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Saturday, September 4, 2010

six reasons why brink will be awesome

QuakeCon may be named after, you know, Quake, but this year, a different multiplayer shooter stole the show. Yeah, Brink’s always sounded great on paper, but so did the N-Gage -- and then it was a taco. So obviously, we walked into our hands-on session with some trepidation. Watching a game stand on the – oh, what’s the word – cusp of greatness, only to fall backward into the Mortal Kombat-style spike pit of mediocrity is generally enough to brew up a tiny storm cloud over our heads, and we wanted so dearly for Brink to be awesome.

Fortunately, we weren’t disappointed. Put simply, Brink works. It’s ambitious, yet practical – complex, yet incredibly accessible. We got to play a couple matches in an area called Container City, and here’s why – days after the fact – we’re still aching to play more.

1. The S.M.A.R.T. System –
For some reason, people have been under the mistaken impression that this is some kind of automated movement system – in essence, a “win button” you can hand control over to while you make a sandwich or go deep-sea diving or something along those lines. In reality, though, it’s nothing like that. Instead, it’s a sprint key that goes the extra mile, allowing you to traverse just about any obstacle while holding it down. But that’s it. No magical autopilot AI. Hell, it’s debatably less automated than cruise control. It does, however, give you the nearly super-human ability to leap, climb, and slide with next-to-no effort. Think Assassin’s Creed, but without DRM that makes you hate the world.

2. Objectives –
Actually, on their own, Brink’s objectives don’t seem to be anything too special. We blew up a door, defended a giant tankmobile, and then captured a duffle bag. So basically, it’s a greatest hits collection of multiplayer gametypes all rolled into one. Brink’s appeal, however, lies in its menu system. Yep. You read that correctly. Switching from objective to objective is as simple as selecting what you want to do from a radial menu and getting down to business. After that, just follow an on-screen arrow and join the fray. But that’s the beauty of it. It’s simple, elegant, and – best of all – lightning quick. Also, if – for some reason – you hate convenience, it’s completely optional.

3. Pacing -- Combined with the S.M.A.R.T. system, the radial menu’s the difference between battling boredom and duking it out with your opponents. As a result, Brink’s pace never lets up. The menu system keeps even the most directionally-impaired players from wandering aimlessly until some kind soul on the opposing team puts them out of their misery. As a result, battles, based on what we played, rarely suffer from tumbleweed vs. cricket sound syndrome. Instead, there’s always a big scrap going on somewhere, and odds are, if you’re not part of it, you will be soon.

4. Class Switching – Brink’s class system isn’t quite as robust as, say, Team Fortress 2’s, but switching between classes depending on your current objective keeps things fluid and interesting. Better still, the radial menu informs you of the class distribution of your team, so you’ll never have an awkward “Well, one of us has to change” moment. During the demo, we spent most of our time as a Soldier, but also buffed weapons and repaired the aforementioned tankmobile as an Engineer. However, from what we can tell, you’ll be right at home with the other two classes' – Medic and Operative – roles if you’ve even glanced momentarily at a picture of Team Fortress 2’s class lineup.

5. Customization –
When our character came under our control, he was but a bald, comically exaggerated resistance fighter. After a little of our Insane Eye for The Brink Guy makeover action, though, he emerged as a trench coat-clad robo-man – more machine than man, more trench coat than machine. And apparently, that’s only the beginning of what you can do. As you play, you unlock more outfits, in addition to gaining experience and unlocking abilities and weapon modifications. Obviously, balance is a huge concern here, and we can't help but worry that one misplaced block could send the whole thing tumbling down. Fortunately, Splash Damage told us that all essential skills for each class will be unlocked after the first few level-ups, meaning that everything after that is gravy. Gravy that slowly kills people in inventive ways. So basically, normal gravy.

6. Match Length –
Brink’s unique among multiplayer shooters in that it’s story-based. In essence, it’s story mode co-op mixed with level-based multiplayer. Sounds time-consuming, huh? But actually, it’s not. The matches we played lasted about ten minutes on average, and one-sided matches can apparently end in the blink of an eye. Of course, this could be a double-edged sword – with players running out of things to do too quickly – but each level contains different sets of objectives for Resistance and Security teams, and Splash Damage has promised robust post-release support for the game. Obviously, after only playing one level, we can’t pass final judgment here, but it’s hard to walk away from Brink without turning our heads and gazing back wistfully as a single tear rolls down our cheek. We miss playing you, Brink. Come home soo

Monday, August 30, 2010

Firefight mode confirmed in Halo: Reach

We've just hot-footed it back from Microsoft's Play Day event at Gamescom - where among the many delights on offer, was a chance to grab a fresh hands on with Halo Reach's epic Firefight mode. New for Gamescom was a brand new map, Corvette, which takes place in a vast hanger aboard the titular Covenant spacecraft and with the countdown clock rapidly ticking down, we leapt in to join three fellow Spartans to repel the Covenant hordes.

