Yes, they’ve got big, funny faces. Get over it. There was a guy in the long-awaited recent demonstration of Splash Damage’s first game since Enemy Territory: Quake Wars who couldn’t get over the distorted body shapes. “Is there a narrative reason,” he inquired, “why everyone’s got chimp-like arms and faces like Droopy Dawg?”
No. No there isn’t. This is just one of those all-too-rare first-person shooters that wishes to be instantly recognizable from a single screenshot. As well as having those delightfully goon-faced characters, it’s set in a floating city in a near-future, post-disaster world, which has an aesthetic halfway between those of Portal and Fallout 3. The game’s looks are just one of a crap-load of reasons to be excited about Brink. Here’s another: it wants to unite the tribes of single-player and multiplayer shooter fans in a way that hasn’t been done before.
The broad-strokes categorization of Brink is that it’s a class-based team shooter in the Team Fortress 2 mold – two opposing forces war over capture points – and it’s a very good one at that. The Ark, a techno-refuge for Earth’s survivors, isn’t in great shape. Humanity has been grouped into two rival factions: Security, who is theoretically in charge, and the Resistance, a militant equal-rights group. The former is composed of slick, high-tech soldiers, whilst the latter comprises bric-a-brac guerrillas.
As a multiplayer game, Brink seems to come from another world compared to the over-complicated Quake Wars. The interface is svelte and logical – all Apple-like radial dials and big, friendly buttons – while team play is something you’re actively rewarded for (primarily with experience points).
On top of that is the SMART system. Vaguely analogous to Assassin’s Creed’s parkour button, this is a toggle that makes your character automatically leap under, over or onto obstacles in the direction you’re moving.
The idea isn’t that SMART grants an unfair edge, but simply that it allows you to concentrate on doing well at the shooting part of the game, rather than wasting time bumping into small walls or falling off ledges. Brink is accessible, in other words. While this is a red flag to hardcore shooter bulls, some as-yet-unspecified traditional multiplayer modes combined with fine control often outdoing SMART movement should keep them off everyone else’s backs.
All of this is also available in Brink’s single-player mode. This doesn’t involve playing multiplayer maps with AI bots, and it’s not an unrelated campaign of shooting idiots in corridors: it’s the multiplayer game made single-player. Or, to put it another way, it’s the single-player game made multiplayer. At any point, you can take your single-player game online and invite in friends or let in strangers to replace the two teams of eight soldiers with real people.
You’re playing through a story – two in fact, respectively documenting the struggles of the Security and Resistance sides – replete with impressive cutscenes that look at the war from both overall and personal perspectives. One mission, for instance, sees the Resistance trying to destroy a Security-run nuclear generator, but the cutscenes cover one soldier’s misery that his brother has signed up with ‘the fascists’ that do the inevitable mega-explosion. This isn’t a playlist of arena fights. It’s the tale of a desperate battle for humanity’s future, and of exactly who humanity is in this beleaguered world. Also, it has lots of guns in it.
If you like guns, you’ll be well served here. As is the vogue of the moment, Brink includes a weapons unlock system, where experience points get you all manner of customization options. This is far more ambitious than the Now You Have a Slightly Different Machine Gun treadmill we’re used to from other modern shooters.
First up, there are guns. Of course there are guns. Guns with names like Maximus and Sea Eagle. Then there are gun modifications – gloriously absurd disc-shaped Tommy gun ammo packs, scopes, and six-vent anti-recoil muzzles. You’ll very quickly build visibly bespoke weaponry that suits your own play style. You’ll do the same with your unlocked abilities, which can be buffs that up your hit points, tell you when you’re in someone’s crosshairs, or allow you to slip into a third-person mode for a better look at what’s around you.