It's a wildly accepted idea that First-Person Shooters are essentially all alike. Take a usually silent protagonist, shove a gun in his hands, dress him up as a soldier in whatever setting you please, throw in a few baddies for good measure, and you've got yourself an FPS game. Sometimes you get a whiff of a storyline that’s interesting and slightly different to “Good guy with gun fights for freedom/humanity/babes against bad alien/Nazi/Communist guys ‘cause they're bad,” but most of the time it's something similar. After more than ten years of the same formula you'd expect someone to come up with something a little different. Strangely, it wasn't one of the top few developers like Activision or EA who decided to mix it up but actually a British indie company. However, reinventing a solid formula that has worked for years usually doesn't end well.
Splash Damage are known for their Enemy Territory franchise, best known of which is Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory with Quake Wars bringing up the rear. Unfortunately that was the extent of their repertoire, and so it came as quite a surprise to most gamers when Splash Damage announced Brink, the apparently innovative team-based FPS with a new movement system based on parkour, which is extremely similar to the more widely known free running. On the surface, Brink is pretty similar to most squad-based shooters like Team Fortress 2 for example. Run around attempting to get the other usually communication-inept members of your team to help you out, while you end up taking on a team that seems to be comprised of telepathic special forces veterans with cat-like reflexes.
The campaign and general storyline is that the player is a member of one of the two factions on a giant floating city called the Ark. The two factions in question, the Security and Resistance, are at war. Resistance are some disgruntled refugees who joined the Ark after its initial creation eventually overpopulating the Ark and building slums on the side of the original city. These guys believe the Security, the Ark's original residents, are oppressing them and hiding the truth of what has really happened to the rest of the world, which they have been out of contact with for many years. While the story does actually sound pretty interesting, it unfortunately takes a back seat, being mostly told through the mission start cutscenes which fail to contain much in regards to narrative content other than, “Your side is the good guys; go kill the bad guys ‘cause they've done something we don't like.” While it's a little much to hope that there would have been much of a story in a multiplayer shooter, it would have been nice if they'd fleshed the story out a bit more considering it actually had some potential.
That being said, the gameplay, for the most part, does make up for it. Splash Damage set out to reinvent the genre, and while it definitely won't be changed overnight, they've taken a step in the right direction. The movement system is very reminiscent of Mirror's Edge, with the ability to perform all the cool moves you'd expect such as wall running, leaping gaps, and vaulting over rails. There is definitely a unique flow to the game that really allows different players to play to their own strengths and weaknesses which is helped in turn by the RPG elements. The character creation is sound, with lots of unlockable aesthetic enhancements to your character, such as new tattoos, hair and clothing which all add to make your character both look cool and match your style. However all character customisation is just aesthetic choice and doesn't effect gameplay except for the body type selection. In character creation you get the choice of three different body types: light, medium, and heavy. Light is the quickest son of a bitch, able to perform all the various parkour moves but limited to light weapons. Medium is the best of both worlds with only marginally fewer parkour moves than the light guy but with access to stuff like assault rifles and grenade launchers. Heavy gets the fewest parkour moves, only able to climb slowly over waist height obstacles, but on the plus side, he gets access to all weapons, including mini-guns and automatic shotguns. The variety is great, allowing all players to play the type of role they want, but the interesting part comes when you combine those body types with the four different character classes.
The four classes include Soldier (general fighting, grenade lobbing, ammo replenishing machine), Engineer (builder of turrets and layer of mines), Medic (healer and reviver of buddies), and the Operative (the sneaky bastard that everyone hates). Each body type can pick any of these classes but how they play when coupled with the body type is completely unique. Do you choose the light guy to be the medic, able to sprint around the battle field, dodging bullets and reviving people that would otherwise be hard to get to, or do you choose the heavy, able to soak up tons of damage and dish out more health packs than any other body type? Each class gets its own unique and gradually unlockable active and passive abilities they can use in the field, ranging from deployable turrets for engineers to Molotov cocktails for soldiers. The diversity is quite interesting when you get down to it, and the balance has so far been good.
The art style is another thing that requires immense praise. Splash Damage have outdone themselves in this area, creating a visually stunning and interesting environment and a large number of character aesthetic customisations that fit in perfectly with the setting. While the cartoony style has been done before and done well by Team Fortress 2, Brink brings another refreshing art style into the mix. It is a mixture between TF 2's over-the-top cartoon style and the more gritty realism of the usual modern shooter.
"Essentially the release of Brink feels more like a game in beta stages at this stage in release rather than a finished game."
Now, unfortunately, we come to the problems that plague Brink, of which there are quite a few. Brink has mountains of potential that, sadly, was held back by Splash Damage's decision to release the game in what feels very much like an unfinished state. Essentially the release of Brink feels more like a game in beta stages at this stage in release rather than a finished game. The AI is pretty lacking, making no attempt to take cover or use parkour to its full effect. It is poor to the extent of having quite a few path finding issues, meaning you'll sometimes find enemies and friends alike running at walls in vain. Brink is, therefore, a game made for online play, but even that area isn't without it's faults. At present, the lag is at times unbearable making the game near enough unplayable. The problems continue onto the sometimes horrible level design, in which it is possible for teams to easily camp choke points, preventing the other team from even getting near their objective. However I haven’t even touched upon to the more annoying problems such as sound bugs and missing or low-detail textures, with the sound bug causing all sound to be played as if your character had ear defenders on, while someone hits your head with dustbin lids in a hurricane.
Overall, Brink is a game which could have been a genre favourite at launch, but due to some developer oversights, such as the lack of an extensive beta, the unfinished nature of the initial release have turned many potential fans away. With a little spit and polish and a few extra patches Brink could be the game it was promised to be, able to compete for fans from all corners of the genre, but as it stands, Brink is an unfinished mess that is often unplayable. At those times when everything works, by god is it awesome.