Amid a sea of increasingly familiar first person shooters, Brink looked to be the chosen one. A lone survivor cruising above the surface on a raft held together by prestige and innovation.
With a change of setting and smart approach to gameplay, it looked to break the cycle set in motion by Call of Duty, Battlefield, and their ilk. It was an ambitious undertaking to say the least, yet Brink had an air of potential.
Not only that, it had pedigree too. Though many will uphold DICE, Infinity Ward, and Valve as some of the biggest innovators in online multiplayer, Splash Damage also deserves its due.
Formed in 2001, the London-based studio started out as a small team of modders before working alongside id Software on a number of games, including Doom 3.
The developer’s biggest contribution to online gaming, however, was Enemy Territory. Adapted to both Wolfenstein and Quake, this strain of class-based multiplayer warfare is a precursor to many of the popular games we worship today.
They even claim they were the first studio to implement experience points in an online shooter – a feature that has since become a core staple of the genre.
With Brink, Splash Damage was given the opportunity to create its own identity. This much became clear when the game was finally revealed with not a single space marine or foot soldier in sight.
Instead, the studio opted for a more dystopian approach to its setting and narrative. In the near future mankind has succumbed to environmental change. Global warming has led to a rapid rise in sea levels, wiping out nations and eventually leading to the construction of the “Ark”, a floating city. Like any civilisation, however, humanity’s last stronghold has its own issues. The Founders live in peace and luxury whereas a great number of the Ark’s populace are refugees with nothing to their name. Tensions flare and, eventually, lead to an all-out civil war.
It’s a great backdrop and one brought to life by a unique art style, caught halfway between our world and the pages of a comic.
Writing aside, it was actually the gameplay that stood out. Brink may not have lived up to some of its developers’ promises yet it still functioned as a fun and unique class-based shooter.
Instead of cramming lobbies into standard Team Deathmatch or Capture The Flag modes, the missions in Brink were dynamic. Broken into multiple stages, one team would have to defend while the other side attacked, tasked with blowing up, repairing, sabotaging, escorting, or stealing an objective.
Each of these missions would require specific classes. For example, only the Operative could placed hack boxes on objectives whereas Soldiers oversaw demolition tasks. However, to achieve success, all classes had to work together.
This interdependency was characterised by the Objective Wheel, a superb little feature that needs to be in more online shooters. Basically, it allowed players to view a variety of tasks – both primary and secondary – to aid their team. This could range from opening side routes to escorting fellow players, each one granting experience points. It was an organic system and one that took the focus away from just killing enemy players.
Brink did have its flaws, though bad luck also had its part to play in the game’s perceived “failure”. For a start, it launched while PlayStation 3 users were still locked out of online play thanks to 2011’s notorious hack. Even then, as a pre-Summer release, Brink still had a hard time appealing to punters, especially with all eyes turned on the Modern Warfare/Battlefield 3 showdown.
It may not have mattered to everyone, but Brink’s lack of a cohesive single player campaign drew plenty of fire from many of its critics. Even though I had read plenty about the game, I was still under the impression it would feature a linear experience with multi player bolted on. After all, it was a convention being used throughout the genre.
Instead, players were treated to a series of missions that had clearly been designed for online play. Considering the sparsity of maps at launch, this was a major problem – within three or four hours players could effectively “beat” everything Brink had to throw at them. On top of that, playing solo was nowhere near as fun or engaging as in multiplayer. Even on the hardest difficulty setting, enemies could be picked off by the handful with friendly AI faring no better. Given that most objectives require a specific class, Brink became more and more frustrating as allies idly circled their mark as if not knowing what to do.
This lack of a cohesive single player experience also had a negative effect on the game’s narrative. With only a handful of cutscenes wedged between matches, there was no real sense of progression – or closure, for that matter. Even worse, Brink’s two discernible faction leaders had little to add. A shame, considering how unique the set up was.
In short, Brink was a good game and, after taking a three-year hiatus, I was surprised how fresh and intuitive it felt even today.
Whether or not I can recommend a purchase is a different matter. Though Brink received a weighty update with new missions and a level cap boost, there’s one thing that still holds the game back: its player base. Though I’m sure you will find a small following on PC, console lobbies are completely barren, meaning solo play is the only way to go.
With that said, Brink can be picked up from just about anywhere for £3 to £5, a price worth paying just to see how it compares to the shooters of today.
It’s an exercise worth taking and one that uncovers the ultimate tragedy that befell such an ambitious shooter. Where many critics scolded Brink for its multiplayer-only focus, this same model is now becoming popular. Just take a look at Titanfall: one of the year’s biggest, most highly acclaimed releases, yet one with nothing in the way of singleplayer.