So here we are again: Class based multiplayer, check. Upgradable character classes, check. Teamwork-centric ever changing battlefield, check. Team Splash Damage at the helm, check. Not too long ago I found myself reviewing Quake Wars, and now I find myself playing a not-too-distant cousin, Brink. Sadly, Quake Wars didn’t quite catch on for long, but Brink looks like it’ll have the proper backing to make it work. Resistance or Security, it is time to see what new tricks Splash Damage has brought to the table.
The game begins with a short explanation of how the player ended up in the situation they find themselves in. Both sides are residents of a place called The Ark. The Arc was built as a utopian society built upon an archipelago of structures originally made as a sort of self-sustaining biodome in response to rapidly changing environmental concerns. Unfortunately, when the water levels of the Earth suddenly rose and consumed most of the land, the Ark became one of the few inhabitable places left on the planet. As you can imagine, those who didn’t perish in the rising seas retreated to the Ark, pushing the intended population of a few thousand into the hundreds of thousands. The effect on the infrastructure was devastating, turning the luxury Ark into an overcrowded slum. The Security forces worked hard to contain them, but the Resistance wants out. They want out bad enough to kill – and now you must choose a side.
Once you’ve decided which side of the debate you’d like to play, you’ll build your character. There are 12 archetypes to choose from, and things only expand greatly from there. Since the changes you make are permanent, you’ll want to really take a moment to choose wisely. With 9 face masks on each side, 12 face paints, 12 sets of facial hair, 24 sets of hair and head gear on both sides, 18 tattoos and scars, 18 body tattoos, and more clothing sets than I can readily describe, in addition to the three body types (light, medium, and heavy) trust that I’ve only scratched the surface on ways you can customize your character. There should be very few times where you see a player that looks exactly like you. Each item is unlocked as you progress through character levels, so these cosmetic items also have symbolic significance of rank as well. The real customization comes in the forms of Abilities.
When you start the game you are level 1, but you can progress up to the level cap of 20. As you earn experience (we’ll go over that in a moment) you can select a single ability with each level. There are 10 Universal Abilities that include things like Grenade Shooting (rather than cook grenades you can pop them in the air with this skill), Sense of Perception (allows you to look behind you in a 3rd person perspective while performing moves like hacks and disarms), Silent Running (just like it sounds), and others that can be used by any character class. There is also a large list of class-specific skills that you may choose from that augment or otherwise supplement your class. For instance, you’ll be able to select Armor Piercing Ammo for the Soldier, Scavenge (allows you to pick up items and ammo from enemies), Speed and the Lazarus Grenade (a grenade that raises any incapacitated enemy in the area) for the Medic, Caltrop Grenades and Sticky Grenades for the Operative, and my personal favorite – various turrets for the Engineer.
Beyond the character classes, you’ll also be able to choose light, medium, and heavy body types. The Medium is the default, allowing players to learn this balanced type before they are allowed access to the Heavy or Light. The Medium is able to mantle up small obstacles up to head height, leap over obstacles a meter high, and run at a default speed. The Heavy, by comparison, has far more hitpoints, but is very slow and unable to vault much of anything of note, much less actually climb a wall. The light has almost no hitpoints to speak of, but his non-sprinting speed is faster than the other two at full tilt. Additionally, he is able to take full and complete advantage of S.M.A.R.T.
Let’s get S.M.A.R.T.!
First, let’s define what S.M.A.R.T. is – it stands for Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain. If you’ve ever watched a Ong Bak or District B-13, you know exactly the style of movement the guys at Splash Damage were shooting for. Essentially, by holding the left bumper as you run, your character (let’s assume the light body type for the sake of a full explanation) is able to wall-run, vault over fences, sprint and then slide under pipes, fall from large heights and then slide to avoid damage, bounce off a wall for a wall jump, and various combinations therein to very quickly navigate the game space. For instance, if you are particularly skilled you could run at a wall, wall bounce off of it, turn 180 degrees in the air, and shoot your target in the face having leapt an unnatural distance towards them guns blazing. More practically, there are a great many paths through the environment if you are a lighter character. There are often small holes in fencing, high ledges that would otherwise kill you, various shortcuts (on the very first level on the Resistance side you can use a vat lid to bounce up immediately to the enemy spawn point! Dangerous, but good if you want to cause a nice distraction), pipes to camp on, airducts to crawl, and even a few long stairwells that you can use as a quick ride to the bottom if you want to show off. A skilled player will take you down with a rifle; a skilled player in Brink will do it having bounced off the wall into an unseen alcove to do it without casting a shadow. The life of a light character is a short one – let’s talk character classes and weapons.
