Normally, shooters have a solo story which has little to nothing to do with online modes of the game. Friends can come together and play the story in co-op mode, but thats usually about far as most shooters get. If you want to play against other people, you have to abandon the story. Splash Damage’s first original IP, Brink, aims to bring online and solo FPS players together into a single game experience, not sacrificing story for online play, and for the most part, it does just that.
The year is 2045 and the earth’s oceans have risen from global warming, forcing most of what humans are left to take refuge on the Ark, a self-contained, sustainable floating habitat founded at the beginning of the century. Shortly after the oceans rose, the Ark became overcrowded with refugees who were housed in slums, eventually leading to a class war and the division of the Ark to maintain order. Now, that order has broken due to a shortage of resources and failing technology. As a citizen of the ARK, you must choose to fight with the civilian resistance, known colloquially as “The Guests” by the Founders, to escape the Ark, or with Ark Security to maintain order and save it.
Joseph “Brother” Chen’s resistance would use the remaining resources to leave the Ark and search for the survivors they are so certain exist in the world outside, but politics is never that simple, and their resentment of the Founders has over time clouded the resistance’s ideals. This has led Ark Security, led by Captain Clinton Mokoena, a take-no-prisoners leader trying desperately to maintain order amid the chaos, to launch an all-out war to quell the uprising.
The story is told through the small group of soldiers or freedom fighters you fight with, and it becomes clear right away that there is more to this story than either of the leaders is telling you. This is civil war, and loyalties and even family bonds are called into question and torn apart. Audio logs from several of the movers and shakers on both sides unlocked through the game give insight into the back story of the Ark. The story is conveyed non-linearly, so all 16 of the missions, exploring multiple outcomes for both sides of the conflict, are available to play when you start the game.
After watching the stylistic intro movie, you’re asked if you will save the ark or escape it, choosing whether your character will begin as Ark Security or the Resistance. Characters are not limited to playing just one faction though, and you can create as many characters as you like. Right off the bat the extremely high level of customization of the characters in Brink is apparent. You choose not only your face and voice, but also tattoos and scars, all of which are permanent for the character. There is no option for creating a female character, which will be a letdown to some. Other options, which unlock with experience and gameplay, including body type (heavy: high on health and firepower but slow; medium; and light: lower health but faster and can climb higher), outfits, abilities, weapons and upgrades are all alterable from the menu between missions.
Play is available in three modes, all open from the beginning of the game: campaign, freeplay, and challenges. Campaign mode, which tells the main story, can be played solo offline, just like you would play through the solo campaign in any other shooter, or co-operatively with other players. Where the game makes a name for itself is in Versus mode, where players compete on both sides of the story in teams of 8. This tells the same story, it just puts humans in all the roles on both sides. Fans of the good old-fashioned modes of online play need not worry, though: those are here too. In freeplay, you can play through the campaigns with custom options like an advanced mode that turns off friendly fire, a competition mode with smaller team sizes, an old school “anything goes” mode, and a totally customised mode for play with friends.
There are four different challenges. “Be More Objective” asks the player to complete objectives of each of the 4 classes while your team draws fire; “Parkour This” gives you a set of markers to collect in a certain time limit; “Tower Defense” has you defend a command post against waves of enemies, and in “Escort Duty” you must keep a robot up and running until the end of the level in the face of enemy assault. Each of these challenges has three difficulty levels, the first two unlock weapons and attachments, the third is for bragging rights on the leaderboards. These challenges are a great place to start the game for two reasons: the first, of course, is to unlock much of the game’s cool gadgetry, which will help a lot in the campaign mode, and the second is to learn the mechanics that make Brink what it is: classes, the objective wheel, and SMART.
Soldiers have grenades and molotov cocktails, giving them double the grenade power of other classes. They keep themselves and others supplied with ammo, and blow stuff up with high explosives. Operatives can disguise themselves as any dead enemy as long as all they do is move and reload. They can sight and mark mines for dismantling, and hack enemy tech. Engineers build bridges and barricades, repair and upgrade tech, dismantle enemy mines and hack boxes. Medics heal teammates and objective VIPs that are low on health, and revive those that have become incapacitated. Although you assign each character a preferred class at the start of each campaign, players can and will need to change classes on the fly at any friendly command post to make sure the team can easily complete objectives. You will probably do this several times over the course of a mission.
Brink handles the role of a squad leader through the HUD using the objective wheel, accessed any time with up on the D-pad. Here, players may select from the available objectives at any time. The primary objective will always be at the top of the wheel, with secondary objectives decreasing in priority to the bottom of the wheel. Using the objective wheel does several things in the game: firstly, when you select an objective, your character communicates what you are doing to the rest of your teammates without the need for a headset. Second, when you are actively completing an objective, you get an XP boost. Third, it highlights the target of your objective in the HUD making it much easier to find your way around the map. Brink uses this mechanic to encourage a team mentality; working together with your team is an important part of the game. Lone wolves will likely find themselves dead very quickly, and if your team is not actively pursuing their objectives you will find yourself on the losing side every time. Certain objectives like escorting, delivery, and defense are universal. Others, such as hacking, destroying and repairing are specific to a certain class, so it's important to switch the class of the team to make sure that objectives are still being done. Objectives also give far more XP than kills, so selecting objectives and completing them will level you up far faster than going all Clint Eastwood on everybody. Of course, you will still have to shoot the other guys to get the objectives done, so no worries.
