After almost a year of delay and an aggressive advertising campaign, Splash Damage’s new multiplayer-focussed IP Brink is finally here. I must admit that I was pretty intrigued by the team-based structure, the combined single and multiplayer, as well as the unique visual aesthetic. After spending almost a week on the game, I can say that Splash Damage has managed to deliver a strong multiplayer game, but many of its hyped features don’t exactly work the way you would have expected. Much like their previous effort Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, Brink will eventually find its loyal fanbase, but it isn’t a game that will convert an impatient multiplayer junkie right off the bat.
Brink tries to seamlessly combine single player, multiplayer and co-op modes, a feature that was heavily hyped in the pre-release campaigns. While it sounds like a novel idea on paper, the actual execution is disappointing to say the least. Here’s how it works – the game features a total of eight multiplayer, objective-based maps, which are labeled as missions. In single player, you’ll play these maps with AI bots, which is just about as exciting as it sounds, but you also have the option of keeping your session open to other players, in which case, it turns into co-op and multiplayer.
There’s also a separate Freeplay mode, where you can create or join multiplayer sessions, and a handful of challenge maps, which earn you new weapons and upgrades if you manage to pass them. Once you know that’s pretty much Brink has to offer, you’ll realize that the game is relatively slim on content. There is an underlying narrative, which tries to provide a backdrop to the conflict, but it never really rises beyond a series of brief disjointed cutscenes that play before and after each mission.
The game is set in a post-apocalyptic city called The Ark, where two opposing factions are at war with each other – Ark’s Security force, who want to maintain peace and order, and the rebellious Resistance, who see the Security force as a fascist group and wants to escape The Ark, while plotting terrorist-like attacks. The game tries to introduce a few characters and create scenarios to go along with the maps, but it never really builds up to anything, making the single player a rather pointless affair. The mission objectives differ for the factions, but in the end, you’re simply playing the same maps.
Brink’s single player mode may be severely disappointing, but the game finds its legs once you go online. The game’s heavy focus on team play makes it a different experience compared to most online shooters. You’ll quickly realize that the game is not about kills, as finishing off a downed enemy earns you a measly +2 XP as opposed to the copious amount of XP you earn while performing team actions such as buffing up your team mates, reviving them, or completing mission objectives. Brink also sports a Team Fortress- like class system, letting you take up various roles on the battlefield, such as soldier, medic, engineer and operative. Choosing the right class is essential for completing certain objectives. Each class comes with abilities that are unique to it. For example, engineer can repair stuff, and soldiers are able to plant explosives, while operatives can hack terminals. However, the game does not force you to specialize in a certain class, as classes can be swapped at any time, and you are free to respec your character by selling back skill points.
The classes appear similar in the beginning, and it’s not until you have unlocked a significant amount of skills that you truly begin to appreciate their strengths. The engineer’s turret ability, for example, does not become fully effective until you unlock the best turrets, while a soldier needs to level up considerably to get access to heavier weapons. Brink expects you to invest a significant amount of time before you start making the most out of its class system. This is, however, made a little easy by the fact that your XP carries over across all game modes, and thus every game, online or offline, feels rewarding. The game’s matchmaking does a decent job of putting players of equal skill against each other, but if you wish, you can allow it to let you play with more experienced players.
Brink’s extensive customization options definitely deserve a mention and the game sports a rather cool visual style, which is nice break from regular FPS titles. The character editor provides a wide range of options to customize your in-game avatar. Most of these are purely cosmetic changes and the only option which actually has an impact on the gameplay is your character’s body type. This is also where the much touted S.M.A.R.T. (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain) comes into play. Somewhat reminiscent of the first-person parkour game Mirror’s Edge, S.M.A.R.T. involves holding down a key to sprint across levels, automatically vaulting over and under obstacles, thus allowing players to quickly reach objectives and vantage points.
Your character’s mobility depends on the body type. The light body type allows you to be faster and lets you reach areas heavier characters cannot, but restricts you to small weapons such as pistols and submachine guns. On the contrary, characters with the heavy body type can soak up more damage and use heavier weapons while sacrificing movement speed and agility. The normal body type has a nice balance between the two extremes, giving you enough mobility as well as resistance against damage. S.M.A.R.T. seems like a smart idea at first, but has very limited use. I’ve very rarely seen players making the most of it and quite often players simply take the longer obvious paths rather than vaulting around the levels. Nevertheless, it is a nice addition that other games could potentially pick up.
Gimmicks aside, Brink’s core shooter mechanics feel solid enough. Guns pack a punch and can be customized with various attachments such as scopes and larger magazines. Grenades, however, are very disappointing, exploding like firecrackers and barely doing any damage. Sounds are mostly well done and the voice acting in the brief cutscenes is surprisingly decent (in an over-the-top sort of way). The in-game UI looks pretty slick and overall, the game has a nice polished look to it.
Brink’s engaging team-based multiplayer, customization options and addictive upgrade system are definitely some of its high points, but the disappointing lack of content, technical issues and the almost non-existent single player hold it back from becoming an easy recommendation when there are other tried-and-tested competitors in the market. However, if you’ve become sick of playing the same old shooters online, Brink is a rather refreshing change of direction, provided you keep your expectations in check.
Note: The PC version of Brink is not available in India.