Genre: First Person Shooter
Platform: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC
Class based shooters can be a mixed bag. How do you encourage gamers to work as a team rather than going out Rambo-style, all guns blazing, for personal glory? And how do you differentiate yourself from the countless other shooters on the market? Brink, with its unique art direction and parkour controls plants its flag firmly in the genre’s A-team, but falls short of becoming the new King of the Hill.
Set in the near future, Brink’s world is set upon a floating city known as the Ark. Originally seen as a utopia, cataclysmic world events have left it as one of the last hospitable places on the planet, causing two rival factions to grow on the Ark. On one hand you have the militaristic Security forces, looking to maintain order on the now-decrepit man-made island, and on the other the Resistance, a more rag-tag bunch of rebels looking for independence from the Security’s regime. Neither should be seen as a good or evil group; just two forces both looking for a bigger slice of the Ark pie.
You’ll be asked to pick a side from the start, though once you’ve played through either side’s first mission, you’ll have access to all maps and missions for both forces. That’s because the game (though playable from start to finish in single-player offline mode) is designed primarily as an online multiplayer game. Therefore you’ll be able to pick and choose which maps and missions you wish to play through, and highlighting the fact that, when all is said and done, the campaign story here is neither very fleshed out nor compelling.
What is compelling however are the actual bouts themselves. Pitting two teams of 8 players against each other (filling up the gaps in teams with AI controlled bots as necessary), you face objectives that can only be completed by taking on the skills of certain character classes. There are four overall; Soldiers can resupply teammates ammo supplies and plant explosives, Operatives can hack enemy networks, spot hidden mines and disguise themselves as opposing players, Medics can heal themselves and teammates and buff escort targets, while Engineers can fix objectives and lay down defensive turrets. It’s not drastically different from other class based shooters in this regard, and the frantic nature in which you’ll change classes across the course of a battle does little to accent the very few differences between each class style.
However, Splash Damage have done really well to build a system that actively encourages teamwork; you’ll accrue the experience points necessary to rank up and improve your character’s abilities not only by shooting foes, but by carrying out class-specific actions such as healing teammates and refilling ammo supplies. You’ll get a quick visual notification every time you do something which has gained you experience points, and often the rewards are far higher for carrying out a task unique to the boundaries of your class. As a result, it’s just as fun and rewarding to play as one of the support classes like the Medic as it is to play as a gung-ho Soldier.
But perhaps the element that most sets Brink apart from the competition is the way it uses free-running elements from the parkour sport, known in-game as Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain, or S.M.A.R.T for short. Unlike most first person shooters, battlefields are completely littered with debris which, in other titles, would be all but impassable. In Brink, players can scale most vertical areas of maps simply by holding down the sprint button, clambering over parts of the map even more quickly with well timed presses of the jump button. It works in a similar fashion to the under-rated Mirror’s Edge. Though it takes some getting used to, once you get the hang of it you’ll be seeking out all sorts of crazy high-up positions from which to rain down destruction upon your foes.
The parkour elements also play into the sort of characters you design too. Initially, you’ll only be able to access the medium body build, who move at an average pace, can use a broad range of weaponry and climb at a reasonable pace too. Rank up a few levels and you’ll then have access to the heavy and light builds as well. Heavy characters are slower and can take more damage, with access to the most destructive weapons, but can be easy targets whilst slowly climbing over obstacles. Light players on the other hand fly around maps at a crazy pace, jumping to otherwise inaccessible areas, but are weak and only have access to light weaponry. Though most elements of character customisation are flexible, body type is permanent, thus encouraging you to at least build three different persistent characters.
Overall there are 8 maps to play through, with different objectives depending on which side you play as, and not including the challenge map variants which set specific, incrementally difficult tasks. Outside of the campaign mode you can also enter a general multiplayer mode, in which you can tweak the settings of games played in each map to suit your tastes. However, the fixed nature of objectives in missions is a major shortcoming for Brink; once you’ve played through each mission from both perspectives a few times, action becomes increasingly repetitive as the best tactics with which to win a round quickly become plainly obvious. Were the objectives dynamically generated this wouldn’t be a problem, but the strictly focussed nature of each map means this isn’t possible, and is also unlikely to be mixed-up very much via post-release updates either.
Artistically, Brink is masterfully put together. The exaggerated quality of player models is a refreshing spin on the stock grunts you find in other shooters, with caricature-like faces oozing character. Add to this the customisation options you can unlock for your characters by playing the game (apparently numbering a total of 102 quadrillion unique character combinations), and you’ll quickly find battlefields inhabited by a truly quirky gang of combatants. The strong design carries over well to the look of the menus as well as of each level, ranging from debris-strewn boatyards to clinical industrial complexes. However the game suffers from a fair few graphical bugs that mar the experience somewhat; textures often load too slowly, particularly in cutscenes, leading to smeary locations, while odd pixelation artefacting did occur during some online bouts.
There’s plenty of potential in Brink. Its flowing movement controls are a breath of fresh air, forcing shooter fans to think fast while online and apply a completely different set of tactics to those found in the likes of Call of Duty. However repetition kicks in too quickly, and that strong art style is marred by some dodgy graphical glitches at times. Good but not perfect, strong post-release support for extra maps and objectives could yet make Brink a classic.