Players of Splash Damage's Brink will probably notice its similarities to the company's previous Enemy Territory titles -- while the game is set in an all new universe pitting Security and Resistance forces against each other, the gameplay is both familiar and fresh, combining class-based warfare and team objective gameplay with a helpful interface.

But the relationship might be closer than you think. "I'll be honest," said Richard Ham, creative director at Splash Damage to Joystiq during a recent press event in Los Angeles. "Brink is Enemy Territory 3. Let's not mince words here." Well, okay then.

Ham said that Splash Damage's main goal with Brink was to take the often complex Enemy Territory gameplay -- "which is really very hardcore, very fast, very in-your-face" -- and adapt it to a wider audience. To do that, SD examined how "the best of the best" played ET, like clan players who win tournaments, and tried to figure out "what it is that they do moment to moment to ensure that they win, and how we can put systems into Brink that will ensure players are doing that automatically, without even knowing that they're doing it in the bigger picture to win the game."

That means that XP is given generously during a match, not only for killing enemies but for completing objectives, giving out support buffs and extra health and ammo to allies, and even doing things like standing near players who are working towards goals. There are four classes -- solider, engineer, medic, and operative -- and each of those classes can buff other players and themselves, and deal out their own offensive abilities. The engineer can drop turrets or build flanking routes in the level, and the operative can "comm hack" fallen opponents to reveal enemy locations or even disguise themselves as enemies to sneak behind the lines.

Ham revealed to me that early on in development, the devs considered dropping the classes completely, "allowing everybody to do everything all of the time." But the company found that it was "so key, so core to the Enemy Territory-style gameplay" that the game "lost something special." Indeed, in the two levels I played through (one updated from last year and one brand new level that had the Resistance escorting a wounded VIP through a complex called "Security Tower"), choosing a class really made the teamwork, well, work. Sometimes, our team ran into areas that required a certain class (like a node only hackable by an operative, or a barrier only destructible by a soldier), and our class composition had to align to get it right and move on.

There are sixteen levels on which to run matches (eight on each side of the campaign), and like Left 4 Dead all of the levels are open right away, though playing through them in order does reveal a full storyline from the perspective of each faction. XP can be earned anywhere, and it's used to unlock various abilities, some of which are universal (like one called "Battle Hardened" that grants extra max HP), or some which are class-specific (the soldier can upgrade his grenades, or pass out penetrating ammo instead of normal rounds). You can choose one ability per level as they're unlocked in tiers, and while you can respec any time, it costs XP to do that, so players will need to consider where and how to spend their attributes.

Weapons and their components (like extra clips for faster reloading, or scopes for less kickback) are unlocked by doing challenges. I didn't get to see those, but was told that they were special levels that were class-specific, and completely outside of the campaign, like an area where an engineer had to play by setting up turrets, or a medic had to heal a certain amount of points. It seemed strange that weapon customization would be tied only to a separate mode rather than included in the XP system, but we'll have to see how that turns out.

One big change from the last time we saw Brink is the objective wheel -- last year, the developers made a big deal out of the fact that pushing up on the D-pad would quickly and easily give you something to work on in the game, but this time it was mentioned only tangentially. Ham didn't quite confirm that the wheel had taken a backseat in development, but he did downplay its importance in the final game. "It was kind of an experiment," he said. "The wheel was the first thing we got in. We knew it was our safety net," but as the team moved on, they went for more obvious goal markers like large icons and clear button indicators of what to do and where. "It's there if you need it, but hopefully we've done a good enough job, with really clear signalling, that it's really a fallback."

Character customization has been fleshed out well -- the characters are presented as bold caricatures, and there are lots of very colorful hairstyles and outfits to dress them up in, ensuring that your Resistance or Security model is all your own. One big omission, though, is that there are no female models. As Ham admitted, it's "Dude Island." "They're going to inscribe my apology to girl gamers on my tombstone," he confessed. The team did design some female models, but after considering how much work it would be to not just build strong female characters but the animations and options to go along with them, Splash Damage decided to stick with just one gender. "Do we regret it?" asked Ham. "Yes."

In addition to the sixteen core levels, there are four missions called "What If," two for each side, that portray a little twist on the various storylines. Rather than telling the story from a faction perspective, the "What If" missions are "not really canon," and let players see their factions be a little more extreme with their actions. That leaves open the possibility for more story-based missions in DLC, and while Ham said that putting in a new class would be a little much for DLC, "new abilities, new maps, new storytelling; those would be the things we'd love to see when and if DLC comes along."

But before that shows up, Brink seems destined to satisfy fans of team-based shooters, especially those with some Enemy Territory experience. "We didn't really change our formula very much," Ham said. "We really think it's pretty good. It was more just about making it accessible." Brink comes out in May.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.