Back in 2008, DICE released an intriguing first-person anti-shooter called Mirror’s Edge. Not without its flaws, the idea of parkour free running from a first-person perspective was a fascinating concept. I played Mirror’s Edge, understood what they were going for, but couldn’t get past the tacked on shooting mechanic. “Show me the game that has parkour plus a decent shooting mechanic and I’ll be interested.” True story. I actually said that.
Then along came Brink. Ever since its announcement, I’ve been keeping a close eye on this contender for the online first-person-shooter crown. A recurring theme of my reviews of late is that we first-person shooter fans seem to be sick of having to choose between the apparent online dichotomy of Call of Duty and Bad Company 2. We live in a capitalist society; we want choice, dammit!
So is Brink the first-person shooter second coming I’d hoped for or far from the first person to come second in a race already dominated by the shooter prowess of Bad Company 2 and Call of Duty? Read on to find out.
First and foremost, Brink is not a single-player game. If you approach it as such, the chances are good that you’ll be rather disappointed. The reasons for this are wide and varied; everything from dodgy friendly AI to a distinct lack of story make this an unappealing option as a solo outing. The whole thing reeks of a bot match; multiplayer training for whenever you can’t find an online game, your internet is down or you want to try some newfangled tactic in front of an enemy that won’t LOL at you if it goes tits up.
You have to complete the Challenges by yourself to earn the associated kit unlocks, but because they’re mostly you versus the computer and not you + a team of morons versus the computer, they seem a whole lot easier by comparison. The friendly AI really is that bad. They’ll get in your way, rarely complete objectives or even help you with them unless you lead them there, and they’re not particularly skilled at killing opponents. The most you’ll use them for is praying that they’ll throw you a revive syringe so you can get back in the fight; but even that’s a challenge for them sometimes.
Then there’s the afterthought of a storyline. It exists to advance the plot: that is to say, it’s there to get you from mission to mission and provide some sort of vague motivation in cut-scene form when you’re completing objectives within said missions. Brink has an interesting mythology at play, but it’s not fully explored. The concept of an experimental and self-sufficient floating city that has been overrun with refugees, coupled with blurred lines between which faction—Resistance or Security—is really good/bad makes for an interesting premise. It’s a shame that more energy wasn’t dedicated to telling more of a story with the interesting dystopian foundation.
But then, you’d be mad to play this game alone.
Splash Damage has a strong history of creating solid team-based shooters—Enemy Territory of the Wolfenstein and Quake Wars varieties spring to mind—and a lot of love has been put into the multiplayer portion of Brink. The strange but cool thing is how linked single-player, co-op and competitive multiplayer are. They’re all set on the same maps with the same objectives, regardless of the play mode. That’s the strange. The cool thing is that the character/s you create are likewise linked. Regardless of whether you earn experience in competitive multiplayer, co-op or playing alone through the campaign (challenges or in ‘Freeplay’), all of your hard-earned XP goes towards your character. This is a fantastic addition to first-person shooters and makes it feel less like the usual grind associated that’s with the definitive split between single and multiplayer modes in other games.
Brink supports up to eight players in cooperative mode, and it’s a blast. Three players or above is an absolute hoot and the immense satisfaction of breaking through an enemies’ defensive line to complete an objective with seconds to spare is a second-to-none feeling. You will laugh, you will scream, you will swear, but you will be having fun while working as a team.
Enemy AI isn’t flawless, mind you. There were plenty of times when they ran right by me or allowed me to complete an objective while they watched. But they are deadly accurate with bullets and grenades; particularly when on hard difficulty. In fact, in one co-op session, the AI-controlled enemy team got so fed up with us getting our arses handed to us that they started spawn camping. I was torn between swearing frustration and begrudging respect for this very human sign of intelligence. They’re much more challenging when they’re on defence than offence, but when the clock is close to zero, rest assured, they will surge.
And that’s because Brink forces you to play as a team and rely on your teammates. Sure, you can pick a particular favourite class and level up it up in order to access the higher-echelon abilities and weapon attachments, but you’ll really only ever be able to kill farm if you play the lone wolf; and that’s not how you win matches.
Soldiers plant charges on map objectives and replenish ammunition. Operatives hack map objectives, spot mines, convert turrets and can disguise as enemies. Engineers buff weapon damage, lay mines/turrets, defuse charges, destroy hack boxes and can build stationary weapons and defensive walls at strategic points. Medics buff health, revive downed teammates and can also access speed/metabolism buffs. Every class has a vital role to play in keeping your team on top.
