No doubt about it, Brink makes a rather muddled first impression. In trying to be all things to all men, it’s fair to say there’s been some confusion as to just what the latest game by Enemy Territory veterans Splash Damage is supposed to be. It’s ambitious, certainly. Prior to the game’s release, publisher Bethesda delivered a veritable deluge of information about seamless online and offline integration, parkour movement, near-infinite customisation options and a unique setting.
Things get off to a limp right from the outset. Luring the player in with the promise of 1,000 experience points – before they can know what these are used for or whether it’s a lot or a little – is a series of video tutorials seemingly designed to baffle newcomers.
There are screeds of trimmings that have been implemented with varying degrees of success, but at the end of the day, it’s a team-based multiplayer first-person shooter. To approach Brink as anything different is to set yourself up for disappointment.
Set on a floating city called the Ark, Brink tells the story of a civil war between two factions, the Security and the Resistance. Players choose a side and play through eight maps – six set encounters and two speculative “What If?” scenarios. Each map includes a series of objectives and a timer, resulting in phased play. Once the campaign has been completed, players are then able to play through the same maps as the opposing faction.
Here’s the rub: All the singleplayer campaign maps are also online multiplayer maps. The maps are often narrow and appear to be finely balanced, allowing for skill and teamwork to determine the result of any round. The game’s S.M.A.R.T. (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain) system means that what at first might seem to be a glaring choke, is in fact perfectly avoidable.
S.M.A.R.T. is indeed clever but doesn’t embrace the free-flowing tenets of parkour as smoothly as Mirror’s Edge or Assassin’s Creed. It’s a welcome, iterative addition to the genre rather than a wholesale evolutionary leap.
Interaction with objectives is limited to particular classes. There are four to choose from – soldier, engineer, medic and operative – each with their relative strengths and weaknesses. Fine shots, soldiers replenish ammunition, use grenades and plant explosives on objectives while engineers can diffuse them and set mines. The latter can also create gun turrets and destroy hack boxes. Hack boxes are created by operatives. This class can also hack computer objectives, take over turrets, disable mines and disguise themselves as the opposite faction. Medics revive fallen comrades and boost the health of allies or hostage objectives.
As players compete, they’ll gain experience that can be used to upgrade their character’s skills. As they do so, additional character and customisation is unlocked. Splash Damage can boast more than 100 quadrillion player variations, and although most of these will be lost on the eye in the frenetic action of any multiplayer round of Brink, the character models exhibit excellent art direction.
Players can also specialise in a body type, improving their health or agility, or their ability to use particular kinds of weapons. Heavy body types can use heavy weaponry and sustain more damge, for example, while agile body types move faster and can use S.M.A.R.T. to get where their larger adversaries cannot. The role-playing and character development aspects of Brink add personality and variety to gameplay, but for better or worse, maximising a character’s abilities is a somewhat brief exercise.
Playing the game in singleplayer is unsatisfying in large part due to poor bot AI. They’re more than capable of firing accurately, perhaps too accurately at higher difficulty settings, but are often incapable of achieving the team’s current primary objective. More than once, players will see their AI comrades pass up the opportunity to advance the map in favour of a less pressing secondary objective. As the maps serve the online and offline communities simultaneously, the story of the civil war takes a backseat – told in cut scenes only before and after play – and doesn’t propel the player through the game.
As objectives can only be achieved by particular classes, the player is usually left to switch roles consistently and complete any map singlehandedly. It goes without saying that the game improves when played cooperatively, but Brink is at its best in multiplayer. The finely balanced class roles, in addition to finely balanced maps make for welcome, dynamic and tactical gameplay. Players can only play against others of the same rank or higher, meaning the game would be challenging in perpetuity were it not for the fact that reaching the upper echelons is an exercise measured in hours or days, not weeks.
Unfortunately, the inexplicable lack of a lobby system stymies the multiplayer. In the short or long term absence of other players, bots take over and the shortcomings of the singleplayer experience seep in.
However, Brink is unified by its art direction, its smooth presentation and a fine user interface. Even if the maps lack some visual variety, their structure is incredibly difficult to fault. Players who can look past the hyperbole and ignore the fat will find underneath a sleek, highly refined multiplayer shooter long on balance and tactical gameplay.
Brink is a game that deserves a loyal following.