E3 2010: Brink Hands On Preview - One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

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Boy! What a difference a year (or even a month) can make. Last year Splash Damage and Bethesda’s Brink just so happened to pick up our Surprise of the Show award at E3, and in the space of a year, it’s jumped to the other end of the ship and became our most disappointing title of this year's E3. So what’s changed in those 12 months and how did we come to this sudden change of heart? Well that’s simple, a hands off presentation not only gives the developer the chance to use their console (or PC in this case) of choice to show off their title, but they also have this controlled environment that they can take advantage of. After going hands-on with the title at this year’s E3, we were left with free reign of one of the maps with a couple of co-op buddies and it just so happened to leave us with a sour taste in our mouths. Shame.

The first thing that struck us as odd at this year’s show was how ordinary the game looked as it ran on a PS3 - a far cry from the dazzling visuals that has not only impressed myself and Rich in the last 12 months, but countless others at PAX and other consumer and trade shows. Could it be that the PS3 version is so far behind the 360 version that we had supposedly seen before? Almost definitely not. Splash Damage and Bethesda’s reason to show it off on the PS3 at the show was an obvious indication that it was the stronger code they have at a playable level and that argument is flawed before it’s even brought to the table. Gone are the top of the draw cel-shaded visuals and the visual flair we all had warmed to, and in comes an almost drab and empty environment that feels like we were seeing a different game to what was previously shown before. Obviously that code was on PC despite being told otherwise.

The campaign level that we were thrust into was one called Critical Reaction, where we were playing as the side of the Resistance. It was a multi-staged map – as they all will be – and in order to be successful, teamwork is an absolute must. On the first leg of the level the Engineer in the team can repair the overhead bridge to open up a shortcut, before heading across to hack the ventilator control systems. From there, and after stopping the fan that blocked the route, the team must then fight their way through to the main reactor so that the Soldier can whip out the explosives and blow it up. After you’ve reached the reactor, it’s your team’s job to defend the bomb until the timer runs down. Job’s a good un’.

From a control standpoint, Brink was a delight to play, and with its traditional shooter controls which are incredibly responsive, it’s up there with the best of them. Incidentally, the SMART button works fantastically as well. The problem wasn’t that the controls weren’t up to scratch, far from it, it was that the gameplay felt a little sporadic and I fail to see how Brink as a single player or co-op experience is going to meet the dizzy heights the British developer set out to. Too many times did I find myself sauntering around with no enemies to pump lead into and truth be told, most of the time it felt like I was playing alone.

Splash Damage, namely Richard Ham, gave us a detailed insight into Brink’s class system last year and it works as the Creative Director said it would - and that’s with sublime ease. As the cutscene brings you up to speed at the beginning of the level, you can head into the menus and customise your character and choose what class you want to head into the battlefield as - we chose Medic, because we like to help people… No, we’re being serious…. Okay then, apparently the Medic class gushes XP like BP gushes oil into the ocean, so that was our main reason. You do need to play to the class’ strengths though, so a Medic will get rewarded when he revives and heals teammates - 100XP and 75XP respectively. To try and keep things somewhat balanced though, beware you can’t just keep healing people as you only have a set amount of healing medicine, but that’s more than enough to rack up the XP.

Our objective in the scenario was to protect the Engineer whose job it was to hack the ventilator control system. Of course, your objective depends on what class you select. As a Medic, it was our job to assist, protect and heal when necessary. If you want to change classes, all you need to do is to find one of the hubs in-game and select your new class. Each class has numerous objectives which can all be seen in the objective wheel. If you don’t want to bother with all that, then you don’t have to and can just flick up when you have the objective wheel on screen and it’ll choose the best one for you.

It’s funny to sit here and say, “this works and this is great, but,” but something just doesn’t feel quite right about Brink. It’s probably the sporadic action, sparse environments and the disappointing visuals - it’s a massive step backwards from what we’d seen before. The best news for those eagerly anticipating Splash Damage’s latest title is that the title will now hit sometime in 2011 - that’s a delay of a year now - as it’ll allow Splash Damage to go back to the drawing board and bring the title up to speed. After seeing an amazing amount of shooters at this year’s show, the sad truth is that on this showing, Brink simply wouldn’t be able to keep up with the best of them. Let’s hope the next showing is more positive. We have our fingers crossed that it is.

Brink will be out sometime in 2011.


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Game Info


US May 10, 2011
Europe May 13, 2011

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