My very first online gaming experience was with Medal of Honor: Allied Assault almost ten years ago. One of the first matches I hopped into had a fellow player who was using the in-game hotkey commands ("Follow me," "Attack left flank," etc.) to lead our team. For whatever reason, my teammates were actually obeying this guy's orders, so I joined it. Our fearless leader was able to get all of us to function as a team rather than as a disjointed mess of individual players. He led us to what was essentially my first online victory.
That focus on team was one of the things that drew me so heavily into the multiplayer FPS genre in the first place. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that the experience I had was a rare one. For the time being, the competitive FPS really isn't designed with team play in mind. But that may change.
I spent a good portion of my free time this past week playing Brink, a game that's been hyping up its focus on team play. However, it's been getting some very mixed reviews. Interestingly enough, Europeans seem to have largely embraced it, while Americans have been much less forgiving. So why are opinions on this game so drastically different?
Well, I think Cheat Code Central's own Robert VerBruggen made an excellent point in his review that may shed a little light on this vast difference of opinion. (You can find his full review here http://www.cheatcc.com/xbox360/rev/brinkreview.html .) He begins the review with a perspective he'd gleaned from his experience with Halo. Gamers may have at first been slightly turned off by Halo's unusual physics. For example, melee attacks tended to do more damage than bullets. Sure, it was originally unfamiliar and unrealistic, but an entire generation of gamers eventually grew into it. VerBruggen believes this is the perspective we should bring to Brink.
Brink doesn't follow the rules set by its predecessors. It strives to bring something new to the shooter genre. Players cannot go into it with the mindset that it's going to be like Call of Duty. It's not. Brink tries really hard to remedy a lot of the things that are annoying about online shooters. Like grenade spam. And shotgun spam. Both spam-types are annoying, and from a balance perspective, both of these weapons are way too powerful in most shooters. Sure, it's more realistic that way, but as Halo has already proven, sometimes bending the rules of physics is just more fun.
Brink also tallies stats in an interesting way. Veterans of team deathmatch (TDM) and free for all (FFA) modes are conditioned to keep their eyes on only one stat: the kill/death ratio. The mark of the true FPS master is a large amount of kills balanced against a small number of deaths. Of course, this focus on k/d ratio doesn't encourage team play. Instead, it encourages players like the lone wolf, the camper, and the grenade spammer. But the entire point of Brink is to give players an actual team-based experience. Instead of rewarding players for running off on their own and scoring kill streaks, Brink gives them XP for actually contributing to the overall effort of the team. At the end of the match, you see a tally not of kill/death ratios, but of XP amounts. The player with the highest score is the one who has helped the team the most by completing objectives, tossing buffs to friendly players, and assisting in enemy kills. In fact, in Brink, you gain XP for how much damage you do to an enemy, not whether or not you make the kill.
Brink has been given much criticism for not tallying a k/d ratio. Why is this a bad thing? Not every game needs a k/d ratio. You certainly don't' expect to see it in single player titles like Half-Life 2 and BioShock. Why should multiplayer be any different? Left 4 Dead is a shooter that—in its co-op mode at least—doesn't give a k/d ratio. It's completely unnecessary. You're going to just have fun blasting zombies with your friends anyway. The k/d ratio is as meaningless in Left 4 Dead as it is in any other co-op game.
Brink brings a gameplay mode that is truly team vs. team instead of player versus player. In fact, you could even say it's co-op vs. co-op. Players need to look at Brink in terms of cooperative gameplay rather than competitive gameplay. Every player is simply a part of a team. In such a gameplay style, there is no need for a k/d stat.
Being encouraged to function as a team rather than a lone wolf might not be comfortable for hardcore Call of Duty fans. But that's simply because it's different. It's not bad, it's just unique. In order to fully enjoy this game, players need to clear all that Call of Duty business out of their heads first. Brink needs to be accepted for what it is, and not looked at as the next CoD.
I'm not trying to say Brink is without its flaws. There are the obnoxious texture-popping glitches, a level cap far too low to encourage long-term play, the balance issues between various body types, and an incredibly underwhelming single-player mode. But that's not important. I don't care if you think Brink is a good game or a bad one. I just want to point out the fact that it's doing some things that have the potential to forever change the FPS genre.
My prediction: To me, Brink doesn't feel like the next big thing, but it certainly feels like the beginning of the next step toward it. It's a flawed experience, but one that brings many new and interesting ideas to the FPS genre. It forces gamers to think outside the box of k/d ratios and multi-kills. We may very well be on the verge of the next era of the FPS, an era in which the k/d ratio becomes obsolete.
I can almost guarantee some other shooter is going to pick up where Brink left off, trimming the fat while retaining the parts that actually work. And whatever game does that successfully could very well be the next big shooter, becoming the new template for the entire genre.
The team-based experience may not be familiar to those who are used to strict TDM or FFA game types. However, that will probably change. Team play, when done right, is a beautiful thing. Here's to hoping that more players will get to experience the thrill I had the first time I played Allied Assault online.
CCC Editor/Contributing Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*