For fans of Splash Damage’s lauded Enemy Territory franchise, Brink’s learning curve will be brief. For gamers unfamiliar with the dynamics of class-based first-person shooters, it will be steep — and some will likely retreat to Call of Duty’s cozy confines before getting over the hump. It’s a shame, because on the other side of that learning curve is a rewarding multiplayer experience. Despite some red flags, Brink is a blast, and injects new life into a genre that is quickly becoming stiff with rigor mortis.
The distinct Lil’-Wayne-meets-the-Hell’s-Angels comic-book aesthetic of Brink is telling; the game plays just as differently as it looks, compared to the me-too military FPS games flooding today’s market. From the very cool SMART system that allows you to hurdle, climb, leap, and slide around maps by simply holding down a button — Assassin’s Creed style — to the near narcissistic focus on completing objectives, Brink is unabashedly different. And once you know what you’re doing, it’s just plain fun.
So what are you doing? Well, you’re fighting a not-so-civil war as a refugee Resistance fighter trying to escape the floating city of the Ark, or battling back as a member of the city’s Security force. Varied 16-player missions (escort, capture, steal, destroy, defend) set within this overall conflict play out in two distinct areas: the rusty brown shipping container slums of the Resistance, and the white-and-blue cruise-ship-like grandeur of the Security force. Brink’s maps offer little in the way of visual variety, but Splash Damage does a solid job creating fields of battle that smoothly transition from wide-open areas to mazelike corridors and back again, deftly changing ranges and levels of combat on the fly.
And while Brink sports plenty of combat (with a healthy array of weapons that carry the appropriate digital weight), the laser-like focus here is on completing objectives to help your team achieve overall victory. If you’re looking for a deathmatch (and/or a crown for the most kills), you came to the wrong place. Playing as a Solider, Medic, Operative, or Engineer, you have an array of abilities, and you build, buff, hack, steal, resupply, and heal just as much as you pull the trigger.
For example, in Brink’s stellar Security Tower mission, Resistance fighters must break into the Ark’s prison, steal a data key, release an imprisoned comrade, and escort him out of the facility. To complete these objectives, you need 1) a Soldier that can plant a bomb on the main gate; 2) an Operative that can hack the safe storing the data key; and 3) a Medic to heal and revive your imprisoned ally as you escort him out of the prison under a barrage of bullets. And you won’t have a chance at victory unless you have an Engineer to build turrets, upgrade teammate armor, and plant mines along your escape route — and a Soldier that can resupply ammo on the fly and toss Molotov cocktails that knock down foes.
Brink’s greatest strength is that it presents these many tasks intuitively through an interface that constantly updates to provide players of each class with new jobs to do at the push of a button. A sizable XP carrot is dangled for each objective, and a host of unlockable abilities, equipment, and character customization options await. I spent the majority of my time playing as an Operative, and experienced some of the best multiplayer gaming I’ve played in years.
During one particular mission where my team had to plant an explosive on a heavily guarded Ark support column, I hacked the comms of a fallen foe to pinpoint enemy positions (XP!), disguised myself as my opponent (XP!), snuck into the area unnoticed, hacked an enemy turret (XP!), planted a radio-control device on the turret (XP!), snuck back out of sight, and began unloading on the bad guys (XP!) with their own weapon. Pure gaming bliss. And it allowed my Soldier teammate time to plant the bomb, take out the support column, and achieve our objective (uber XP!). Victory!
Not all of Splash Damage’s design decisions are winners, though. Play the single-player campaign missions, and you’re playing the multiplayer — and vice versa. The only difference is whether you decide to play with A.I. bots (competent ones at that) or other humans. While it works terrifically as a tutorial and allows you to level, equip, and customize your character before jumping into a full-fledged online donnybrook, Brink’s story is worthy of a dedicated, fully scripted campaign. While I could do without yet another Marines-versus-OpFor story (I’m looking at you, Battlefield 3), I actually wanted more from Brink’s “campaign.” That’s a compliment as much as a criticism.
There are also some red flags that could become major problems in the metagame. Most notably, Brink gets laggy. And I’m talking “What is this, dial-up?” kind of lag. Whether it’s because of server issues or wonky netcode, it’s unacceptable for a game dedicated to online play. The studio says a patch for the problem will be live by the time you read this, so this could very well become a moot issue by launch.
Various bugs popped up in my time with Brink as well, with my character appearing as a completely different one in a few matches, fallen bodies floating on thin air, and the audio completely cutting out on one occasion, to name a few. These aren’t game-wrecking issues by any means, but at a time when glitching and hacking online games has become a bigger hobby than baseball cards, they are cracks that indicate gaping holes could be found and exploited.
Despite these issues, all the elements are in place for Brink to become a terrific multiplayer shooter. It handles well, offers customization options galore, and challenges FPS players to do more than just pull the trigger. It’s up to Splash Damage and Bethesda to manage the metagame with clean netcode, reliable servers, appropriate patches, and balancing tweaks. If they do that, Brink has the potential to become your new favorite FPS — once you get over that learning curve. Noob.