Using words such as ‘revolution’ when describing a game is a risky business, but that hasn’t stopped Bethesda when talking about their upcoming First Person Shooter, Brink. Indeed, on the surface things do sound impressive with apparently 102,247,681,536,000,000 player variations, but can this highly anticipated game live up to the hype and the numbers?
Brink starts off at a fairly sedate pace, asking if you wish to watch a tutorial video in exchange for 1000 experience points. My word, what a lengthy tutorial video it is, but also a stark reminder that at first Brink is more than likely going to kick your arse. There is so much to wrap your head around, but more on that later.
The game takes place on the Ark, a man-made floating city that is on the verge of all-out civil war. The Ark was originally built as an experimental, self-sufficient and 100% “green” habitat. Unfortunately the rise of the Earth’s oceans caused an influx of refugees, essentially pushing the Ark far beyond what it was designed to deal with and causing it to fail. There are now two main groups on the Ark; Security and Resistance, and it’s down to you to decide – will you save the Ark, or try and escape it?
Before you get into the meat of Brink, you’ll need to create yourself a character who will represent you throughout the various modes. Whilst initial customisation options are decent, you can see via all the locked out icons that you are really just standing on the edge of a vast precipice, full to bursting with options. Face type, hair, features, tattoos, face gear, scars, trousers, shirts, outfits – there is plenty to keep you busy. Then you move onto guns, where you are able to carry a primary and secondary weapon. The choice really is fantastic, with lots more being unlocked as you work your way through the challenges. All guns come with their own set of statistics, and can be modded with parts unlocked later on. You’ll spend a fair bit of time finding your perfect loadout, as every gun feels and behaves differently.
If that wasn’t enough you are then presented with the option of body type. Initially you are only granted access to the normal body, but by ranking up you’ll eventually get the lightweight and heavyweight variants. Now in most games this is a purely cosmetic feature, but not so in Brink, and this is where the SMART system comes in.
By holding down the sprint button, you turn your character into some sort of Parkour superstar as they vault over obstacles, scale walls, slide, and even wall jump in some instances. Think ‘Mirrors Edge’. Selecting a normal body type will allow you to carry all but the heaviest of weapons, take moderate damage, as well as being able to vault over/climb over most objects. The heavyweight is a bit of a beast and can carry any weapon, as well as soaking up bullets with ease. The downside is he’s the slowest and can only scale the lower obstacles. The lightweight is more cat than man as he scales anything with frightening speed, as well as being able to wall jump. Of course the trade-off for this is he only has to look at a bullet before keeling over, dead.
SMART is a fantastic system, and one that really needs to be implemented in FPS games from now on. As daft as it sounds, to be able to climb the environment or vault to ledges below really opens up a whole wealth of tactical opportunities as attacks can literally be launched from anywhere. It’s not perfect, and there are occasions where it’ll flip out a little bit and you’ll end up climbing something you didn’t want to, but these are few and far between.
Another interesting feature you’ll have access to is the Objective Wheel. Rather than cram the screen with text, or having to pause to see what you’re meant to be doing next, pressing ‘up’ on the D-pad will quickly bring up the Objective Wheel. The player’s most important objective is always featured at the top of the wheel, whilst secondary objectives take up the remaining slots. These secondary objectives can then be selected and all on-screen markers will change accordingly. Very smooth, very fast, and very good indeed.
So that’s characters dealt with, right? Well…no, as we have yet to deal with character classes. There are four in the game, and they all come with special abilities. The Soldier , Medic, Engineer, and Operative all have their roles in every match, and although you can set a preference as to which class you start a match as, you can switch roles in the field at any supply console your team have possession of.
This is where the team based element of Brink comes into play, as everyone really needs to assign themselves a role. Having several Soldiers charging into the fray is all well and good, but the second you come up against a console that needs hacking, or a door that needs to be blown up you’re stuffed. It really is well balanced, and there seems to be no downside to playing as a Medic, for example, as no class seems to dominate over the others.
Every character class can also have a positive effect on their team mates, by ‘buffing’ them (not as dirty as it sounds). An example of this would be Medics upgrading their team mate’s health, and Soldiers dishing out upgraded ammunition. Brink doesn’t really like ‘lone wolves’, and they won’t last particularly long in the heat of battle.
Of course, it would be nice to be rewarded for helping out the team, and this is catered for very well. Pretty much everything you do earns you XP, from killing an enemy to repairing a bot, and you’ll easily earn 2500+ XP per match. This XP gets totted up at the end and helps you level up. Levelling up earns you in-game currency where you can buy abilities for you character, such as sprint reloading. As well as levels, your character also has a ‘rank’ which maxes out at five. The ranks are linked to the abilities you can buy, so for example you might be able to afford the Kevlar armour ability, but you can’t use it until you reach rank three.
Though you might be tempted to plough straight into the Campaign upon creating your character, there are also other modes that are well worth a look. To start with there are a number of challenges that ease you into Brink’s gameplay mechanics, such as switching between character classes, and how to deal with the way SMART allows you to move about the environment. These challenges have three difficulty levels, with each one upping the ante in terms of enemy AI and the amount of objectives. The pay-off for completing each difficulty comes in the form of loads of XP, as well as unlocking weapons and mods. These challenges can also be completed with up to four players online.
Freeplay is where fans of online gaming will be spending large chunks of their time. Freeplay allows you to play in battles where you have customised the options. You can have public or private matches, you can modify the team sizes (up to eight players per team), you can change the voice chat options, player ranks – it’s up to you. There are two main modes in Freeplay; Objective and Stopwatch.
Objective is where one team defends whilst the other attacks, and Stopwatch is where the teams take turns playing offense, and after two matches the team with the best completion time wins. Unfortunately lag did raise its ugly head in Freeplay; not always, but enough to flag it up. It didn’t get me killed, but it was slightly disorientating to suddenly find myself transported several metres down a corridor as the game caught up on itself.