The threat of environmental catastrophe is a clear and present threat to all humankind. I'm sorry, I know it's not something we like to think about, but there it is. CO2 emissions, pollution, food production, overpopulation, global warming... there are more terrifying threats to humanity today than ever before.
Therefore, it stands to reason that in the next couple of years we'll all be living on a massive floating artificial island, battling it out for survival with an oppressive police force that wants to stop us from escaping. At least, that's the premise for Brink, the new multiplayer shooter from Splash Damage and Bethesda Softworks.
That's right - I said multiplayer shooter. Not single-player shooter with a built-in multiplayer component. This is pure multiplayer. Now that doesn't mean that you can't play it on your own, but then again you can play Left 4 Dead or even Unreal Tournament on your own if you really want to, but what would be the point? So it is with Brink.
Here's how it works - the Ark (the floating island in question) is overpopulated by what might be the last remnants of humanity, and from this mass of people two main power blocs have emerged: Security, who represent the powers that be, and wish to maintain the status quo, and the Resistance, made up of those disaffected by Security's rule and who wish to strike out from the Ark in search of new land.
And these are our teams! Now, what follows is a series of multiplayer-optimised maps for the two teams to beat merry out of each other on. Sure, there are objectives to achieve (more on this later) and story developments, but what it comes down to is the same old MP shoot ‘em up we've all been playing in some shape or form since Unreal Tournament. Sure, there are classes to choose between and experience points to rack up, but in this day and age such things are not developments so much as requisites.
Here are the things that are really good about Brink. I must warn you that there will also be a list of what is not good (a few paragraphs down there, look), so please don't just read this bit and rush off to buy Brink, then come crying back to me. I'm just saying. The whole game is depicted in a gorgeous near-future style that captures the merging of clean, clinical authoritarianism and rusty, decaying dystopia as well as Bioshock 2 or Portal ever did. Your playable character's appearance is customisable to an impressive degree, with further outfits unlocking as you play through the campaign. It's literally impossible to create a crappy-looking character with this system, and the ragtag look of the Resistance contrasts well with the future-cop appeal of Security. Experience can be spent in many different ways, and choices can always be rescinded for a full refund, allowing you to experiment without worrying about getting it wrong. The story elements are strong, far stronger than are usually found in a multiplayer shooter, and the creative vision behind the whole game is powerful and immersive.
Brink's special little gimmick is the parkour element, whereby holding down the shift button (sometimes combined with jump or crouch) will allow you to slide over tables, or under low doors, or to leap and clamber up onto containers, or what have you. This free-flowing movement is incredibly easy to use, and shows a kind of ‘yes we can' attitude in the game design. As a shooter it seems pretty well balanced.
NOW THEN. Onto the inevitable downers.
Firstly, Brink isn't ready yet. It's still like a beta release. Now, this will only remain a problem for a little while, one hopes, and patches are coming down the Steampipe with regularity. But at present there are some fundamental problems. In my own experience (and in the experience of at least one other Game Debater who commented on the game), the sound is wonky at best, and non-existent at worst. It comes and goes during the game and sometimes it doesn't come back. Lag is also a significant issue, crippling a good quarter of all games I tried to play. Oh, and once all of the enemy team were completely invisible to me. Which made it pretty difficult, as you'd expect.
On top of that, while the storyline-based objectives are an interesting addition to the game, it's quite often confusing as to what's going on. A mission wheel can be brought up at any time that will point you toward any one of the primary or secondary goals you want to try, but what you're actually trying to do at any given time can be hard to follow, particularly when these goals can literally reverse (say, from attempting to destroy a robot to protecting the same robot) in the time it takes you to respawn. Sometimes, you'll be approaching an objective - let's say to defend a certain location - and you'll just get a message saying that you can no longer defend that location. No clue as to why, or whether you should be doing something else. All in all, it can cause a bit of head-scratching, but no doubt with time and dedication this will no longer matter as players become familiar with the mission structures. Hey, maybe I'm just a simpleton and everyone else has it worked out just fine.
There is a limited array of weapons available, and as such there's a limited way of dealing with your enemies. Through judicious unlocks, this will not be such a big deal, but don't expect to be able to start the game off with a sniper rifle, or a flamethrower, or anything else beside a couple of assault rifles.
A quick word about the Brink system requirements, if I may: My machine has a modest graphics card, and Brink's official demands are power-hungry. However, I had no trouble running its jaw-droppingly lovely visuals. Except for the lag, and you can't blame the graphics card for that.
So Brink does the minimum of what is required of it. Must try harder, in my opinion. Designing characters is fun, as is sliding from surface to surface like a freerunning ninja. The maps are beautiful and fairly well-designed. But there's too little here that's genuinely original, and at present it's too buggy to get a really good mark.
If this is the future towards which we're headed, I'm going to recycle more often.