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Preview: Brink
by Linford Butler


Games journalists do not run. It's less a physical limitation and more a product of said journalist's innate laziness; whatever the situation, whatever the danger, a games journalist must never run. It was a rule which I'd faithfully stood by, and - on the surprisingly warm October morning in Central London, where this story begins - wasn't one that I had any sort of plan to violate. Until, that was, Jacques and I got off the Tube and remembered the first thing on our list for the day: Brink.

For the uneducated, Brink - developed by Splash Damage, the company behind Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, and published by Bethesda - is a first-person shooter. Before you switch off, having heard the term 'first-person shooter' a million times before, let me describe Brink this way: it is a game which I was prepared to run for.

Returning to that October morning in London for a moment, let me set the scene. It is nine o'clock in the morning, after a restless night of sleep at a very cheap hostel and a rushed breakfast in a tiny café opposite Earls Court Underground station. Jacques and I are waiting outside the entrance to the Earls Court Exhibition Centre, queuing for the final day of the Eurogamer Expo 2010. We're lucky: not only are we at the front of the press queue and guaranteed to be the first into the Eurogamer Expo (no mean feat - to be at the front means a very early start), we're also with friends. Miles Jolliffe, Adam Jones, Ben Marshall, Jacques and I (amongst others) pass the time in the only way possible without a stable internet connection: by talking about everything and anything to do with games and the Expo. Brink, however, comes up more than any other title in our conversation, and each one of us have a clear plan for when we get onto the show floor: to do whatever necessary to get a play session on Brink, short of actual physical murder.

Let me make it clear how necessary it was to break that most ancient of games journalism rules and run for Brink. The day before, both Jacques and I were at the Eurogamer Expo, and (inside our extensive network of journalist contacts and gaming friends) we'd heard that the queue to play Brink was a three hour wait. We were lucky to be the first people to play the game on the Sunday, but Brink is the sort of game for which a three hour wait begins to look more attractive the more you consider it. You begin thinking "there is no way, come hell or high water, that I am waiting three or more hours for twenty minutes of play", but the more you consider it, the more you begin to think "three hours isn't really that long". And - had I not run, and had I missed the opportunity to be the first to play - by the middle of the day I know that I would have found myself in that never-ending queue, desperately asking myself, "Why didn't you just go with the others? Why didn't you fucking run?"

When you start to play Brink, the distance between the creation in front of you and other first-person shooters is evident. There are leagues between the smooth, polished experience of Brink and alternative titles. Before beginning your online 'career', you customise the entire aesthetic of the character you'll play as, from the basics right down to details such as facial hair and scarring. Whilst it's a relatively simple system of customisation, the wow—factor comes in the intuitiveness of the system - it is incredibly simple to use and navigate, and is a joy to use - and the wonderful interface used by the player to customise their character. It isn't complex, but simple, and yet in being simple it is to-the-point, fit for purpose and therefore hugely efficient.

And then, of course, the shooting begins. Brink is, in the purest sense of the word, a shooter; everything which appears on-screen is precisely placed and serves a purpose, whilst every control is perfectly mapped to the controller. Nothing about Brink feels pasted on, nothing feels pointless and nothing feels half-arsed. The action is fast, furious and immensely enjoyable, the SMART (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain) system works well in allowing players to navigate the playable map smoothly using Mirror's Edge-esque first-person parkour, and small aspects like the ability to change weaponry and equipment on-the-fly at an armoury whilst in the middle of a match is very impressive.

Playing a match on Brink could easily be compared to the sort of 'finding oneself' activity that teenagers so often find themselves partaking in; it opens your eyes to the possibilities of FPS games online, whilst simultaneously giving you a rush of adrenaline and introducing you to emotions you never knew you were capable of feeling. However, whilst the game is an exciting parcel of chaotic magic, the actual shooting is the stand-out aspect of Splash Damage's work. Brink's gunplay is pin-point accurate and the hit detection is spot-on, meaning skilled players will be able to aim and take down a target without disappointment. The guns have a weightiness somewhere between Call of Duty and Killzone, which serves to make them feel realistic without the mechanic being too clunky. The matches have a perfect balance between feeling arcadey and realistic, bringing authentic physics and entertaining gameplay together to form what felt to me like the most flawless shooting mechanic in a first-person shooter that I've played.

The games in Brink work very much like those in games such as Guerrilla Games' Killzone 2 in that the mission objectives change on-the-fly during the game as tasks are completed. Not only does this make for a continuous, smooth play experience without the irritation of constant 'lobby breaks' between games, it also makes combat more tactical and much more exciting, due to the need to be thinking about what might come next: if your entire team is trapped within one area when a new mode begins, it can hinder you drastically as the other team has the upper hand. Brink's range of in-game, as-and-when changes mean that an online game is constantly evolving; the state of play is always changing, leaving things much less predictable and much more exciting.

Editor's Note: The lovely people at Bethesda contacted us to clarify that Brink does in fact have an offline, single-player mode which will be seamlessly integrated with the online mode. Apologies for the misinformation previously published and a big thankyou to Mark at Bethesda for the heads-up.

From what I played at the expo, the game works as smoothly online as any single-player game, and - far from feeling like an add-on to a main campaign like on other FPS games - the online feels like every effort has gone into it to make it as enjoyable an experience as any offline campaign mode. For players reading this who haven't done the work to get their console online yet, Brink is the sort of game for which getting a broadband connection and PSN/XBL account is worth the time, effort and even money.

I haven't ever walked away from a game at an expo feeling truly lost for words. At least, not before I played Brink. It is a fast-moving, hugely enjoyable game with a purpose-built beast of an engine under the bonnet. Splash Damage have truly outdone themselves with Brink and - if the gaming public recieve it as they should, considering its sheer quality - it should be one of 2011's bestsellers. If there is one area of gaming in which I consider myself somewhat 'specialist' it is shooters, and yet I have never played a game like Brink. It evokes excitement, adrenaline, awe and such a feeling of absolute badass that you begin to wonder if any other shooter will ever feel the same after playing it - at least, that was my reaction after only twenty minutes of play. Sensationalism is a scourge of the gaming industry which I loathe, but I don't hesitate to say that Brink is the best first-person shooter that I have ever played in all my years of gaming.

The moral of the story, journalists: never be afraid to run - if you are, you might well miss an absolute gem.

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- Linford Butler

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