Brink has been a long time coming. Quietly knocking on the videogame industry’s door for the last two years, there have been plenty of occasions when many have questioned just exactly what Splash Damage’s latest is. Sold as a significant step forward for the shooter genre, it seemed that, regardless how much information was released, Brink still never made a whole lot of sense. With it finally being unleashed into the wild, this struggle can finally reap the rewards it deserves.
Brink’s brilliance lies in actually sitting down and experiencing it first-hand. Built around a very light (and deliberately so) narrative, the general concept focuses on The Ark, a fallen paradise that now lies in ruins due to an ongoing civil war. Once you’ve chosen which side to fight for, this plot is as pivotal or as needless as you deem it to be, chiefly because it’s Brink’s core mechanics that set it apart.
From day one, the team at Splash Damage has pushed the plaudits of its seamless online and offline worlds. Even players who decide to play on their lonesome are more or less sat in a lobby, associating themselves with computer-controlled allies until the living turn up – you’ll even receive commands and instructions from your AI team-mates through your headset. This is because the entire foundations of Brink’s gameplay are instigated through teamwork and, unlike the majority of shooters doing the rounds, it is near-impossible without some essence of cooperation. The four classes – medic, soldier, operative and engineer – are equally important, the game often increasing the significance of each role depending on the task at hand. Furthermore, certain missions can only be achieved by a specific division, meaning if everyone on-hand simply opts for the soldier, success is unlikely to be on the cards.
While, in theory, this sounds like it could be somewhat frustrating, it positively excels when all elements start to come together. A team can easily surge through an area, sharing ammo, buffing weaponry or augmenting health (depending on their class) and overwhelm the enemy as long as one and all are working in unison. For example, if a security bot you’ve been tasked with protecting is put out of commission due to an assault, the squad will have to formulate a plan on the fly to send their engineers to the problem while the rest form a protective shield. Due to the relentless enemy AI –it’s a constantly intense, yet wildly enjoyable ride, and one made even more challenging when levels are occupied by actual players.
Brink backs this up with an astonishing amount of variables too. Along with the mission wheel, which both points you in the direction of the primary objective as well as determining other, more personal tasks when necessary, the depth within its customisation tool is almost unparalleled. Bethesda claims there are over 100 quadrillion unique characters that can be created, and it would be hard to argue against it. From the look and feel of your agent to what abilities and weapons they have – including numerous upgrades – it’s terrifyingly easy to spend more time tweaking a digital creation than actually enrolling them in the war. Don’t expect to see many doppelgangers within Brink’s universe.
This all builds to quite a pivotal question, though: whether or not Splash Damage’s team-based conception has enough to hit such dizzy heights for individuals who do intend to shun the world of Xbox Live. In short, trying to play Brink in this fashion does detract from the overall feel. There’s no easy way to formulate a plan before executing it when you defy a console’s living community, and Brink doesn’t reward solidarity for completing a mission either. It often falls back and becomes nothing more than you doing the majority of work yourself as others lay down covering fire. To its credit, the artificial intelligence here is worthy, and will attempt to do more than act as a hired gun should the situation call for it. However, it’s still a vastly different setup.
These same fears could be translated over to anyone who runs the risk of playing with random participants. A perilous and usually inconsistent environment, even if one member of your team takes it upon themselves to shoot their way through every level, Brink’s tried and tested methods could fall by the wayside. Such anomalies certainly don’t reflect badly on the game itself, nor do we place any blame on its shoulders because of this. Consider it more of a warning than a focused critique: Brink’s true genius rests in the hands of people who come together to play as one.
For all the talk of unifying the single and multiplayer worlds, Splash Damage has succeeded to some extent. Falling more within the latter’s field, a strong population will give this legs most games can only dream of, as you start unaided before a host of help arrives. Provided that this assistance is prepped and prepared, Brink’s team-based gameplay is quite unlike anything else. If not, it could prove to be an arduous task of hoping and waiting.
A genuine triumph as a team experience, mind, Splash Damage has proved that it has a serious knack for creating videogames that require so much more than becoming skilled with a trigger finger. Smart, robust, exciting and always ready to play with the original template, Brink is a welcome surprise in a genre that has started to become very close-minded.