You can just tell that some games are going to be good. They work within known boundaries, use elements from things you've enjoyed before, and aren't too ambitious.
I have no idea if Brink is going to be good. It might be.
Brink might be a singleplayer game played as either Security or the Resistance on a man-made island call the Arc. Or it might become, seamlessly, a cooperative game, played with your friends fighting alongside you through the same story. Or it might then become a full multiplayer game, as players join the opposing team, playing their own story from the opposite side. Brink is blurring the lines of all three modes, creating a two-sided story that you can play how you want.
The game might be a straightforward corridor shooter. Play with the Soldier kit and only ever select the primary mission objective as your next goal, and it's exactly that. But run up to a Command Centre, a capturable point found on every map, and you can change your class, while the Mission Wheel enables you to choose your next goal from a list of tasks helpful to your team. Change class to Operative and Brink might be a sneak-'em-up all about alternate routes and flanking. Swap class again and switch goal to something secondary or tertiary, and Brink might be a game of applying health buffs as the Medic or upgrading people's weapons and ammo as the Engineer. It could be all of the above over the course of ten minutes. Your character might be a hockey-mask wearing fatman, heavy, muscled, lumbering and tough. Or, if you switch body type and clothes, they might be a skinny, nimble, freerunning sceneryhopper, wearing a custom-designed T-shirt and facepaint, vaulting over obstacles and charging between platforms. It might also be something in between, depending on how you prefer to play and what you make in the character creator. Are you getting the idea? Because I can go on like this...
The weapon in your hand may be a simple pistol, or it could be one with a scope, silencer and extended clip. The machinegun you're holding might be a clean, polished Security brand or a grimy, dirty, old Resistance variant; and it may have a grenade launcher and a tommygun's ammo case.
Brink is flexible. It's as if the designers couldn't decide what game to make, and so decided to make all of them. It has a system for everything: three modes of play, dynamic objectives, character and weapon customisation, a levelling system with ability and tool unlocks, classes and body types. The complexity and possible variants are insane.
The presentation I was given by Paul Wedgwood, Splash Damage's co-founder, demonstrated the game's ideas well. I was shown the Resistance attacking the Security Control Tower, a checkpoint between the refugee's shantytown and the luxury homes of the rich.
Wedgwood took various primary objectives – to blow open a door, to hack a safe, to deliver information – and each was distinct and challenging. The hacking, for example, happened automatically after a device was stuck to a computer, but the process could be sped up if the player lowered his weapon and opened up his PDA. This leaves you vulnerable to attack, but if others come and join with their own PDAs or to provide covering fire, you can progress much faster.
Wedgwood's teammates took secondary and tertiary objectives and earned their own XP for teamwork. The different classes and body types appeared to enable you to tailor the game to your desired play style. Command Centres provided a focal point for constant combat. The systems worked, or appeared to.
If nothing else, it's a relief after the confusion and frustration of Enemy Territory: Quake Wars to see missions and objectives explained better. Splash Damage aren't just hopeful that they can better their last game though, they're hopeful they have a route for singleplayer gamers to enter online play.
“It begins in co-op, because there's nothing depressing about being killed by AI,” says Wedgwood. “As long as you learn from the experience, you're going to feel like you can counter that and move forward. We really believe that if we can get people into co-op – which is exactly the same as the singleplayer game, meaning they don't have to learn anything new – then they're going to enjoy versus mode down the line.”
But what the presentation doesn't show is whether it's any fun. Unlike some others we've seen, Brink isn't one of those games that you can look at and just know it's going to work. It's more ambitious than that. What's clear is that the ambition is exciting, and the only proof that it's fun we're going to find will be in the playing of it. Does might make right? Maybe.