"Alright!" cries supernaturally chipper Splash Damage CEO Paul Wedgwood towards the assembled journalists. "If you go into customisation, you'll be able to change anything about your character that you like. We've unlocked everything and bumped you up to level six, so you'll be able to select all of the content."
Loading my character, I find myself face-to-face with a cross between a Somalian pirate and Stig of the Dump. The journos who used this terminal before me have buried my blank canvas under dreadlocks, a plaid shirt, cargo pants, £3000' worth of tattoos and about 80 kilos of military accessories.
Sighing inwardly, I first go to pry off the man's gas mask, which ends up revealing a terrifying mask of clown face paint, smeared over craggy, elderly features. I slip the gas mask back in place. The next minute before the match begins I spend simply tinkering with the various textures for my shirt and shoes. Much safer that way.
Brink is nothing if not colourful. Both literally - in the stark blacks and blues of its Security side, the kaleidoscopic hues of the rag-tag opposing Resistance, and the heavy-handed palette of the maps where they fight - and metaphorically.
Fittingly for a game about civil war on a day-after-tomorrow floating city (turned day-after-tomorrow floating refugee camp as the rest of the world floods), Brink's voice acting provides a chocolate box of accents to choose from for your character, with similarly multi-cultural cutscenes. It's oddly heartwarming to hear an American, African and an Irishman arguing over the finer points of their mission. Speaking of cutscenes, it's during this playthrough that I see one of Brink's opening cinematics for the first time, which tells the story of the game's city, The Ark, through a beautiful scale model which warps and grows as a narrator walks you through the place's troubled history.
That Brink should boast all of this incidental charisma feels like a very smart move indeed, because while the campaign of the game itself can be played in single-player, there's no getting away from the relentlessness and panic of Brink's multiplayer-style missions. Rather than the Battlefield-inspired landscapes of Splash Damage's last project, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, Brink's maps more often resemble the close-quarters claustrophobia of their first game, the critically-acclaimed Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. With Brink, Splash Damage is taking the intensity and variety that made them famous, and doing its best to repackage it with more than a little charm.
The new mission we play is noteworthy for a couple of reasons. As opposed to the tight angles and cramped streets of Container City, the map Splash Damage had previously trotted out most often, we play a Resistance mission to recover a prisoner from a gleaming, Security-controlled section of the Ark full of wide-open courtyards and foyers.
Sound pleasant? It was brutal. Think the Normandy Landings. Corners and tight passages are what you want as an underdog. Wide-open spaces are just meet-and-greet zones for defenders and attackers, with the difference that attackers have to actually cross those spaces and the defenders let their bullets do the talking.
The other exciting difference was that Brink's different body types were available for us to play with. While everybody has to choose to play either a Soldier, Medic, Engineer or sneaky Operative, this is a dynamic choice and can be switched at various command terminals during a match. Your body type is a little different, and like the range of perks you unlock, can only be changed between matches.
Medium body type is what you'll be familiar with. This is the default choice, leaving you as a stocky guy who can run, slide, vault and climb using Brink's SMART system (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain) competently, but there are two other options that get unlocked at slightly higher levels. Heavy body type turns you into a boulder of a man with a little more health than usual and who can carry Brink's array of heavy weapons, ranging from grenade launchers to miniguns and machine guns to gigantonormous automatic shotguns. The trade-off is that Heavy body types climb about as well as oiled elephants, leaving certain shortcuts and even whole pieces of the level inaccessible to them. They also don't slide so much as they fall over with style.
But the Agile body type was what I was interested in. Selecting this body type gives your character all the muscle and poise build of a man raised on milk and biscuits. You take a penalty to health and can't even carry the Medium build's array of assault rifles and shotguns, instead being restricted to sniper rifles, pistols and SMGs. The trade-off for all of this is that not only do you run and climb faster than anybody else, you slide farther and can perform wall-jumps.
It's not even a choice. I pick Agile like a drowning man grabbing at a rope, the match begins, and I'm off! Off, into a world of much bigger men with much bigger guns.
The first task for the Resistance team is to gain entrance to this faceless facility, meaning we have to first hack the cover off a door control panel at the far end of a courtyard, plant explosives on it, then protect those explosives while their inexplicably long timer ticks down, with Security forces assaulting our position and raining fire down the entire time.
In short, it's no place for an Agile to be. Spotting a convenient array of pipes and machinery on one side of the yard, I send my fragile avatar catapulting up them with a hop, skip, a prayer and a jump, leaving him high above the combat zone and out of the fire zone. I have no idea where I am, but that's not too much of a problem. With a touch of the d-pad I bring up Brink's objective wheel and the game immediately prompts me with a handful of objectives. Selecting a command post that needs hacking (which would give my entire team a boost to their health) I go sprinting off, stopping occasionally to fire a rifle round into the furious Security below.
Playing as an Agile is a great way to amplify what makes Brink different. It boosts the game's simple Assassin's Creed / Mirror's Edge parkour mechanics, yes, but since you'll keel over in a firefight like a stalk of corn in a breeze it also encourages you to go off and do your own thing, something Brink excels at. The levels might be cramped in places, but they also sprawl deceptively, with lots of small sub-objectives hidden down shortcuts and up on walkways.
Attacking engineers may find the objective wheel hinting that they repair a staircase, while defending engineers can assemble fixed gun emplacements. Operatives can sabotage enemy equipment. Everybody can capture command posts, or creep their way around to behind enemy lines and open fire at men on the wrong side of cover. It's a lovely sense of freedom, and eases the cruelty of what is otherwise quite a hardcore FPS. If the fighting in one part of the level kills you off twice in a row, there's no need to go back there. You can leave that deathtrap to your team and go hunting a different prize - or you can simply approach the same kill zone from a different angle, or as a different class, or with different weapons.
Back as an Agile, I encounter difficulties as my team starts escorting our important AI prisoner from his cell back to the start of the level. Excellently, in order to sidestep the higher age rating given to games featuring the shooting of unarmed men, a pistol hangs limply from our VIP's arm as he shuffles limply forward.
Filled with urgency, I go running out to join the pack, sliding around and firing my pathetic Agile pop guns at the Security team with commendable enthusiasm, if not effectiveness. It's a slaughter. For minute after minute our medics go rushing out under storms of enemy fire to get the man back on his feet, only for him to topple over just a few feet closer to our exit elevator. I try clambering across the top of the level, but can't find an angle for sniping. I change to an engineer and try dropping gun emplacements, but they're shattered by enemy fire in seconds. I just don't know what to do. I don't know the level, the tricks relating to all the class-specific powers, or quite who to help.
By the time we get the prisoner to the elevator, I'm supping a strange cocktail of exhaustion, elation and disheartenment. I sucked. I didn't even use my wall-jump, except when showing off with a group of other reinforcements on our way back to the action. I want to change that. I want to be among the smartest, fastest and most dangerous gunmen the Ark has ever seen. Just how much depth Brink will offer remains to be seen, but that's still a very, very good sign.