The latest title out of independently-owned British game development company, Splash Damage (best known for their online FPS games, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars and Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory), is Brink.
Continuing their trend of delivering FPS’, Brink sets to redefine the genre with a mix of photorealistic-cartoon-styled characters, Team Fortress style squad and objective gameplay and Mirror’s Edge themed parkour movement, all wrapped up in an online, cooperative environment.
It is their first proper foray into the console environment (Splash Damage didn’t handle the port of Quake Wars), but does it live up to their promises of greatness?
In a dystopian city known as The Ark; possibly humanity’s last surviving stronghold on Earth after the seas have risen, you fight on one of two sides, the Rebels or the Security Forces.
The Security Forces are battling to maintain order on the floating city, driving back the dissidents and those who seek to abandon The Ark. On the flipside, the Rebels or revolutionaries, strive only to overthrow the confines and venture out into the seas, assuming other Humanity must still exist elsewhere.
Despite the choice being presented to you in black or white right from the very beginning, it proves to tear this tough decision down moments later when you can realise that the choice is not binding; You can switch sides any time you like and run missions from either side with no consistency (even with the same character) which renders the story and this choice quite meaningless.
Provided you go into Brink with a clear mind and no pre-conceived expectations, you’ll find an innovative and diverse, strategy-based FPS at your fingertips.
Once I got over the initial shock of running around like a headless chook and realised that Brink was more Team Fortress than Battlefield: Bad Company, the true strengths of the game began to show themselves. This is a very ambitious first person shooter.
You begin with the uber-stylish character customisation. There are a variety of basic face types to choose from which form the grounds of your character’s appearance, but from then on the customisation never ends. You can pick and choose from numerous body sizes, clothing items, tattoos, face paints, hair styles and colours, voice types, actions and as you progress through the game, XP unlocks more and more option.
Diving into your first mission, you’re quickly given a brief tutorial about how Brink is supposed to play, how your objectives are tracked and how important class choices are within the game world.
You have four classes available during a mission, the Soldier, the Medic, the Engineer and the Operative. The Soldier supplies ammo to teammates and has specific destruction targets within missions (planting explosives on a door for example). The Engineer has the ability to increase teammates’ weapons potency (buffs) and can builds stationary turrets for defense. The Medic, as you’d expect, heals downed teammates and can give a boost to your teammates’ health. The Operative is required for interrogating fallen opponents, performing acts of sabotage – and a personal favourite, can also disguise himself as one of your opponents.
Each of these classes become interchangeable throughout a mission – and many classes can be required, so if your teammates are neglecting an objective, you can switch your class and get the job done yourself.
Characters are enhanced by ‘skills’, unlockable abilities earned over time with XP rewards from playing matches. There are a total of fifty available, but you can only apply twenty to a single character, so choice is key. There are some basic ones like better proficiency with grenades, to handy little abilities like being able to fire while incapacitated, so there’s a multitude of diversity on offer.
None of these skill point assignments are locked down forever either, so you can chop and change by reassigning skill points at any time.
Body types also affect just what you can do within the round as well. A ‘heavy’ body type can wield weapons such as Miniguns and Shotguns (at the expense of running speed and maneuverability), while on the opposite end of the spectrum, the ‘small’ body type allows only lighter weapons, but gains the ability to navigate the levels through narrow pathways and secret ducts while possessing more outright speed in doing so.
The movement mechanics; Splash Damage refer to it as the SMART (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain) are an absolute highlight, turning the game into a sort of parkour FPS, allowing you to navigate complex environments littered with crates, handrails, tables, walls and gaps with a remarkably easy single input.
There are a total of eight maps in Brink. The level design is fantastic, and as you realise the above mentioned body types reveal new areas and new ways of traversing the maps, it’s going to be quite a while before you see everything that each map has to offer. That said, it isn’t long before you become tired of the same locations and the same objectives within them. For what is essentially an online game with the entirety of its focus on this objective play, it feels like the biggest prohibitive factor of Brink is its longevity.
Some of these objectives seem silly and pointless as well.
One team might be charged with rescuing a VIP (the other team’s job is therefore to stop them by killing the VIP). In doing so though, not only does the attacking team have to eliminate the protectors, but after ‘killing’ or capturing the VIP, they then have to stand around and guard him for up to 10 minutes. Failure to do so results in the VIP miraculously recovering from the multiple head wounds from your Minigun and having to do it again.
These time-based objectives can feel drawn out simply for the sake of being so. Even the more hasty objectives such as demolition and safe cracking for example can become a little monotonous once you’ve done a map over a few times.
The competition online does keep your interest, especially when matches are close fought, though – and games are always full thanks to the addition of ‘Bots’ (an AI element I thought had been lost in recent years), but of course they aren’t true supplement for the real thing. The Bots will regularly run right past you, all swarm together (a grenadiers wet dream) or follow what seems like the exact same patterns on each attempted assault.
Perhaps due to the outright size of the maps and the mass undertaking of activity within, online games can suffer from some lag, but whether or not this is a result of the netcode, or actual player connections when handling the information, is up for debate.
Graphics & Sound
It’s hard to find graphical fault with Brink. The art style and detail is superb. Especially the characters, who all have this crazy-detailed, stretched look about them that make you think ‘this is what cartoons would look like if they were photorealistic’. I have spent an absolute age in the character customisation, just looking at all the options, switching tattoos, applying new face paints, switching clothes and costumes.
The game world is also beautiful, though perhaps not as much attention to detail has been crafted into the environments as the characters.
Sound is great, bullets ricochet off metal, shotguns thump and miniguns whistle with metallic urgency. Chris Sweetman, (of Burnout Paradise fame) was brought in for the audio and it shows through in every facet of Brink’s fantastic technical soundtrack.
Brink is an extremely brave, highly stylised, strategy-based shooter. Graphically it is very impressive. The parkour-esque movement both excites and frustrates. The lack of longevity (largely attributed to the small map roster) is my biggest concern. I’ve been playing it for a few days, but already the fresh feel and interest is waning a little.
For innovative, cooperative team-based FPS’, it doesn’t get much cooler than Brink, but I hesitate to recommend it based on the fact that it just doesn’t feel like it’s got the legs. It’s on the brink of being something really special – all the hallmarks of a good game are there, but it’s lacking endurance. It just seems to run out of steam.