Developer: Splash Damage
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Available on: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC (Reviewed on PlayStation 3)
With the FPS war heating up between Call of Duty and Battlefield, it’s hard to imagine a new that IP could enter the fray at this stage and and challenge these two gaming behemoths. The awesome-looking Modern Warfare 3 is on the horizon and the epic Battlefield 3 is looming ever closer, so it’ll be a wonder if we ever bother playing any another FPSs again. That said, smaller FPS games always emerge whatever the competition, and although they may not have the advertising budget of the big daddies, the good ones are still great fun to play.
However, sometimes it feels as if these smaller titles are all variations of the same game with a gimmick thrown in. One such game is Brink, a new FPS with an interesting little twist. You have all your usual gunfights (though no cover system beyond just ducking behind something), but this time you are also able to engage in “parkour”, a French version of free-running. So is Brink just another FPS with a twist, or is it something more special?
STORY: The earth has finally succumbed to global warming, and the oceans have risen and swallowed up the land. Thankfully the human race is a resourceful bunch, and they have built an enormous self-sustaining utopia called “The Ark” that floats above the water. At first, the Ark was a peaceful place, but with stranded refugees arriving all the time, the city has become crowded.
Despite their resourcefulness, the human race can also become unreasonable and violent, especially when packed together in a confined space. Riots inevitably occur, and the once-peaceful utopia becomes divided, ultimately being controlled by two factions: Security and the Resistance. The Security faction believe if there is order, everyone can live on The Ark peacefully together. However, the Resistance believe that the limited food, water and space make this impossible. Further to this, they believe that the Security faction is controlling the population, so they wish to leave the Ark in search of land so they can live free. This disagreement has turned the Ark into a war zone.
The game’s storyline is not bad, although to be perfectly honest it is not gripping. At the beginning of every mission, there is a cut scene which tries to convey some plot regarding the soldiers and rebels on the ground. More often than not however, these sequences are quite forgettable, and you will find yourself skipping them to get into the action. If the developers had made the plot a little deeper, you would care more and the story could have become a bigger part of the game.
GRAPHICS: Brink is quite a nice game to look at, with the overall graphical presentation standing somewhere between Battlefield Bad Company 2 and Mirror’s Edge. There are plenty of colorful areas to offset the dark and dank corridors and alleyways, which makes contextual sense because the Ark was once a very beautiful world that has since been savaged by constant battles. The developers have done a very good job of combining a paradise with a war zone. There is a fair amount of detail to the landscape, which is comprised mainly of close-quarter areas rather than open arenas, making for some intense (and graphically stunning) battles.
The characters are both detailed and well-designed, but they are stylised and actually quite comical for quite a serious game, given that they almost all possess conspicuously large noses. Your character is very customisable, and there are a multitude of different clothes and hairstyles to unlock as you play through. You can also adorn your character with tattoos and scars, but these are permanent, so you have been warned. Facial animations are well-executed, and the character movement is clearly inspired by the aforementioned parkour. Weapons are believable, but the imaginative design gives them a slightly futuristic appearance, which is a nice touch.
Overall, although Brink won’t receive critical acclaim for its graphical achievements, it is still a good-looking and nicely developed game.
SOUND: Brink’s sound is of a generally high quality, especially with regards to the background music, which sets the scene well. The Ark is populated by numerous different races and cultures, so the accents reflect this, although they can be slightly stereotypical. For example, the British character sounds like he’s a punk and the Scot sounds like a drunken maniac from Glasgow. All of the weapon-based sound effects are appropriate and well-timed, and the explosions give that satisfying kaboom that you crave.
GAMEPLAY: As mentioned before, there is a parkour element to Brink’s game mechanic that allows you to climb and jump over obstacles instead of trying to find a way around them. To facilitate this, Splash Damage had to develop a new system called SMART (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain), and they have done a good job. Although at first it can be a little tricky to control and time your jumps, but once you get the hang of it, SMART does the job nicely.
