When Quake 3 Arena was released in 1999 it was one of the first games to make the leap into mass multiplayer online gaming on a global scale. This popularity was enhanced by the fact that end users could create their own mods and maps for the game with some becoming hugely popular.
In 2001 a group of modders formed a new game developer, Splash Damage, offering maps for use in the media and one of the most popular custom maps for Return to Castle Wolfenstein. The popularity of this map prompted id Software to ask for further levels for the Game of the Year edition and their success in that game allowed them to work on Wolfenstein Enemy Territory, the multiplayer element of Doom 3 and more recently in 2007, Enemy Territory Quake Wars.
The great success of the Enemy Territory gave Splash Damage the chance to sign with Bethesda and create their own franchise from the ground up and that title is Brink which sticks with the first person shooter style that Splash Damage are so well known for.
Brink has a futuristic setting where Earth has flooded and a large chunk of civilisation has moved to a large floating city called The Ark. Designed initially as a sustainable living environment which was populated by great minds of the day as well as the rich it now finds itself surrounded by un-sailable ships and Container City, a slum which is the home of the Resistance a group of people with nowhere else to go and no access to even the basic standards of living. In Brink we choose between this resistance force and "Security" working our way through team based missions on each side to keep the status quo of the Arc or have the remaining resources split equally between the Arc's original residents and the resistance. Essentially we are choosing sides in a civil war.
We begin the game by choosing our side and then within this there are various classes such as engineer, soldier and medic. Each is required to complete missions but essentially we choose the style of play we enjoy the most, Soliders for example are the all action class with access to explosives for completing some missions and unlimited ammo. Within these classes we can choose abilities and enhance them based on XP gained, combat intuition as an example within the soldier class allows us to receive a warning if an enemy outwith our radar range is aiming at us.
We can customise our character with limited options to begin with, others are opened as we achieve objectives and the level of detail goes right down to having multiple choices for our characters voice actor.
With our side and character configured we are dropped into the game with the option of going for the campaign, a single player experience based around various missions and multiplayer. In the single player campaign we play with a team of bots with various primary mission objectives that need to be achieved to complete the level. Secondary objectives are also available which gain us extra content and XP but are not required to progress. Looking at the Security missions we have to complete tasks such as destroying a door to rescue a hostage and escort him to safety. For the Resistance objectives include tasks such as destroying bridges and hacking gate controls. Each of these missions plays out over a set map and we get to see the two sides to each level.
On the PC version of the game controls are reasonably standard with WASD used for movement, F to activate items and X to select respawn or heal but the gameplay itself is different from the usual space to jump method. In a style similar to Mirrors Edge we have wider range of movement and our "jump" key actually changes action depending on the scenario as Splash Damages SMART system evaluates the action it thinks we are attempting to make. Approach one part of an environment and hit the key and our character may vault over it. Approach another and the same key could cause us to slide under an item. This may sound a little odd to begin with but it does offer a much more fluid freedom of movement within the levels.
As well as the single player campaign there are also online multiplayer versions of each level where we work with (and against) other human players in a selection of 8vs8 objective based missions, similar in many ways to the terrorist, counter terrorist style we are all familiar with. Brink's content is further enhanced by Challenge mode where we take on four different styles of gameplay, earning item unlocks and XP. In tower defence for example we work as an engineer and are required to stop multiple waves of enemies from capturing our command post. We gain extra points for not dying, getting headshots and using grenades successfully.
Graphics and Sound
Brink is based on an enhanced version of the idTech 4 engine which was first used on Doom 3 and while there are many aspects of the game which look very cool, such as the cut scenes our actual levels never look quite as good. That doesn't mean they are bad, far from it but in comparison to other recently released titles there are a few areas that are quite rough around the edges, some low res textures and questionable art work. That said we didn't experience any significant graphics bugs in our time playing the game with the latest patch and video drivers.
On the sound front we have a soundtrack which is reasonably similar to the style used in many recent Sci-Fi TV shows with nice little touches such as elevator music dotted around the levels and as we would expect for a modern FPS title explosions and gunfire are recreated well. Voice acting is also good, not perfect as there are some actors who don't work well with scripting which can be a little cliché. The voiceovers from the resistance or security leader can also be a little repetitive but overall no major problems are present.
There is no doubt that Brink will be a bit of a jolt to many gamers systems when it is first played. The SMART movement system immediately makes the game feel different to standard FPS titles, including the Quake and Wolfenstein games which Splash Damage are famous for. In addition to this the Campaign is structured in such a way that it feels like the online element of other titles converted into a single player experience. These are two significant changes which could well put off those expecting a Doom or Crysis like game.
For those who persevere past the stage where the initial gameplay style and structure changes become more natural and understood the game begins to really take shape. Challenge mode offers some fun, the online multiplayer aspect works well, though can occasionally give severely mismatched teams (there is nothing worse than a 2vs5 multiplayer match for example) but this being a Splash Damage game and the map's are very well designed. Generally we start with an expansive level area but dotted throughout the map are key areas where action is designed to take place; bottlenecks where the Resistance and Security teams come head to head in a fire fight, or attempt to break through to the next section of the level. It creates some frantic action and this is when Brink is at its most challenging and enjoyable.
It could be argued that the game would benefit from more weapons early on, a couple more gameplay styles and a graphics overhaul but the content that is here is well balanced and rewarding with the promise of more variation in upcoming content updates.
||An interesting new control system makes for a refreshing gaming experience. Levelling is reasonably easy and the game feels well balanced in single player and online modes though unlocking everything will be quite a grind.
||An ageing engine which isn't helped by the use of some low res textures and bad item art. Some more care and attention would have gone a long way but there are some nice touches here and there with the cut scenes often looking better than the gameplay.
||The music is never intrusive and often adds to the atmosphere. Explosions have plenty of power and voiceovers are rarely annoying.
||While it might seem like quiet a simple game on the face of things there is a huge amount of depth in Brink. On the campaign we can play through around 16 levels, each playable as four class types with differing gameplay. These are added to by four quick gameplay styles and of course online multiplayer. For those with a lot of time on their hands there is of course the ability to spend countless hours unlocking all of the in game items and levelling higher on the XP front.
(Not an Average)
||Brink would probably have benefited from being more accessible to the average gamer, offering more to begin with in terms of in-game items. Clearly though Splash Damage have set out to create a FPS which plays differently to others and on that front they have succeeded, creating a game with a unique feel that has some excellent map areas and an enjoyable online experience.