For a few years now I’ve wondered why there isn’t more mobility in first person shooters. Platformers have adopted smoother movement styles and have evolved from Mario into the acrobatics in Prince of Persia and Assassin’s Creed. RPGs have moved on from static world maps into massive environments that the player can explore at will. Even stealth games have grown past the chunky, cumbersome control of Solid Snake to the smooth sneaking and takedown moves of Sam Fisher. So why are Gordon Freeman, Master Chief and the innumerable soldiers of Call of Duty still smacking into chest-high-walls instead of vaulting over them?
We’ve had a couple games like Mirror’s Edge that take the concept of full mobility and run with it (heh) but even the simplest concepts of Parkour have yet to be adopted by the mainstream multiplayer FPS. Splash Damage, old hands at team-based shooters, decided to change this with Brink. The game’s motto is “move more than you shoot,” and for the past week I’ve had the opportunity to test drive their new SMART (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain) system in online battles and across single player scenarios.
The SMART system basically takes your fully-customizable character’s body type and assigns it degrees of mobility and movement speed. Heavy characters are slowest and can only vault over low surfaces, players who choose the medium build move faster and gain the ability to mantle over high and low surfaces, and light characters run like the wind and can even wall-kick off of vertical surfaces to cross otherwise impassable pits and trenches. The trade-off comes in the amount of base health each body type has, with heavy being the most resilient and light being precariously weak.
SMART has a few more subtleties that surprised me. Aiming high or low determines if you will slide under or vault over (or mantle, if possible) a surface, so paying attention to your crosshair elevation becomes crucial to maintaining a fluid pace through a map. Every character type can also perform a sliding kick—similar to the one popularized by FarCry 2—which dramatically reduces your target profile and can temporarily knock down and stun opponents if it connects.
As with most aspects of Brink I was initially disappointed with the SMART system. I was expecting my entire team and I to be leaping great distances and scaling obstacles freeform from the get-go, but SMART is a nuanced mechanic and takes time to learn. Thankfully Brink can play as a traditional FPS; you can quite effectively plod through the levels without using SMART, you’ll just be much slower and against experienced players, you’ll be an easy target.
Splash Damage has fashioned an inviting playground for players to test their moving and shooting skills in. Brink takes place in the near future on an artificial self-sustaining island nation called the Ark. Originally an experiment intended to house 5000 people, a global flooding catastrophe packed the Ark with ten times its intended population. Naturally a war broke out between the corrupt government and a people’s militia group aptly named The Resistance, and the game lets you play as either faction. The biblical symbolism is a bit too obvious for my tastes and the premise isn’t anything new, but the execution is tantalizing.
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