A diamond in the (very) Rough
Over the past few years that we've known Brink's development process, Splash Damage has brought a lot of bold claims to the table. Talk of how the SMART movement system would redefine movement in the FPS genre and that the seamless fusion of Online and Offline gaming would change the game permanently permeated every Dev diary and interview over the last two years. So after all this build up, it's a shame to see that Brink stumbles at several of the hurdles Splash Damage confidently claimed it would over come - however, whilst the overall aims might not have been met, at the core of Brink there still lies a credibly solid team based Experience.
Brink's overarching premise, as haughtily told to the player by a crisp-toned British woman, is that the Ark, a wondrous self-sustaining floating city, has devolved into rebellion after global warming has displaced much of Humanity. The two sides of this conflict - The Ark Security forces looking to restore order, and the Resistance movement looking to escape - are locked in a constant struggle with each other... and that's about all you'll get. What is offered as a Singleplayer campaign (two sets of 8 missions per side, as well as 4 little 'what-if' scenarios) is bluntly anemic even by modern FPS standards. Although you play a unique custom character - who is at times integrated nicely into the cutscenes - the inter-mission cutscenes follow a small group of characters that you never remotely care for, let alone learn their names. The very loose story threads tied across both campaigns serve very little point other than to dress the levels, which themselves are nothing more than matches of the mutiplayer mode (you can even set your campaign play to allow other human players to drop in and play either with or against you, dropping the charade of a 'single player' mode almost immediately), and aside from a few challenge levels that will unlock various aspects of the weapon customisation, that is it/ If you're looking for a solid single player experience from Brink, you will be left very disappointed. With only 8 multiplayer maps available at launch, and a relatively small progression path to follow before maxing out a character, Brink's biggest pitfall by far is a relative dearth of content - which is only more puzzling when you consider the game was delayed from a Winter 2010 release date.
However, behind the meager level of content, Brink has soul. The gameplay itself is very well done, filled with interesting and unique mechanics that give the game its own distinct feel that, although perhaps more familiar to PC gamers given the pedigree of Splash Damage, definitely makes the game stand out on the consoles. The gunplay itself ties a fine line between a good feel and a very lightweight effect, lending a much lighter pace to the firefights of Halo and Call of Duty - and this sense of smoothness sits hand in hand with the run-and-gun pace brought into play by the SMART system. SMART, or Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain, brings the complexity of a Mirror's Edge-esque parkour movement system to a solid FPS base, and is integrated by simply using the sprint button and pointing at where you want to go. Although initially at first you are restricted in its use (Medium body type characters can only vault over barriers and terrain pieces, where as Light body types can also wall run), SMART enables you as a player to navigate maps incredibly quickly , adding an incredibly satisfying fast pace to each round.
In a change to the 'Hero' style favoured by many of its FPS-ilk, Brink favors teamwork amongst its 4 classes (Engineer, Medic, Soldier and Operative) very heavily. Experience rewards are vastly increased for using your abilities to help others rather than help yourself, you gain experience for sticking together in firefights rather than going off on your own. Classes often have abilities that work best in sync with other classes, too - for example, the Operative can point out the location of hidden enemy mines to fellow engineers, who can then disarm them, netting an experience reward for both players. Players also can soak up quite a bit of damage, even without health boosts from Medics and so on, so it definitely pays to stick together rather than go it alone. Experience earned in matches goes towards unlocking new abilities and perks for your character (you can select basic perks such as being able to reload whilst sprinting, as well as class specific perks and equipment such as portable turrets for Engineers, or a healing syringe for medics that temporarily grants invincibility to an ally), as well as cosmetic customisation features such as clothes and accessories.
Brink's presentation allows a sense of style to the game, too. A sort of blend of photorealism and cartoony styles for the character models, as well as the bold, vivid colours of different areas of the Ark give Brink a good look, and it all moves very smoothly, even at times of hectic on-screen action. This sharp aesthetic crosses over into the HUD and menus, too, which are very clean and sleek. The only bad thing I can say about the presentation is the seemingly restricted amount of character customisation options, a much touted feature from the get-go with Brink. There are only around 10 or so different sets of Jackets, shirts, trousers and helmets/hairstyles (just under doubled when you take into account both Resistance and Security gear, and admittedly there is a range of preset colour tints to individualise them further) to choose from, and at the get go, only a miniscule handful of these are unlocked. After all the talk Splash Damage put behind the customisation, it seems odd that there isn't as much as you would expect. What's on offer is good, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of it.
And that last sentence sums up Brink rather too well. The game has good intentions at heart, and the moments where everything fits together it shines just as brightly as other FPS experiences, but along the way the game trips itself up in some of the most basic of places, especially in terms of the amount of content on offer. If you can find a set of likeminded friends willing to invest time into it, and cross your fingers for the hopes of maps in the future, you will discover a solid and enjoyable FPS in Brink. However at the moment, the lacklustre levels of content make it a very tough choice to recommend beyond someone looking for a quick FPS fix.