel helps a lot with this and gives the kind of information that’s extremely helpful in multiplayer matches, so I never felt cut off or alone, but always part of an attacking force that had a job to do.
What little customization I engaged in seemed very deep and satisfying as well, and if players get into tweaking their player cards in Call of Duty games, they’re going to spend plenty of time customizing clothing and adding sick tattoos to their characters.
Will Brink be the “killer app” that Bethesda and Splash Damage are hoping for? After about an hour playing with Brink, I’m very optimistic, if for no other reason than the well-executed class system. There are a lot of things in the Brink package about which one can get excited. Brink’s single player-co-op-multiplayer seamlessness, provided it works well, seems like it’ll be great to build community, as will the customizations. I’m a little hesitant about the objective-based missions — for some reason, FPS’s that go with straight deathmatch modes tend to attract more players — but Brink was a hell of a lot of fun. If it’s as good as Jolly made it sound (0r even half as good), Brink should amount to a big contender in the genre.