Being the right class at the right time in a class-based game is crucial. Unfortunately, the average player has the attention span of an ashtray and often will simply stick with their favorite class completely ignoring any and all objectives that may need to be completed. Brink solves this by giving the player experience for completing objectives – more XP than if you simply kill the enemy. Objectives are always tiered, requesting cooperation and teamwork above all else. You may be called upon to breach a door, send in hackers to open a safe, and then use medics to guide a VIP across the map. You can switch class at will by using any friendly or captured consoles, with bonus experience being given to players who undertake the appropriate mission using the appropriate class. The game does a great job with the HUD to guide you in this direction, leading even the dumbest ‘ashtray’ towards the correct objective with the proper tools for the job.
Speaking of experience, the game rewards you for almost anything you do. Many games rely almost exclusively on kills to grant experience, but Brink rewards all classes for their work. Defending an objective grants xp, taking one grants xp, removing an explosive, planting an explosive, killing an enemy while he is near other enemies, killing a lone enemy, taking down a VIP, healing your friends, and pretty much everything else. Gaining levels unlocks the previously mentioned clothing and skills. There are a total of 8 maps for each side, with two what-if scenarios that offer an alternative to the storyline. Additionally there are 4 challenges that offer a bit of…well….challenge to the player beyond the multiplayer aspects of the game. Everything you do in singleplayer, challenges, and multiplayer adds up to experience whether you win or lose, so it pays to play through it all.
The only really big complaint I have with Brink is that the enemy, even as their level increases, spends an inordinate amount of time crashing their heads together like a pair of rams. They often remain deadlocked and unable to complete the primary objectives for the mission, leaving you feeling like you have to carry the entire team. The game is made to be played with your friends, so don’t expect the single player AI to really wow you with their SMARTS.
Guns, guns, guns!
Customization is great and all, but it shouldn’t end with tattoos and cool hats. There are over 25 unique weapons in the game, with a huge varieties of scopes, silencers, expanded magazines, and much more. There is a top, front, bottom, and magazine hardpoint on almost every weapon, so almost every weapon you pick up should be slightly different than the last. Each attachment has both pros and cons, so you’ll have to take them out for a spin to find your best fit. S.M.A.R.T. is still the star of the show, but there are more than enough guns (and you carry both a primary and secondary at all times) to keep you busy.
The Soldier’s skill has the ability to drop additional ammunition. This skill goes along with all of these fantastic weapons as you will be burning through ammunition like candy. In fact, it reminded me of just how fast you can empty a full magazine on an M-16 if you flip it to full auto – a taste of the real world.
Bring your friends…and shoot them!
Brink does have challenge modes and a two-sided singleplayer campaign, but obviously it is multiplayer that shines brightest. Brink supports 16 players in multiplayer – get ready as I’m about to lay down some prediction as well as some very heavy compliments.
Brink reminds me of Tribes. Brink also reminds me of Tribes 2 and Return to Castle Wolfenstein. I spent more time than I could possibly begin to estimate on those titles, becoming a scourge to the online community with my sidekick Tim Steffes (Destructor on the boards). Together we, on more than one occasion, took on an entirely full team on the enemy side with only him and me on our side and still came out victorious. Playing through Brink for a few hours gave me exactly that feeling once again. The time I’ve gotten to spend was with my fellow press members and the folks from Splash Damage, but I have a good feeling that the game will catch on in the same way as the previously mentioned titles. The game will hit shelves right about the time you read this, so I’m eager to see the rest of you online. More accurately, you’ll find me in the vents with a scoped rifle, crazy hair, and a facial tattoo.