Objectives are displayed on your HUD, with a timer showing how long your team has left to complete the task. When an objective is completed, time is added to the timer to complete the next objective. If time runs out before you complete the objective, you fail the mission. The HUD is straightforward and easy to understand, which is impressive given the depth of the game. There are multiple control configurations, but the controls are not completely customizable. The Y-axis look is invertible, but not the X. Both of these weaknesses are quite disappointing. Your current objective is outlined in gold on the radar, as well as in the environment. Abilities are assigned by the player to the other three directions on the D-pad (up is always the objective wheel). Abilities drain your supply meter, which recharges over time, so there are no supply items or ammo to pick up to keep supplied. Some abilities, such as grenades, are also affected by a cool-down time.
Splash Damage has developed SMART, Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain, for Brink, and this streamlines gameplay greatly. Entering SMART movement will make a character automatically climb, vault, and (as a light body type) wall-run and jump in order to continue in the desired direction without excessive input from the player. This works very well, the majority of the time, though I sometimes found my character overshooting my desired stopping point. The maps are built for this mechanic, making for some very wide open spaces full of what would be obstacles without SMART. Each map has a deployment zone command center for the resistance and Security, each guarded by powerful turrets, as well as neutral command centers. Some of these command centers give a health boost, and some give a supply boost to whichever team controls it. These command centers also give a midpoint for players to refill ammo and change class.
Missions in the campaign mode are fairly standard for a squad shooter, falling into escort, destroy, defend, and retrieve archetypes, and sometimes more than one at a time. While fairly standard, they are very engaging, and with the objective wheel, do a good job of keeping the player involved in the conflict of the game. The missions do get more complex later in the campaign, but not by very much, since the whole game is open to play from the start. I’m not an FPS aficionado, never having been great at shooters, but my own feelings of a high difficulty curve were confirmed by a friend who is a tournament FPS player, as we both found the early game somewhat frustrating. Enemies seemed to take far more damage than we did before becoming incapacitated, and in solo mode the computer AI, even on easy, was challenging to the point of frustration for both of us. The deep level of customization is a great part of the game, but it did from time to time make it somewhat hard for me to know who I should shoot, since many of the outfit options for the resistance are old, tattered versions of outfits that are open to Security characters. I could see this being much more problematic in advanced mode, with friendly fire turned off.
Brink looks and sounds amazing, but the acting is only decent. Players can choose from several actors, by name, for their character dialog in game, ranging from the strictly business soldier to the colorful Scotsman, and several in between. The voices in-game can get a bit repetitive, as there aren’t many options for each objective and situation, but that helps with clarity of what your teammates are up to as well. Sound in battle is extremely immersive, with effective use of surround and effects when caught by a flash-bang or excessive damage. The soundtrack is top notch, setting the dystopic sci-fi tone of the game from the menus on through to the cutscenes and playable segments, and doesn't get in the way during gameplay.
The menus are straightforward and very easy to navigate, and the whole visual presentation of the game is stylish and fun to look at. The artistic style of the characters is slightly distorted in a very unique way, which along with the sci-fi nature of the outfits and weapons really sets the game apart visually, as does the art direction in the environment. Maps are highly detailed, lending a sense of immersion to the game. The dirty patched-together slums of the resistance and the almost resort-like Founders’ side of the Ark set the class war in stark contrast. Graphics are high quality and smooth; I saw no noticeable issues at all during my time in the Ark. The series of training videos is extensive and very helpful, covering each aspect of the game in great detail, though the challenges are the only real “tutorial” of any kind and do more to teach you the ins and outs of the gameplay, so starting there is a very good idea.
Experienced players should be able to complete the 2 main campaigns of 8 missions each in 10 or 15 hours, but the play time of the game is potentially unlimited due to the online nature of the game, particularly in versus mode. The longer your character goes, the slower the ranking gets, so unlocking all of the abilities and equipment takes a while. The sheer level of customization available adds a lot of incentive to keep playing.
Brink is a top notch shooter and a great new IP which will likely appeal to veterans of the genre much more than to those not already a fan of FPS. The plethora of play options make it a great fit for many differing types of gamer and a good value purchase. Brink has set a high ambition for itself - to bring online and offline shooter fans to a single game - and I feel it will likely succeed in this ambition . Solo fans have a good story; online fans have the thrill of competing against other humans. Brink is the best of both worlds in a great looking, brand-new setting.