Brink is Splash Damage’s first full game; they had been responsible for the popular Enemy Territory games. Brink is best described as a class-based multiplayer shooter with multilevel missions and parkour movement. The game features some innovative technology, including its hyped “S.M.A.R.T.” (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain) feature and its proprietary “Virtual Texturing” engine.
The S.M.A.R.T. button allows players to parkour their way over, under and around obstacles; there’s no such thing as an impassible wall. Pressing the S.M.A.R.T. button – in the default PC control scheme, it’s the left shift key – will make your character sprint, and automatically react to obstacles contextually. A player will slide under a barrier if the targeting reticule is pointed down, or leap over it. If the player jumps at a wall while depressing the S.M.A.R.T. button, the character will grab at the top of the wall and shimmy himself up. If the player uses a lithe body type, they can even wall jump. The S.M.A.R.T. control is so smooth it becomes addicting, and will spoil you.
The other major part of the game is the context-sensitive mission selection system, which will allow players to co-ordinate mission objectives. For example, if the player chooses to be an engineer, he can bring up the mission select wheel and pick an objective which will award the player XP for completing it. Some will be group activities like escorting and protecting a character, or class-specific jobs like interrogating an enemy or building a turret. At command stations, players can switch classes instantly, allowing them to react to mission needs. If there’s no engineer to repair a mission-critical robot, a player can run to the station to switch to that class. Each class has their own special abilities, and the XP system encourages them to help other players. Engineers, for example, can buff other players’ weapons (as well as his own). Medics can increase the life bar, while soldiers can give out ammo. Everything in the game stresses teamwork.
The game treats three game modes equally – solo campaigns against bots, co-op games against a bot team and human vs. human multiplayer all serve to give the player XP. Each of the mission modes have their charms. When the game was launched, one of the complaints on the PC was that the bots were, well, dumb. Apparently, that was intentional by Splash Damage, and when fans complained, the AI was turned “on”, the bots became cagey. In some instances, I found them trying to flank my character from behind. Sometimes they will flounder, as all AI do, but in general, they present a challenge. In multiplayer matches – missions are always eight on eight, and bots fill empty team slots – bots are often indistinguishable from human players. There are also Challenges in which one to four players can take on specific types of games testing an aspect of gameplay to win bonus items and eventually post high scores on an online leaderboard.
Earning XP unlocks equipment, perks and clothes. Perks give players certain powers, like having a sort of Spidey-sense detecting when an enemy not on the radar has the player in their crosshairs or scavenging items from dead enemies. There are both general perks for all classes and class-specific perks. The game also not only has an incredible number of weapons, but a lot of weapon mods like special scopes or magazine mods. The best part is that the mods can be seen and identifiable in-game.
As for character customization, it’s simply incredible. For starters, the proprietary “Virtual Texturing” engine gives an almost Pixar-like quality to characters down to detailed stubble and naunced scars. The exaggerated look of the characters make them realistic without falling into the uncanny valley. The clothing options as well as facial feature editing allows hundreds of billions of combinations, and the game is so good at rendering the models in-game, you can identify specific players immediately without needing to see their ID tag.
Finally, the campaign story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world with a detailed backstory that would make Al Gore weep. Global warming has ruined the Earth in such a way that there is only one habitable place on Earth – a floating city called The Ark. However, the overcrowding has caused deadly friction between Security and the Resistance. The story is intelligent enough for both sides to be both sympathetic and monstrous at the same time. This is a pointless war due to the city executives’ lack of care for either the police or the downtrodden. Don’t expect The Day After Tomorrow moralizing – the game takes its subject matter seriously and scientifically.
Brink is not a perfect game, however. The biggest issue with the current patched version is the matchmaking; Splash Damage needs to take a page from Bungie on how to create proper multiplayer lobbies. As it is, it’s a chore to get even an online Challenge match with friends going. While the graphics are stunning, players who own ATI cards will have serious framerate issues, and it’s advisable players update their OS to Windows 7, too.
When Brink is right, it’s one of the freshest, most exciting multiplayer shooters out there, and gamers willing to give the new IP a chance will be pleasantly surprised. This is the sort of game that’ll have a lot of life online, much like Counter-Strike. Give it a shot.