You begin Corvette in a small room tucked away at the back of the level, chock full of handy gear and an ammo cache, but as soon as you exit this safe area, you're into the vast belly of the ship, with a big circular central area surrounded by a series of gently curving platforms. Two force fields seal the hanger at either end and these are the entrances through which the covenant troop transports glide, disgorging a fearsome array of Covenant beasties. Being a more skirmishing-scout type player we were a shoo-in for the Recon role and a pleasant surprise awaits in the hands all over the new Designated Marksman Rifle, a hard hitting scoped weapon which boasts fearsome stopping power and extreme headshot capability. Lurking around on the raised platforms provided plenty of opportunities for stealthy sniper skills, or close fire support for your team-mates below. When the Covenant push you hard, Recon's grenade and assault rifle backup means you've also got plenty of options for close quarters combat.

There's also a great deal of variety to the 'incoming'. Things start off relatively sedate with a few waves of low level Grunts and supporting Elites, but the challenge rapidly ramps up with marauding Hunters and shield-wielding Jackals providing a much sterner challenge. We also encountered the new Skirmisher Covenant, tough, agile opponents who hunt in packs, love to attack any exposed flank and slowly tighten the noose, if you hold position for too long. It's quite an achievement to survive a wave of these unscathed, however our biggest challenge on Corvette came when one of the drop ships dropped off a new heavily armoured version of the Wraith tank. This new Super Wraith creates absolute havoc on the field and only precise shots at its crew or extremely heavy firepower can make a dent. You'll do well to avoid its Grunt operated turret and much faster, lower trajectory electrical blast too.

While you can retreat to your safe area for a quick reload in between rounds, your survival will largely depend on scrounging fallen Covenant weapons and turning them against their former masters. We managed to grab a blast with the new plasma rifle and it's quick spread of shots and concentrated firepower make it a real step up from the plasma pistol. However unlike its handheld counterpart, if the rifle overheats, you can hold X to vent the plasma, cooling the weapon down, but leaving you vulnerable for several seconds. Not advisable in the middle of a frantic firefight. Then alas all too quickly our time was up, but if Corvette is anything to go by, Reach looks set extend and expand ODST's excellent Firefight mode with a horde of new weapons enemies and modes.

Corvette itself is a great looking, highly evocative level, balancing the wide open spaces and free-form carnage below with plenty of cover on the periphery and lots of sniping and overwatch positions above. All in all a near perfect arena for a few frantic, frenetic rounds of Firefight. September 14th can't come soon enough.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Black Ops campaign preview

If I could pick one word to describe what I was shown of the Call of Duty: Black Ops single-player campaign, it would be 'intense'. The action is intense, the atmosphere is intense, the violence is intense. Hell, even the weather is intense.

There's probably just enough space in the internet left for me to use a few more words than that, but it's a term Treyarch community manager Josh Olin used a fair few times as he guided me through two stages of what is undoubtedly one of this year's most anticipated releases.

Not that 2009's Call of Duty (COD) release Modern Warfare 2 lacked intensity, of course. But it was the glory, rather than the horrors of war that was the focus. The notable shift in tone is a clear attempt by the World at War developer to take the flagship FPS series and stamp their name all over it.

Given Infinity Ward's offering last year was often described as "the biggest entertainment launch ever" (well biggest since the launch of the cup and ball in sixteenth-century France at least) a new development team had some pretty big expectations to live up to. And, so far, it looks like they've more than risen to the challenge.

Black Ops' story mode focuses on the exploits of elite commando squads working behind enemy lines during the cold war. It's a setting that's been visited a few times in the gaming world, and the historical significance of the period, along with a new, unique arsenal of weapons to gets to grips with means its a great choice for a COD game.

For the first time for Treyarch, the single and multiplayer modes had individual, dedicated teams - while many gamers see the franchise as primarily an online experience, what's on offer here is by no means an afterthought.