This is not your standard shooter. Brink is clearly trying to do things that you don’t see from your average FPS. As a result there’s an enormous amount going on and there’s an enormous amount to talk about. Therefore, I apologise in advance because there’s absolutely no way to cover everything we’ve seen thus far without rambling on for ten thousand words.
You know a game shows promise when, after playing through two complete missions (about 90 minutes worth of gameplay), you come away wanting more. A lot more. Those two brief missions highlight that Brink is a game of enormous scope and depth and, frankly, I can’t remember playing pre-release code that has made me feel this way for quite some time.
I tend not to speak so highly of games before having played the final version in fear being disappointed (and/or embarrassed) but, I just can’t help it in this instance because Brink oozes such potential. If the final game is as absorbing as those two tantalising tasters we’ve had so far then Splash Damage might just be onto something great.
Brink’s narrative is nothing new, one of utopia turned dystopia. Set in the near future, an environmentally friendly floating city/paradise known as The Ark has become overpopulated with refugees following raising sea levels. This has resulted in resources becoming stretched and The Ark struggling to maintain itself. As a result, conflict has erupted between two groups – the Resistance and the Security – with very different ideas regarding The Ark’s future.
Security forces are intent on restoring The Ark to its former glory through a tough discipline and tight control of the remaining resources. Their heavy handed tactics do not sit well with many of The Ark’s inhabitants which has led to the formation of the Resistance, a rag-tag band of Mad Max lookalikes that believe what’s left of the resources should be used to re-establish contact with the outside world and escape The Ark; an outside world from which all contact has been lost since the environmental disaster, no-one knowing if anything/anyone is out there.
In order to provide a balanced look at both sides, Brink is comprised of two separate campaigns; one in which you play as Security and one in which you take up arms as a member of the Resistance. Thus far we’ve got down and dirty with one mission from each campaign. The Security mission took place deep in Resistance territory, an area of The Ark resembling a post-apocalyptic Blade Runner (how I imagine such a place would look, anyway); rust coated DIY structures sitting uneasily amongst dilapidated machinery and vibrant neon lights.
In contrast, the Resistance mission tasked us with assaulting a Security fort in order to rescue one of our own from their detention. In contrast to the scruffy, shanty-town design of the Resistance region, the Security’s territory (with its minimal design, high walls and clinical lighting) gives off a very ordered, almost robotic, aura. How the two campaigns switch between locales, and whether there’s any kind of middle ground that connects the two design approaches, remains to be seen but, aesthetically at least, the two missions felt worlds apart.
Gameplay is team-based with campaign co-op support for up to 8 vs. 8. Brink supports jump-in/jump-out online play allowing you to begin a mission solo and find yourself being joined (and opposed) by other players, rather than waiting for a lobby to populate itself. Teamwork is absolutely vital to success as objectives require you to work together and make good use of each of the four class’s unique skill sets.
Engineers can, for example, deploy and repair machinery as well as increase the attack power of allies; soldiers can dish out extra ammo and use explosives; medics can revive fallen comrades and, last but not least, operatives (the underhanded sneaks of the gang) can disguise themselves as the enemy, spot landmines and hack enemy communications.
These abilities are essential in completing specific objectives. At any one time your team has a number of tasks to complete, each task requiring the skills of a certain class. A nifty radial menu highlights which objectives your current class is best suited to and highlights its position on screen. This means that working together is not as simple as merely sticking together and blasting through enemies. You need to split up, co-ordinate your movements and get your timing spot-on so as to prevent the enemy from simply bunkering in around a single target.
What’s great is that none of these classes seem to be completely cut and dry. As you learn the game and get a feel for how you like to play you can combine different classes with different character types to achieve very different effects.
This is where character customisation comes in to play. There are three different body types (skinny, medium and heavy), each with their own quirks. Heavies have access to all of the game’s weapons and can take more damage than other types but you lose out when it comes to movement speed. In contrast, skinny types move a lot faster but are more vulnerable to damage and can only wield those weapons that their slighter frames can carry.
Combine a heavy body type with the medic class and you’ve got yourself an all-powerful, self-healing behemoth that can lead the fight from the front. Take the skinny body type and operative class and you’ve got a speedy scout that can adopt an enemy disguise and relay key info for teammates (i.e. land mine positions). With some experimentation, organised squads are sure to find some devastatingly powerful combinations that should lead to some great battles between skilled combatants.
Customisation is not purely practical, it’s also aesthetically pleasing. The basic character models (thanks to their cartoony art direction) are full of personality, making it possible to knock up some brilliantly funny and outlandish avatars. As this is a first-person shooter, you’re not going to be able to ogle your creation in-game but, if you’re anything like me, it’s nice to have others ogle you.
Brink also presents a new take on FPS movement: Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain or ‘SMART’. What this means is that, in a similar vein to Assassin’s Creed’s free running, by holding the sprint button you automatically perform context sensitive actions depending on where you’re facing i.e. sprint towards a low wall and you’ll automatically vault over it, face the top of a wall and you’ll climb up it (depending on how agile your body type is) or run towards a gap and you’ll leap across it.
It seems to work nicely but we’ll have to wait and see whether the animations become a hindrance or not; there’s nothing worse than accidently initiating a movement that you didn’t plan on only to find yourself face to face with an enemy packing a mini-gun and sadistic grin.
The tightly controlled set-up of these preview sessions often make it difficult to get a sense of the true quality of what we’re being shown but, as I said before, I came away from Brink wanting more.
High expectations are often met with heavy disappointed. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that that’s not going to be the case here.
Some rather lovely videos for Brink can be found here.