Updated impressions of Brink

They can also be class-specific skills, such as the Operative’s Comms trick. This allows the Spy-a-like Operative to scan a dead foe’s body to briefly revealenemy locations. Of course, by picking that you’ll deny yourself another ability, such as the one that lets you disguise yourself as a downed enemy. Leveling up means escalated power to some degree, but really it’s about careful choice of abilities rather than having a horrifyingly unfair advantage over other players. There’s also a choice about how many pies you’ve eaten. Your character’s body shape is the most critical choice you’ll make. By default, you’re a medium – a good all-rounder.

Once you’ve leveled up a bit you can choose to mutate into an Agile or Heavy body type – the former able to move at speed and reach areas the others can’t,while the latter is a hit point-laden warhorse, able to carry the game’s most devastating guns. Unlike classes and weapons, which you can casually alter between respawns, your body type is a permanent decision. Splash Damage is hinting there will be ways to change your decision, but in general you’re likely to start up a couple of alts so you get to play with a skinny, a biggy or a norm whenever you like.

You will, however, be able to tinker with your clothing at will. Brink’s character designer is a slick wee thing, flicking quickly between trousers, hats and the like with an ease that puts The Sims to shame. From "I’m with Stupid" T-shirts to flame-patterned hockey masks, it promises some fairly dramatic customization – though this probably means the DLC cow will get a sound milking. When you march to war, you’ll be fielding a dude who’s very much yours, and not a generic beefcake soldier with a slightly different-colored hat.

Online shooters have been sniffing around MMOs’ back yards for a while, but Brink appears to be the rare example of getting it. Advancement isn’t just about earning experience points – it’s about building a character who reflects you. So long as your definition of your identity involves huge guns and camouflage pants.

This customization is a major part of Splash Damage’s intention to get people who traditionally cling to the ankles of single-player games to relax their fear of online play. If you’ve built yourself a character you’re proud of, you’re going to want to show him off to people. Those NPC bots aren’t going to notice, so open up your game and shake a tail feather.

Again, you can play the campaign mode online or in co-op, or you can play a standalone map, Battlefield-style. There’s also the idea that you can choose objectives rather than simply surge forwards into great danger at all times. Clearly Brink comes down to shooting other fools in the face to achieve objectives that win the map for one side, but if you can’t handle the heat, sneaking off to grab a command point or hack a safe earns team-wide bonuses.

The in-game GPS system will even recalculate a new route to an objective for you if it spots that you’re headed toward a rear entrance or you’re careering across rooftops. This is looking like a shooter that wants you to have fun, not to creep slowly forward until some camper snipes you in the head.

Brink’s adamn ambitious game that’s charging head-on into two huge risks: that its plans to lure in a new audience might alienate the shooter hardcore, and that it’s still too close to the Enemy Territory/Battlefield model to lure in the mass audience it needs. The cutscene production values are very high, while the character customization lends an additional backbone to the proceedings. But much depends on how meaty its single-player game really is. And if Brink’s gradual switch from offline to online play is to be as organic as Splash Damage hopes, there has to be the same satisfaction to beating a single-player map.

The proof will be in the play, and we’ll be hands-on with this noble beast again at some point. Until then, it’s safe to coo at how marvelous it looks, how clever its concepts are, and how svelte the interface is. We saw Brink at the same time as we saw id’s Rage, and Brink seems fresher, stranger and more tantalizing. The student may well be about to become the master. (And if you really want a narrative reason for the giant chins, let’s just assume it’s a by-product of a failed generation of genetically engineered supermen.)

Jul 5, 2010