Splash Damage’s Brink is one of the best and brightest games of the year, a daring attempt at running up and kicking the first-person shooter status quo square in the nuts. It’s a tremendously fun class, team, and objective based shooter where if you’re playing to get the most kills on the scoreboard, improve your K/D ratio, or unlock perks or whatever to make your character the ultimate badass, then you’re simply doing it wrong. This is a truly cooperative, collusive experience where players (or capable bots) must work together, leverage unique skills, and do what’s right for the team to complete objectives in narrative, linked scenarios. These missions tell a somewhat vague but alluringly suggestive story of a conflict between Resistance and Security forces in a destitute utopia called the Ark.
But the tale told isn’t very important because Brink is about multiplayer gameplay first and foremost. As such it doesn’t really matter that there isn’t a true single player mode in the traditional sens. There is no linear storyline focusing on you as a character and told through a series of corridor shoot-outs and intermittent setpieces or QTEs where you get to be a hero. It isn’t about you, tough guy. It’s about us.
Don’t worry Ego, there’s plenty of room for you to express yourself in the character and weapons customization options. There’s ample opportunity to score the winning goal or use class abilities to save your team’s bacon in a tight spot. But the tone is definitely “all for one and one for all”, which is definitely at odds with ratmaze deathmatches and the prime directives of Killstreak Nation.
The game incentivizes virtually every action that helps the team with XPs, but it couldn’t care less about showing you the number of opponents you killed in a match. There are no unlockable super-abilities or ultimate weapons to make you more awesome than the next guy. The class functions make you a more valuable teammate, and knowing when to switch classes or pull up the dynamic mission wheel that ensures that everyone has something important to do at all times is critical. Lone wolfs, power players and perk junkies- this may not be your game.
If you’re coming to Brink to shoot the place up, you might find yourself likewise disappointed despite the gun porn catalog of impactful weaponry. The brief tutorial video’s main takeaway and the point of the simple parkour system of vaulting, jumping, and sliding is that you’re supposed to be moving more than shooting in this game. It’s simply not really all that much about killing the other team as it is about keeping them from being able to complete their goals. Sometimes you might find yourself firing at opposition while on the move not to kill them, but to suppress them. Pick a light body type for your character and the wall jump ability might just give you the drop on an objective or create an ambush opportunity. Speed and agility are usually more important than firepower because they’ll get you the hell out of a nasty situation or to an objevtive before the mission timer runs down.
There’s something very daring about a FPS that focuses on mechanics other than shooting and killing while emphasizing the group aspect of play. Other games have offered robust teamwork, sure, but few have emphasized specialization and meaningful codependency as this one has. Even beyond the class-based objectives, each specialization needs something the other provides to succeed. Camping alone off in a remote corner with a long rifle and picking off enemies isn’t even an option. You’ve got to run with the pack, and virtually every firefight is strictly CQB.
Maps are tight, focused, and contained to keep affairs intimate. The widely criticized “chokepoints” are essential strategic components rather than liabilities, and knowledge of where they are and how to achieve breakthroughs and flanking actions with your group is critical to success. Any team that runs to a chokepoint guns blazing is going to offer the medics a lot of opportunities for XPs, provided they can get there and have enough revival syringes to go around. Once again, it’s not about killing everybody at the chokepoints, it’s about outmaneuvering them and taking advantage of terrain and accomplishing secondary objectives that open
or close alternate routes.
As much as I’ve enjoyed playing through the campaign maps repeatedly online- completely lag-free thanks to the temporary eight player cap that Splash Damage has deployed until a larger patch is made available- I’ve also enjoyed the single player options. I’ve found that playing the maps first alone a couple of times made me a better player online. Enemy bots can be quite ruthless and far more organized than human players, making extremely strong pushes as time runs out or relentlessly packing together to hold objectives. Allied bots are completely competent. They know the map, they’ll use their abilities reliably, and they shoot well enough. No, they won’t always do exactly what you expect or want them to do and there’s no way to tell if the Soldier isn’t topping off your ammo because the AI is negligent or if he’s simply out of supply. And yes, sometimes they’ll get stuck and do stupid things. Just like most of the human players you’ll encounter in an online match.
I’ve actually found myself wishing that players online would drop out so that the game would stick in some bots. I’ve played fully populated matches where every single player goes to a command post and picks the class that matches the main objective- leaving no way for ammo or health to be refilled and no defensive support from the Engineer. Bots don’t do this. They balance the teams out, and their only agenda is to accomplish goals and use skills. They don’t care about XP.
Four challenge modes on smaller, unique maps round out the single player option, but even those can be played online. They’re pretty tough. I still haven’t three-starred two of them. I’d love to see more of these kinds of skill challenges added in future DLC. As it stands, only the Engineer class abilities are specifically tested.
I do have to say that Splash Damage sort of oversold the idea of blurring the lines between the online and single player experience. There really is no single player game, just the multiplayer one with bots and drop in/drop out capabilities. This isn’t anything new, and it isn’t particularly novel. Given the highfalutin marketing-speak regarding this supposed feature, it isn’t hard to understand why there was some disappointment over it.
I also completely sympathize with critics who have commented about the game’s lack of technical grace. The game isn’t visually impressive at all despite a knockout illustration style and sense of design that boasts a sense of ragged futurism tempered with an exaggerated European sci-fi comics look. Textures are chunky, the color palette is sometimes like watching Miami Vice through a glass of dirty water, and animations are choppy. Sometimes, the game looks downright ugly. Other times it’s clear, on the 360 version at least, that the graphics are not optimized.
Launch week networking issues were a much more serious concern abut the game, as was the fact that early reviewers were given what was effectively a broken version of the game to assess. It isn’t surprising that Brink made such a bad first impression given its patchable technical problems coupled with a surprisingly high degree of complexity and depth that isn’t always explained in the best way. This is a game that requires players to overcome some barriers to entry- including sloughing off preconceived notions and expectations brought over from other shooters- in order to get into the game and understand how it works and fits together. It’s not a “mess”, it’s not “unfinished”, and it’s not a “botched execution” at all. It’s an alternative shooter that’s aiming at different agendas while attempting to break the genre out of its rut. Who cares if there’s not a lobby?
I think Brink mostly succeeds in its ambitions despite exaggerated expectations, and I think the game is brilliant despite minor issues that will likely be remediated with post-launch support. Yes, it’s a little raw in spots and those demanding megabudget, AAA levels of spit-shine polish are going to claim that this game has quality issues. But I’ll gladly exchange polish for innovation and a roughshod sense of heart. Nothing forward-thinking or experimental is ever perfect, and it’s the rough spots and tentatively risky design choices that mark progress from genre complacency and the repetitive refinement of comfortable conventions. Last year I was saying this about Metro 2033, one of the best single-player shooters of this generation. This year, it’s Brink that I’m saying these things about, and I think that for those willing to give it a chance they may find that it is among the best multiplayer shooters currently offered.