On the Brink of Innovation
The first time I played Halo, it really irritated me that melee attacks were so powerful. It’s actually better to smack an opponent with a pistol than to shoot him in the face with it. How stupid is that? But eventually, I got it: Halo’s unusual elements, like those supercharged melee attacks and the low-gravity bunny-hopping, created a set of physics in the game that doesn’t exist on Earth. By adjusting the parameters of reality, the developers got you to play the game in a different way—a way that was actually a lot more fun.
Developers haven’t stopped trying to change the way we play shooter games—just look at Vanquish or Bulletstorm. The latest entry in this genre is Brink, which forces you to rethink the differences between single-player and multiplayer, change the way you move, and adopt new tactics. It might be too much to call Brink the Halo of its time, but it is still one of the most innovative first-person shooters to come out since Master Chief made his debut.
The most innovative aspect of Brink is that the single-player and multiplayer games are basically the same thing. Whenever you start playing, you decide whether you’re playing alone, with co-op partners, or with both co-op partners and human-controlled enemies. Each mission is a series of objectives in which one team tries to accomplish something and the other team tries to stop them. You can play through the entire campaign as two different factions, each with its own set of cutscenes, for a total of 16 missions.
Movement in Brink is unique as well. By holding the left bumper, you go into the “SMART” (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain) system, meaning that you sprint across the ground, climbing over any obstacles that get in your way. Normally, these kinds of systems are prone to malfunctions, but I very rarely did anything I wasn’t trying to with it. Also, you can customize the controls if you hate using a bumper button to run (I certainly did).
The one criticism I have of the movement is that it isn’t quite fast enough. When you create a character, you choose from one of three body types. Medium is the default option, light characters move faster but can’t carry powerful guns, and heavy characters move slowly but carry huge guns. (You have to unlock the heavy and light types, but that happens early on.) Even with light characters, I found myself longing for the super-speed sliding of Vanquish, or at least more opportunities to use my parkour skills à la Mirror’s Edge. That’s not a lot to ask considering how much the SMART system was hyped in the pre-release buzz. This problem is compounded by the fact that light characters are essentially useless with weapons, meaning most players will stick with less-mobile medium characters. (To be fair, you can improve your character’s stats by leveling up, and you can complete challenges to unlock more powerful weapons for all of the character types. Perhaps some experienced players will find light characters workable.)
Also, Brink’s developers made a serious effort to overcome the various problems that plague multiplayer first-person shooters today. If you hate grenade-spamming, you’ll be delighted to hear that grenades in Brink don’t do much damage and are on a cooldown timer. If you’re sick of weak sound effects, you’ll be thrilled by the intense music and the almost unnervingly loud gunshots. In addition, the EXP system is designed to punish selfishness; each character class has “buffs” they can give to their teammates (soldiers give extra ammo, medics give health, etc.), and giving buffs nets you far more EXP than killing the enemy does. The other major feature of character classes is that they can accomplish certain kinds of objectives, such as planting charges or repairing tanks, which discourages players from finding a favorite class and sticking with it. (You can change between classes in-game whenever you come across a command post.)
However, there are some problems that even Brink doesn’t fix. For starters, you’ll die almost constantly when the enemy team bands together in a group, especially when you’re playing solo and don’t have any decent players to help you stand against the bots. This can be frustrating for those who are used to more traditional campaigns. In fact, I would not advise playing this game by yourself at all, or at least without turning down the difficulty. (When you die, you can either respawn at a command post or wait for a medic to get around to healing you.) The escort missions are downright silly, because the NPCs you’re tasked with escorting have a tendency to walk brazenly into the line of fire and require medical attention repeatedly.
Perhaps the biggest problem, however, is that some of the missions are remarkably long, and if you fail, your only choice is to start over from the beginning or skip ahead. It’s too bad you can’t start from your latest objective, even if that means you have to play without online co-op help for a little bit. It is unbelievably infuriating when you run up against strong resistance late in a mission and end up losing half an hour’s worth of work (which is another reason not to play solo).
Story-wise, Brink takes some major cues from Bioshock. Bioshock takes place in an underwater world created by devotees of Ayn Rand’s hardcore libertarian philosophy. Brink, meanwhile, takes place on a man-made island, or a “seastead,” (which some of today’s libertarians have advocated as a way to escape the far-reaching hands of government.) In both games, what was intended as a watery utopia has gone wrong. In Brink, however, the downfall of this utopia was due to rising sea levels and the refugees from nearby lands who have stormed the island, which isn’t big enough to hold everyone. The island’s security team tries to keep these refugees under control, but things get violent.
The fact that the island is man-made gives the developers a lot of leeway in terms of architecture and scenery. This is an amazingly colorful game, with well-designed structures and some of the best overall graphical work I’ve ever seen; the worst issues are some screen-tearing and texture pop-in during cutscenes. (Brink is built on the id Tech 4/Doom 3 engine, modified to include a technology called “Virtual Texturing.”) Unfortunately, the character models don’t fare quite as well: They’re almost photorealistic, except that each person’s facial structure is distorted in a way that brings Team Fortress to mind—the eyes are a bit too close to the top of the head, and all the models have exceptionally strong jawlines and bulging skulls. It’s certainly an interesting look, but it made everything just seem “off” to me.
In the end, however, Brink is a worthy buy for anyone who doesn’t absolutely hate multiplayer FPS action. It blurs the line between single-player and multiplayer styles, introduces an effective new movement system, and finds ways of discouraging all the obnoxious behavior common in most multiplayer shooters. The campaign is long, and the different classes allow you to play each mission over and over without getting bored. All of this adds up to one huge accomplishment for Splash Damage.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.2 Graphics
Brink features some of the greatest graphical work to date, give or take a few minor issues and awkward character models. 4.5 Control
The SMART system works amazingly well almost all of the time, causing your character to vault or climb over anything that’s in his way. 4.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The gunshots are unnervingly loud, and the music is intense. 4.3 Play Value
The campaign is long and offers endless replay value. However, bear in mind that this is a co-op multiplayer game, and it’s very frustrating if you play solo. 4.3 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best