Brink – hands-on

That’s a large chunk of Brink’s appeal summarised in about two minutes of play. You can shy away from frontlines to pursue smaller, optional objectives, while the omniscient ghost of character progression looms over the battlefield, pouring buckets of experience points over you whenever you do well. Weapon attachments will include muzzle breaks for improved recoil, larger ammo clips, scopes and sights, as well as silencers. The unlockable weapons will feature shooters like the Maximus MG, a beefy cannon used by players with Heavy-type bodies to fling copious and inaccurate rounds at shocked enemies.

And while the unlockable outfits are largely a cosmetic affair, they’ll also provide some implicit information about the people you’re playing with. “If somebody has the XP to buy those costumes,” explains Stern, “you know they’re going to be a good player.” They’ll also be more likely to have some of the weapon upgrades, which will have an undeniable effect on how you should react to their presence.

As if to prove the point, upon finishing the mission we acquire a sharp SWAT outfit, replete with oppressive, eerily Soviet-style gas mask and Kevlar jacket. There’ll be chromatic similarities in the outfits you unlock too, so that Resistance and Security remain visually unambiguous. Your threads will be sartorial proof that you’re a team player.

“Although you could theoretically grind that much XP just by headshotting other players,” says Wedgwood, “it’d take an impossibly long time to achieve anything. But if you stand by a group as a Medic, doling out health to a key player and taking out enemies, your XP would grow exponentially.”

“You could get more XP by not firing a single shot,” adds Stern as the Shipyard map now fades into view. We spend the first few seconds trading buffs with our teammates, increasing one another’s strength and health. In this manner, Brink is built to reward sportsmanship and co-operation with experience points. On the most basic level, each class is capable of doling out some sort of benefit to another player. Engineers can increase another player’s weapon damage, Medics can boost health, and Soldiers can re-supply ammunition. These actions cost, as Splash Damage are currently calling them, pips. Using them rewards you with fistfuls of XP.

“One of the cool things about playing online,” claims Stern, “is the cooperation. So the very first time you play, and somebody buffs your health, you’ll get a message telling you that you can buff him back, and immediately your team is better off as a result of that. It was a facepalm moment when we wondered why we hadn’t thought of doing this earlier, but we’ve designed it so it costs two pips to buff yourself and one to buff a teammate. Straight away that makes it worth seeking out a teammate and doing that to one another.” In this way, players are encouraged to form relationships built on an erotic-sounding foundation of mutual buffing. “That’s all carrot,” adds Stern. “There’s no stick involved, no punishment. Even if I wanted to just farm the XP there’s no efficient way to do that without helping out my team.”

With Shipyard well under way, we take the opportunity to play about with the Operative class, Brink’s answer to TF2’s Spy; or more accurately, an evolution of Quake Wars’ corpse-nabbing Infiltrator. Downed players don’t die out straight away, and during that time they can be interrogated by Operatives, an action that outlines enemy players through walls and floors for that Operative.

Operatives can also backstab and disguise themselves: bushes and lampshades are out, but members of the opposite team are in. “The Operative class has an ability they can earn to uncover enemy Operatives who are in disguise as well,” explains Ham, “so if you’re on a server where another player disguises themselves as somebody on your team, you get a mission to go and track him down. So you’ve got this Spy vs Spy mini-game going on amid the greater conflict.”