Brink Impressions: It All Makes Sense NowS

Splash Damage's 2010 squad-shooter Brink wowed our Luke Plunkett at E3. Here at QuakeCon, a public demo of the game wowed several hundred more people. The game defies easy classification. It's ambitious.

Brink is the Bethesda-published game from the makers of Enemy Territory Quake Wars, Splash Damage. The studio's chief, Paul Wedgwood, took the same stage from where John Carmack addressed the QuakeCon 2009 faithful earlier this week to drive the first public demo of the game.

Set in the future on Earth, Brink depicts two factions — resistance and security — at war over the floating and failed eco-paradise city of Ark . Maps from that city are the battlefields of the game, with major objectives associated with each map that comprises the game's two single-player campaigns. Any of the game can be played alone or with other players dropping in to take control of squadmates.

Brink Impressions: It All Makes Sense NowS

Wedgwood entered yesterday's demo in a map set at the so-called Container City, the one seen in the second screenshot here. An in-engine cut-scene quickly established the arrival of his character and two AI-controlled members of his squad. I entered the hall where Wedgwood was doing the demo too late to catch the main mission objective. But it was obvious that the squad was going to infiltrate a hostile zone, with orders to proceed inside. The Container City was full of corrugated tin walls and toppled shipping containers, a mess of a sector inspired by the favelas in Rio de Janeiro. Wedgwood was playing as security, decking his character in a blue uniform and face-paint, and shades, accoutrements that may be among the cosmetic unlockables that will show other players who is good at this game.

As an operative-class fighter, Wedgwood plunged into a firefight, using his sub machine gun to shoot at resistance fighters in the region. He didn't have to be an operative. And he didn't have to keep playing one. The essence of Brink is playing as a multi-class squad, taking on class-specific missions and changing class in the heat of battle if need be. An individual player's missions — tasks, really, that the player does within the context of the larger battle they've entered — are generated on the fly.

In the situation being demoed, Wedgwood pulled up a radial menu that showed several available missions for his character class, specific to the current fight. Missions grant experience points which can be used to get better items. One mission, for 300 experience points, involved interrogating an enemy. Selecting it produced an arrow at the top of the screen that guided Wedgwood to a downed enemy. Finding the enemy, Wedgwood's character produced an iPhone-a-like in his left hand and transformed it into something that looked more like an electric-shock device. He extracted his info; his character's right hand popped a thumbs up, and Wedgwood pulled up a menu to browse more missions.

Throughout the demo, the game sported the visual signatures of a first-person shooter, like the on-screen barrel of the player's gun. Less common was its adoption of a visual element seen in last year's first-person free-running game Mirror's Edge. Wedgwood's character could amble up a crate, vault over a wall, his hero more athletic and acrobatic than most first-person shooter protagonists.

Brink Impressions: It All Makes Sense NowS

Remaining an operative, Wedgwood selected a 10 xp/second mission to escort a bot. This led him to a large, golf-cart-size rolling robot. The longer he stayed with it, the more points he gained. Then he took a mission to change into an engineer, for 250 points. To do that mission, a guide arrow led him back to a controlled command post. He arrived, changed to an engineer and immediately selected a mission to repair a crane (500xp). Engineers have repair and construction abilities, and can lay mines. At this point, two other developers joined and took control of Wedgwood's two squad-mates.

Wedgwood explained that the game would keep generating contextual missions that suited the classes of the three controlled characters. They assisted each other until reaching a narrative choke point that cued an in-engine cut-scene and a cliffhanger — the three troopers discovering something surprising that we couldn't see.

Brink already looks very good. It boasts the level of graphical detail up there with a Call of Duty and approaching even a Killzone 2, but with a more diverse color palette than Sony's drab first-person shooter. The area Wedgwood was fighting in was densely packed, a tighter theater of war than seen in some of the flashy games just mentioned. It's a compliment to the art direction and graphical prowess that it was surprising to hear that game runs on modified id tech, Wedgwood said, evolved from what his studio developed with Enemy Territory: Quake Wars.

Wedgwood's demo concluded to rousing applause. It was fitting given the heritage of the project and the new corporate reality of the company behind QuakeCon 2009. Brink's development studio, Splash Damage, has long worked closely with id. And, months ago, Brink was announced to be published by Bethesda, the company that subsequently bought id weeks before the big show.

This may have been the ideal game for QuakeCon '09. The crowd loved it.

Brink is set for release in the spring of 2010 for PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.