The increasingly condensed Enemy Territory-style gameplay mechanics certainly deserve a broader audience. You can choose one of four classes as you make your way through each objective-driven level: Soldiers blow stuff up, Engineers repair things and can set up landmines and turrets, Medics heal and Operatives sneak behind enemy lines and torture incapacitated enemies or borrow their identities. Most maps (which can be played individually or in sequence) have one of the forces on the attack and the other defending something dear to them - and as such one side surges forward through a variety of bottlenecks, roadblocks and obstacles that teamwork and individual abilities can overcome, while the other lot tries to kill them before they get a chance.
For example, you could be merrily blasting away as a Soldier for the Security faction, but then look at your game-generated objective wheel and notice that there's 200 experience points on offer if you torture an opponent into spilling his guts about a gate unlock code. So you select the objective, swap over to an Operative class at a captured control-point, and then stalk panther-like into no-man's-land in pursuit of a Resistance hoodlum who's been shot into submission and is plaintively crying out for a Medic.
Once there, having fought off Medics rushing to help their injured brave and the floor-bound target's own feeble attempts at defence, you can then whip out something looking suspiciously like an iPhone-o-Death and torture the player into giving your side the code for said gate. Your character will then give a cheeksome thumbs-up, since the job's a good 'un: a quest complete and 200 XP in the bank to help levelling up and further developing your character between games. Next up: an engineer is needed to fix a crane that can lift the robot your team is escorting further into the level; find another career-change control point and away you go. Or just go back into the fray and shoot people to see Borderlands-style XP rewards floating out of their collapsing bodies. The choice is yours.
Brink is still a game in flux. Since we saw it at E3, it sounds like the narrative is edging away from mission-bookending cut-scenes and further into mise-en-scene ambient storytelling, for example. So you'll be able to read deeper into what's going on, and what's happened previously, through discarded placards and the state of the scenery, along with randomly dropped BioShock-style tape-recordings. Elsewhere, clever-clever stuff like allowing different classes to hear certain battle noises at different levels are being toyed with - meaning that Medics are better attuned to hear the cries of the wounded, while Operatives are more able to hear a rival sneakster reloading. The game is developing at quite a rate, and it'll be interesting to see what form it's in next time Splash Damage's lords and masters at Bethesda want it on show.
And that relationship is clearly vital, because Richard Ham hasn't been the only marquee signing. In fact, it's all gone a bit Manchester City. They've snagged the art lead from the utterly beautiful Prince of Persia, the lead programmer from Heavenly Sword, the guy who did the gun noises in Black, the character artist who created Shepard and his gang for Mass Effect, the lead level designer from Killzone 2, the bloke who did the Sam Fisher animation in the first Splinter Cell, the producer of Killzone 2 and LEGO Star Wars, and, last but not least, the level designer responsible for de_dust in Counter-Strike, and another who made cp_steel for Team Fortress 2. It's fantasy football game development.
Better than that though, they look to be playing well together, because Brink impresses from pretty much every angle. The Bromley locals may be indifferent, but they may be rather more interested once the game's finished, which should be some time in 2010. And even if the dream of a multiplayer FPS for the masses doesn't quite work out, we suspect the result will be a multiplayer FPS the traditional audience has a lot of good things to say about regardless.
Brink is due out for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 next year.