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Brink preview: Team Floatress

Brink, the frantic first-person shooter being brought to us by Splash Damage, has so much going on that at first I struggled to stay alive. During my hour-long playthrough I had a game developer over my shoulder helping me along the way and, by the end, I almost couldn't leave. For anyone who has played Team Fortress 2, Brink will feel very familiar.

This isn't surprising as Paul Wedgwood -- the CEO of Splash Damage and the game's director -- ran a Team Fortress clan for years. Other Splash Damage games such as Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars have followed the same class-based combat of Team Fortress. Brink is set up much in the same manner with four classes: a soldier, medic, engineer and operative. But Brink takes that formula a step further than TF2. And then 10 more.

Gallery: Brink (BFG 2011) | 5 Photos

The game takes place on a floating utopia, and its poor refugees tacked onto the outskirts. This is where the main conflict lies, between the army of the main island and the rebel forces of the poor ghettos. The player can play solo or take the fight online with private or public multiplayer. If the preferences are set to public, simply start playing and real players will drop in sporadically to replace NPCs. Simply "dropping into" a match is something Splash Damage is committed to. "We're challenging those assumptions, like, 'Why do I need to be in a lobby before I start a match'" Wedgwood told us. "And, 'Why do I need this party thing if they're on my friends list anyway?'" As flexible as that is, at the same time the game is very customizable. You can decide how many AI players you want, or whether or not you want to reserve a few spots in the match for your buddies.

You can tell, we've been playing Left 4 Dead every lunch time for three years, there isn't any shame in that.- Paul Wedgwood, CEO Splash Damage

Every multiplayer level is also a level in the single-player campaign. In the campaign, just like in the multiplayer, you can choose either faction, Resistance or Security and play out their story. In doing so, Brink has blurred the line so completely between multiplayer and single-player that it will be impossible to walk into a room and tell which one is being played. Your character will be persistent across both modes, continuing to build towards the game's Level 20 cap. This allows players to spend time in either single-player or multiplayer without worrying about their character not leveling.

Much like Prey 2, another game I saw at Bethesda's BFG 2011 event last week, Brink incorporates elements of parkour in an effort to speed up the pace of the game and the fluidity of movement. You can quickly climb fences and jump from ledge to ledge with just one button. The trick isn't in button timing, but rather in which way your character is facing. In Brink, turning quickly to find the next platform is just as important as getting a headshot or picking up a briefcase.

As far as the pace goes, Brink is relentless. I found waiting to respawn to be a relief, giving me time to clear my head. If you normally took that time to adjust your loadout, Brink does things a little differently: You can change characters and weapon loadouts at a number of stations around each map. "[With] Brink, we've completely unhooked weapons from combat roles," said Wedgwood. "The way we had balanced the power of classes was to give them less or more good weapons." But Brink has thrown this characteristic to the wind. There are a ton of weapons, from fast firing SMGs to devastatingly powerful assault rifles, and each class can use any weapon. Removing these previous limits on weapon selection that we saw in Enemy Territory and Team Fortress opens up the game that much more.

Each class has unique abilities similar to those in TF2: Operatives can disguise themselves as the enemies, and are quick on their feet; soldiers are, predictably, a jack-of-all-trades class; engineers are important for mission-related objectives; and the medic can, well, y'know ... medicate stuff. Actually, medics take a unique turn from Splash Damage's earlier Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory in that they can throw a revive syringe to allow the downed player to choose the opportune moment to get back up. This was done "because people will camp and wait for you to revive and shoot you again," Wedgwood explained. Brink has taken these turns with each class, and it definitely separates the game from others in the genre. Further, the characters all level up and gain better abilities. For example, medics will eventually gains access to a "Lazarus Grenade," which can be used against enemies (to do what, I was frustratingly not told, but it's ostensibly a revivification explosive).

At the beginning of each mission, and accessible at any point after, players have access to an objective wheel allowing them to choose which objective to work on, whether it's sabotaging a bridge or stealing intel. Conversely, the other side will be tasked with defending said bridge or intel. This wheel also shows you who is working on what objective, and is a fine indicator of who may need help. If there are three medics trying to capture a checkpoint by themselves, for example, you may want to switch to the soldier and help out.

The levels also offer quite a bit of variety. One level I played is a city made of shipping containers, with tons of hiding places and cranes to snipe from. Another was a shopping mall. "You can tell, we've been playing Left 4 Dead every lunch time for three years," said Wedgwood regarding the level design, "there isn't any shame in that."

During my time with the game, I found the AI to be brilliant, and often preferable to playing with human characters. "There are days when I can't beat our AI on normal," said Wedgwood with disdain. The AI follows the same mission system as the character, which makes having a team full of AI no worse than a team full of humans. Even the most skilled play-testers at Splash Damage have trouble with level 20 AI on hard; they use flanking maneuvers and pincers moves, and will adjust to certain hot zones that may emerge on a map.

But if you're more worried about getting stomped by real live human beings, Brink tries to balance that challenge. The game is also set up to prevent higher-level players from eviscerating beginners. Even when playing with friends of a higher level, the game will make sure you don't end up in over your head. Feeling crazy? You can still join higher-level matches if you don't mind risking the abuse.

AI or otherwise, if you want to succeed, your team is going to need to work with one another. Cue: The buffs. All characters have unique ways in which they can buff allies. The medic can give a health boost; the soldier can increase weapon capacity; and the engineer can increase weapon damage. All of the abilities are upgradeable and improve with the player's level. In fact, you may want to have AI allies instead of humans, as they "prioritize buffing more than humans do," said media director Richard Jolly. Wedgwood related an anecdote in which he was sniping in a bird's nest and an AI character brought him ammo when he was running desperately low. "Hopefully they're setting the example," said Jolly, and it will encourage human players to work together more. (Spoiler alert: They won't).

This is all wrapped up in an unusually bright shooter; in a city floating in the ocean, everything is blue, indoors or out. Compared to your more traditional "brown" shooter (think Gears of War), Brink is naked to the world, not a dimly lit recess in sight.

With less than a month to go before its release, Brink hasn't commanded the attention of a Call of Duty, a Medal of Honor or even a Rage (also being published by Bethesda). And while Splash Damage may not be a household name, it earned its shooter bona fides with the Enemy Territory games. Brink is an evolution: Smart ideas, like persistence across your single- and multiplayer campaigns, coupled with solid console releases (the Quake Wars: Enemy Territory ports weren't handled in-house) and a refined objective mechanic should put Splash Damage in front of its largest audience yet.

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