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Publisher: Bethesda Softworks / Developer: Splash Damage / ESRB: Teen (Blood, Language, Violence) / Price: $59.99
If Brink were developed in the 60s, it would have been made by Vince Lombardi, the man who once said, “Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” In this instance, individual commitment to a group effort is what makes the world of Brink go round.
So let me break it down. Imagine Killzone 3 and Team Fortress 2 made sweet love. Their child would be Brink. It’s a first-person shooter focused solely on objective-based multiplayer. Two teams of eight match up against one another: Ark Security versus the Resistance. Each faction has its own story, but more importantly, each faction has its own objectives on each map. So while the Resistance might be tasked with opening a locked gate by escorting an explosive drone, Security is tasked with stopping that same drone in its tracks to keep the gate intact. And this is the heart of Brink’s game: on-the-fly objectives that require one or more of the game’s four different classes to complete. You’ll switch classes many times throughout a match to complete primary objectives (which helps your team win), secondary objectives (which may help your team win a primary objective) or support your teammates.
Unfortunately, when playing solo, your AI teammates don’t always support you. In general, the computer doesn’t think or move intelligently, oftentimes standing around while you mow them down, or getting stuck against walls (which is ironic since one of the loading screen tips advises you to keep moving at all times to survive in the world of Brink).
Those blemishes aside, what’s really great here is that the game rewards you for every action. Sure you’ll earn experience points for killing enemies, but also for hacking doors, setting up turrets, buffing your teammates, and various other activities. This means that the player with the most kills may not be the best performer on the scoreboard when all is said and done. This in turn engenders strong team play, which is an absolute requirement to having any sort of success. Vince Lombardi would be proud.
The other element Brink brings to the table is the SMART system, which is a fancy way of saying that when you sprint, you can vault over obstacles or climb walls on the map parkour style. Even more cleverly, when you select your character’s body type, you’re able to make yourself more or less mobile when you sprint based on how small or large you are. Truthfully, the free-running system feels a lot like Mirror’s Edge, and it works for the most part in the way Splash Damage designed it, which was to get players thinking about how to use a map in three dimensions. Every now and again, though, it’s unclear when you can vault over a ledge, and the automatic jumping is not always pixel perfect, leading to some falls from ledges. Once you know the maps, it becomes less of an issue, but it will require some experimentation (and probably some deaths).
Then there’s the unlockables. All the experience you accumulate allows you to level up and earn new clothes and guns for your characters. Every match is like a carrot on a stick in front of your face, pleading you to play just once more to open up new options for the way your character looks (and you can make some pretty outlandish dudes; my guy has staples in his face). You can customize your guns with new attachments and modifications by completing single-player challenge rooms that teach you the ropes of each class and their abilities, a nice touch that serves to introduce you to the complexities of the gameplay.
One of Splash Damage’s big challenges was having a strong narrative element to what is otherwise a multiplayer-focused shooter. Did they succeed? Kind of. While a story explains why the Resistance is fighting Ark Security, it’s not very well conveyed in the pre- and post-match cutscenes. In fact, upon starting the game it’s really hard to make heads or tails of what the hell is going on. The more you play the missions, the more the story becomes clear, but for the first few hours, no characters emerge to capture your attention and devotion.
Brink’s story is a shadow puppet show that serves to contextualize the reasons for you to be so heavily engaged in deep objective-based combat, but as a narrative it really feels a bit out of place.
All that said, you unlock audio logs of the main characters as you play through the game, and the back story to Brink is an original tale of a technological dystopian Earth ravaged by class-based conflict. The concept of the Ark is alluring and the setting further enhances that feel. I really wish there could be a single-player game set in the Brink universe so I could dig into a rich story.
Brink is certainly stylistic, a unique and colorful splash of art design mixed with gun porn. Technically, however, it’s not quite up to par. While Bethesda promises a day one patch for some of the graphical problems, the game as I played suffered severe texture pop-in. The textures aren’t exactly amazing to begin with, but the muddy base colors of the environments will offend your eyes for the first 10 to 20 seconds of every match.
What really impressed me visually was the level design, and how natural and intuitive it was to navigate the maps without any sort of minimap. This is helped in part by the ever-present glow of your chosen objective, but it’s also a great use of landmarks and iconic imagery to reinforce your natural sense of direction.
Hands down, this is one of the best sounding games this year. The guns all pop with violent effect. You can hear the difference between a gun that has the rapid fire attachment and one that doesn’t. Machine guns sound like they’re spraying a thousand bullets a second while the rifles thud deeply every time you pull the trigger. Seriously, this is Battlefield levels of audio competence right here, and I highly recommend you play with headphones at least once.
Brink is truly an original offering: it’s got all the requirements of a solid class-based shooter, it injects some story into the mix, and it forces you to work together with your teammates, be they AI or human, to win. Whether the Call of Duty audience takes to this blend of gameplay styles remains to be seen, but for the more cerebral shooter fan out there, Brink is a deep and rewarding game. The real question is its staying power. There are only a half-dozen or so maps on the disc, and once you’ve unlocked a majority of the game’s content, the experience moves into the familiar-approaching-stale category. Hopefully Splash Damage will support the game after launch as new content will go a long way in getting players to stick around.
2011 has been a great year for shooters so far, and Brink is a grand experiment that occupies its own special place next to those other stellar games with guns. I highly recommend you give it a shot, because more than likely you’ll find something to enjoy.