I haven't spent nearly as much time with Brink as I'd have liked. That isn't because I was only afforded a few minutes of game time, however. I've played quite a bit. It's just that Splash Damage's new game, the company's first original IP, is deceptively complex. This one, I reckon, is going to take a while to fully appreciate.
So it's very promising that, even based on under an hour of play time, I'm already confident in saying that Brink looks like being one hell of a lot of fun. The elevator pitch would be something like Team Fortress 2 with a dash of Mirror's Edge, but that doesn't really explain why the game works. Yes, it's a class-based, objective-centric multiplayer shooter. But it's in the intricacies that Brink's appeal really lies.
The classes are as expected. There's a medic, who can revive downed team-mates and give himself his own special health boost. There's a soldier, who comes equipped with explosives and can dish out ammo to his pals. The engineer can buff up teammates' weapons, as well as placing gun turrets to mow down the opposition, while the operative can supply intelligence on enemy locations, and disguise himself as a member of the other team.
However, in a smart move, you can switch which class you're playing throughout a match by visiting a terminal in your base. As such, depending on your team's strengths and weaknesses at an exact moment during play, you can reconstruct your entire unit in order to increase your prowess against the opposition. It adds a surprising amount of tactical scope to matches, with each class playing a key role in proceedings. Being able to switch between them means you can continually refine your approach, and take the fight to the enemy.
If they really are the enemy, of course. One of the most striking things about Brink is that its good/evil dichotomy isn't quite so clear-cut. This is primarily a multiplayer game, but its matches can be played in singleplayer too - and which ever you opt for, you'll get a different slant on the sprawling narrative. It's set on the Ark, a world at war, a land floating around a flooded future Earth. And as you progress through different stages of the game, and switch sides to play as both security forces and the Resistance, you'll be drip-fed new narrative concepts and ideas.
So, in the first match I played, I joined the security forces. Our mission was to breach Resistance territory and seize a shipment of some unidentified substance that was, we were told, sure to be some sort of biological warfare. Yet later, playing the same match as the Resistance, we were told we absolutely must protect the vaccine. One character asks why we can't just hand it over and let the government distribute it. Because we can't trust them, is the response.
Already it's shaping up to be a story in which there's no absolute truth, and no objectively moral or amoral actions. Speaking to Splash Damage's Ed Stern later, I discover the reasoning behind this: quite simply, that too many first-person shooters are happy to draw such lines, when in reality things are never quite so rigid. It's an admirable choice. After all, the good guys are always the ones on your side.
Still, all this thoughtful narrative play doesn't mean Brink is set to stand on a pedestal and shout basic philosophy at its players. Because, in fact, it's a game which is most immediately just a real blast to play. The actual shooting is fairly unremarkable, though tight and responsive. You aim down the sights and blast away at your foes, each weapon with its own traits - its own recoil level and damage amounts and suchlike. Shooting feels punchy, and always fun, but more delightful is the manner in which you can move around the arenas.
While basic movement is oddly sluggish for a fast-paced shooter, there's also a system named SMART - another irritating acronym which stands for Smart Movement Across Random Terrain. Basically, holding down the right button (I played with a 360 controller plugged into a PC, as the PC's own controls aren't optimised yet) puts you into a sprint, and contextually changes the pad's other buttons to allow for impressive acrobatic abilities.
So you can mantle ledges, for example. Or swing from beams that protrude from higher areas. It doesn't put you into complete auto-pilot, and you still have to be basically looking in the right direction in order to pull these tricks off, but it allows for some additionally clever play, whether you're evading the enemy or ambushing them. But perhaps most wonderful and joyous is the ability to slide around corners like a seven-year-old on a polished floor. By the end of my time with Brink, I was dropping into a power slide every few seconds, just as a matter of course.
And this is what I think is important about Brink: for all its complexity - all the different ways in which you can utilise classes, use its movement system to your advantage, and create ludicrous player guises with its powerful, APB-esque character creation suite - it's still immediately arresting, and just a whole heap of silly entertainment. It's going to take many hours of play to become a properly cohesive, talented player, and the whole span of the story to work out who the real bad guys are here. There's no doubt that I'd need to see far more of the game to come to anything approaching a final judgement. However, it's onto a winner because it's imbued with a sense of fun right from the start. It's the best of both worlds: a multiplayer shooter that's simultaneously a treat to pick up and play, and almost certainly a real reward to master.