Now that might all sound a little bit complex, which is why Splash Damage bribes you with the promise of 1,000XP just for watching the 40-odd minutes worth of training videos before you start the game. If you’ve watched the six ‘Get SMART’ tutorial videos, feel free to skip these as they’re the exact same thing back to back; and yes, I still scored the XP when I skipped them. If you’re relatively new to the concepts of Brink, go and watch these videos or take the time to absorb the information in that 40-odd minute chunk. It’s not the best of ways to convey information in a way that will stick, though, so your best bet for learning the ropes is by jumping into the game.
Speaking of getting SMART, the simplified movement system works really well. For those unaware, it stands for Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain, and apart from being a contender for the Dodgiest Acronym of All Time award, it is the real game changer in Brink and for first-person shooters. Hold down the SMART button and you’ll go into a sprint. When you near an object, SMART will determine how to deal with it. Press jump in conjunction with SMART to clear objects in a fluid movement or to wall run if you have a lighter body type. Alternatively, press crouch while SMARTing to go into a slide that knocks enemies off their feet for an easy takedown. Better yet, while sliding, you can still fire from the hip, allowing for some John Woo-type frags.
How quickly you move and how apt you are with the parkour is determined by your body type. There’s light, normal and heavy on offer; each of which offers different arsenal choices as well as movement options. The light body type is the nimblest and can get to those hard to reach places that the heavy body type cannot. This mixes up the way you approach level navigation depending on what body type you choose. It also determines how much damage you can take before you’re incapacitated. The biggest problem with the body types is that you can’t switch them in-game. Instead, you need to return to the main menu to make the change; an odd oversight considering how limited your navigation options can be if you’re stuck in the heavy body.
Perhaps the decision behind this was to get you to spend more time in the character creation screen. Considering I’m one of those gamers who cares little for the appearance of my avatar that is really only viewable by my victims as I run over their corpses, I spent a surprising amount of time here playing around with the look of my characters. This is mostly thanks to the gorgeous cartoony art décor that is part of what helps to make Brink so distinct. It’s not just the exaggerated look of the male combatants (seriously, you can only fight as a dude), it’s the wide range of colours used in levels that gives Brink a unique look. With the exception of the odd rendering issue—particularly noticeable on the Xbox 360 version of the game (even after patching and installing it to the hard drive)—it’s very easy on the eyes.
This attention to detail carries over into many gameplay elements of the game. Grenades don’t kill, they incapacitate. In fact, any enemy whose health bar you deplete will be incapacitated and represents a revivable threat. The great news for medics is that they don’t have to run over to an incapacitated teammate to revive them; the revive syringes can be lobbed from a distance, keeping revivers out of harm’s way. It’s then up to the downed player to pick the moment when they revive themselves; but the longer they wait, the greater the likelihood that they’ll be finished off for good. As with the syringes, buffing also allows you to chase players that you want to buff. You don’t have to incessantly tap the button, screaming abuse at them to slow down so you can buff their weapon damage; you simply hold the button and you’ll chase the player until they’re within buffing range: very handy.
The bulk of my review hours with Brink were sunk into the Xbox 360 version of the game, as the PC code came through late. While a blast to play, it was always going to be in finest form on the PC. That being said, it is worth noting that I hosted a multiplayer match with seven players, all of whom were also in the same Xbox LIVE Party as me, without any noticeable lag issues on server (an unfortunate consistent problem with being a game host on Xbox LIVE) or client side.
Splash Damage has thankfully paid the right amount of respect to the PC version of Brink. Prettier visuals, a simple server browser, open dedicated server and LAN support are the core of what makes Brink best served on PC. The other obvious drawcard is the use of keyboard and mouse. Brink feels a whole lot faster on PC because of how seamlessly mouse aiming allows you to look while you’re controlling everything else from the keyboard. I held my own on Xbox 360, but when playing competitively on PC, I was able to decimate the enemy team at chokepoints where there was plenty of cover by using simple SMART movements to avoid return fire. It’s just a shame that headshots don’t always kill: a big no-no in FPS gaming.
And that is Brink in a nutshell: the potential to traverse the digital battlefield in an entirely new way that affords the player more combat options. Couple this with the well-balanced classes (including the higher-level abilities) and the distinct lack of camping equipment (there’s really only one sniper rifle in the game), and this is a different breed of first-person shooter: faster, sexier and made for online play. There were some lag issues (I was mostly playing against international players on Australian servers) and minor bugs on the PC version, but I have faith in Splash Damage’s post-release support to iron these bugs out post haste.