The Ark has a very plausible, lived-in-space aesthetic to it. Imagine the pristine domed city from Logan’s Run after a thorough post-apocalyptic working over and you’ll get a good idea of what the Ark looks like. While several maps fit the necessary Mad Max-style slums and ghettos, many others are set in the Ark’s privileged areas. You’ll be waging war in wealthy shopping malls, housing districts, airports and docks, all of them graced with a futuristic, utilitarian-yet-decadent style that recalls a lot of 70s scifi classics. The visual design is really something to behold and it’s a nice shift from the art deco style that has been copied ad-nauseam ever since Bioshock came out.
All of this means that you have a lot of interesting environments to traverse with the SMART system, filled with sloping arches, bridges, spires and other utopian mainstays. It would’ve been much easier for Splash Damage to attach their SMART mechanic to a standard flat, crates-n’-barrels FPS design and they deserve credit for having some artistic ambition to go along with their new movement system. The character design mirrors the architecture with exaggerated models and faces, reminiscent of the Timesplitters series. Brink features an unusually deep character creation tool for a shooter, and it’s rare for an FPS to have a visual design compelling enough to make you care what your model looks like.
The rest of the production values are fantastic. Voice acting is top notch, with several accents spanning American, European and African ethnicities, making the Ark feel like a true melting pot of cultures brought together out of necessity. Brink’s musical score is sweeping and orchestral, mixing traditional orchestra pieces and chorus with African and Australian tribal motifs, adding another layer to the world-culture atmosphere of the Ark. It’s just a shame that Brink doesn’t have a solid single player game to really show off the world Splash Damage created.
To be fair Brink probably has the best-realized world of any of Splash Damage’s games. Unfortunately that still isn’t saying much because both Wolfenstein Enemy Territory and Quake Wars used their respective licenses as a thin veneer for yet more cumbersome team-based multiplayer—they used it as an excuse to evolve their previous team multi design in technology and sophistication, not necessarily as an opportunity to tell a good story. This disappointed me with Quake Wars because I wanted to see the Strogg invasion of Earth in detail, and the multiplayer gameplay on offer was somewhat dense and impenetrable compared to more approachable games like Team Fortress 2.
Thankfully Brink is easy enough to get into but it has the same bare bones single player as its predecessors. Each level is bookended by cutscenes that do their best to elaborate on the compelling story, but the gameplay within is just multiplayer with obtusely dumb bots, again. Similar cutscenes also play out before and after multiplayer matches. I can appreciate that Splash Damage is trying to tell a story in their own way, but with the inherently randomized nature of multiplayer these cinema scenes rarely connect to one another in any meaningful way, making it difficult to construct any kind of cohesive narrative out of them. The single player game has a more ordered story for both factions, but playing alongside and against the bots is never as fun as playing with humans pushing the SMART system to its limits, so you might be hard-pressed to actually slog through all the single player missions. It’s too bad because the art style, music and voice acting could have made for a memorable dedicated solo story.
Single player issues aside, Brink has the most solid and well-balanced core gameplay yet from Splash Damage. If you’ve played any team-based shooters recently, particularly Team Fortress 2, Brink will be very familiar. There are only four classic compared to TF2’s nine, but they’re less cluttered and more direct than TF2’s. Soldiers can throw ammo to their teammates, plant mines and spot enemy mines, and make mines visible to their entire team by sighting in on the mine for a few seconds. Engineers can augment their teammates’ guns, place sentries, repair mission critical objects and cut open hardened targets with their blowtorch. Medics can buff a teammate’s health on the fly and toss revival syringes to downed allies. Operatives can hack objective computers and nab a disguise from dead enemies.
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