Brink is an online multiplayer game that rewards skill and teamwork instead of time played.
Competitive online shooters aren't my bag, I'll admit that straight away. I enjoyed the Granddaddy of console multiplayer shooters, Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64, and I was good enough to kill the dudes on my dorm floor most of the time. Something from that experience has been lost in the console shooters of this generation, and the team at Splash Damage have noticed it too. With Brink, the first game from the British developer not based on another's IP, the team removed what they call "non-skill kills" and will give significantly more XP for helping your teammates than killing opponents. That sounds like lip service, but based on playing it for twenty minutes at the Bethesda booth at PAX East 2011, it might actually make an online shooter that I'd enjoy.
The character customization is deep in Brink, that's the first thing you notice when you start playing. There are three body types, heavy, normal and light, which alter your health total, but also how you move around the map. The light type has less health, but can move faster, leap farther and climb over obstacles quicker, while the heavy type is the opposite - less mobility with higher health pool - but can also wield heavier weapons. Movement is important in Brink because of the "smart movement" system; by holding a button you can climb up or down ramps or over fences and jump into the fray. You start the game with only the normal body type unlocked and can purchase the others with XP.
How do you earn XP? Well, by doing what's appropriate for your class. I played the soldier class - there's also a medic, engineer and operative - and whenever I shot a guy I saw a fancy "+3 XP" number pop up. The soldier's special ability is to provide ammunition to teammates who may be running low and when I tossed them more clips, I got more than 3,000 XP. That's quite a difference.
"It's possible to play through the whole game, and unlock everything, without ever firing a shot," the lead writer Edward Stern said over my shoulder as I was playing. With that ratio of XP, I believe it. The Medic and Engineer are similarly rewarded for provide health and fixing turrets, etc.
There were objectives on the map, such as one side bringing a briefcase of documents to a certain point while the other tries to stop them, and I was rewarded not only for moving the briefcase but for being near the guy who did, so there was no more feeling of failure when you helped a fellow teammate accomplish an objective. The leaders will not track kills or objectives, only XP, so there's no reason to be disappointed if your teammate beats you to an objective.
The smart movement system was tons of fun. After Stern pointed out that a pile of crates and boxes conspicuously led up to a platform, I held the bumper and was able to scramble up them before perfectly timing a jump to grab the ledge and pull myself up. Based on what I played, it was a simple system to grasp that led to some interesting tactical choices. Do I climb up here to flank those three guys, or move forward with the medic at my back?
I didn't get into purchasing anything with the time that I had available, but Stern tells me that you can't just grind to get the best weapons or nuclear strikes. "We're trying to get rid of that problem of when you buy the game a month after everyone else or you just don't have enough time to grind, these other guys have unlocked these magical weapons that you have no defense against," he said. "We're trying to get rid of no-skill kills. No air strikes. No grenade spam, all the grenades are on a cooldown. Also, grenades are assist weapons, not kill weapons. They knock you down and make you vulnerable but they don't do that much damage."
Perhaps the coolest and most interesting thing about Brink is that it will seamlessly blend multiplayer across several modes. You can play the whole game solo, but your enemies might be a group of human friends playing cooperatively or a bunch of AI bots. You might be playing and see a friend pop online, and you can immediately ask him to join the match without restarting. You might be paying with that friend just to get XP, but the enemy might include a solo player in story mode.
I only got to play Brink a little, but I realized that I spent way more time giving ammo to my teammates as the soldier than I did shooting dudes. And that led me to appear near the top of the leaderboard when that match ended. I have to say that made me feel like I had accomplished something, and a shooter hasn't made me feel like that in a long while.
Brink comes out May 17th on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. For more on how the story mode works, check out my interview with Edward Stern, lead writer of Brink.