Brink’s class system means that its gameplay can definitely be compared to Battlefield: Bad Company 2. You have four classes to choose from: Soldier, Medic, Engineer and Operative. The Soldier class can resupply team mates and can throw Molotov cocktails, as well as destroy objectives by using explosives. The Engineer can buff or improve his teammates’ weapons, build defence turrets, and complete the “repair” and “build” objectives. The Medic can revive downed comrades as well as healing them, and the Operative can disguise himself, commit acts of sabotage and interrogate fallen enemies for intel on enemy locations. Only by ensuring that your team uses all of these classes can you ensure that you complete your missions successfully.
Killing enemies and completing objectives is rewarded with experience points that allow you to unlock class-based perks and items to improve your appearance. Bethesda claim that there are thousands of unique character combinations available for players to use, so if you are interested in that sort of thing you will not be bored in the slightest. To improve and customise your weapons, you must complete the “challenge missions”, which require you to do certain tasks like complete an assault course before the timer runs out or defending a base. The challenge missions enable you to upgrade your weapons with better sights and silencers, which allow you to improve your arsenal and murder people more efficiently.
To say that the missions are varied would be an understatement, and there is always plenty to do. They range from rescuing an undercover agent from the enemy to clearing an enemy out of an area or destroying a robot that’s in enemy hands. Each mission is timed, so you need to fulfill your objectives as soon as you possibly can, making for some exciting battles. When playing the missions offline, bots allow you to accomplish your mission. Whilst they can do the job, it has to be said that the AI can be quite stupid at times, and no substitute for human compatriots. For example, although a Medic will come to you at the earliest opportunity if you are downed, they won’t adjust their behaviour if there are enemies in the way, meaning that they will march right through and get hit themselves.
Also, if you have to carry a package in an objective mission, the bots won’t follow you once you have cleared the enemy out of the objective area. This means that if an enemy respawns or enters the area from a different path, you will not have any back-up, which is frustrating, especially if your running out of time.
Overall, however, Brink’s gameplay is good. The game’s main draw is its Battlefield: Bad Company 2 style of gameplay, and the added parkour element is very entertaining, even though it can be infuriating to play on your own.
MULTIPLAYER: All the missions that you play for the campaign are also available to play online with friends. On the menu you choose whether to play missions as co-op or versus. Either way, the presence of actual human beings dramatically improves everything, because you are no longer relying on the game’s AI system to assist you or get you out of a sticky situation. Because of this, it’s only fair to point out that Brink was always meant to be a multiplayer experience, and although the single player mode is not bad as such, multiplayer improves the game ten-fold. Another feature, “freestyle”, allows you to customise the game missions, meaning that you or a clan can create something challenging and fun that will make the whole experience more enjoyable.
LONGEVITY: Each faction’s set of missions takes around six hours to complete, so you’re looking at about twelve hours to complete Brink’s single-player mode. However, the multiplayer experience means that you will probably be playing the game for a few weeks, or at least until the next FPS comes along. Freestyle mode allows you to experiment and make your own missions, something that, along with the challenges, could keep you engrossed for about a month. That said, it’s possible that with the likes of Call Of Duty: Black Ops and Battlefield: Bad Company 2 out there, you may end up going back to something with a higher budget sooner rather than later.
VERDICT: Brink will never be crowned king of the FPSs, but what it lacks in polish it makes up for in originality. The parkour element is not a gimmick, as it opens up the game world, giving the player a large number of possible approaches to the various missions. It also makes Brink unique, as free running is not something we see a lot of in the shooter genre.
Although the single-player modes are good fun, they are let down by the bots, meaning that Brink should really be played as a multiplayer game. That said, the multiplayer experience almost makes up for the AI issues in other areas of the game, and playing through the different online modes with friends should keep you entertained for hours.
In essence, Brink has everything you’d expect from an FPS, with a few tricks up its sleeve to boot. The story might suffer from a lack of depth (a shame given the inventiveness of the premise), and the AI could be better, it’s still a solid title that should keep fans of the genre happy before something more substantial comes out.