Brink: Pros and Cons
“Brink” is a game that has enjoyed a remarkably strong level of interest from the gaming community, especially considering how crowded the FPS market always is. A gorgeous ad campaign and a catchy title certainly didn’t hurt, nor did the pedigree of Bethesda, but nonetheless I think Splash Damage should count itself at least a little lucky that their product is getting so much attention.
So now that everyone cares about “Brink,” is this thing really going to be worth our time? All signs point to “maybe.” Let’s consider the five most encouraging things about “Brink,” as well as the five things that may derail it.
1. “Enemy Territory: Quake Wars.” The same studio working on “Brink” got their start with “Enemy Territory: Quake Wars.” The Rodney Dangerfield of video games, ET:QW got no love on its release, and has not gained any since; personally, I blame it on an the acronym. Certainly, it had its flaws: the vehicles felt like they were ice-skating on the ground, and the textures looked like oatmeal. But underneath the surface was a deceptively addicting experience: perfectly balanced, lightning-quick, and no-frills. It was a good opening volley from Splash Damage (yes, I know they did other games before that, but in my mind this is their real debut).
2. Bethesda. Bethesda Studios is literally the only good thing about Maryland. Some smart cats work over there, and if they say this “Brink” song and dance is worth my time, then I’m inclined to listen.
3. Story. “Brink” is propped up by one of the cooler, and more subtle, story conceits in recent shooters: opposing factions locked on an Ark in a drowned future world. It’s like Noah mixed with Che Guevera. This allows the game to have a real sense of place, and distance itself from the endless “Snow level then jungle level then city level” aesthetic of every other shooter on the market.
4. Persistence. Splash adopts a simple, but almost alarmingly obvious mantra in “Brink:” constant development. There is no dividing line between your single player, you co-op, or your online identity. You progress the same character in all of the above, and this is really the way all games should be working. Consolidating my efforts into a single object is simpler, easier, and more satisfying.
5. SMART Button. Splash is hoping to revolutionize shooters by making the environment more kinetic. Boxes and just-barely-too-high-fences no longer create an Orwellian playpen for the player. Simply press the so-called “SMART” button, and your character will infer from trajectory and context where he/she needs to go, and do so.
And now, on the flipside, the Top Five things that might be a problem for “Brink:”
1. “Enemy Territory: Quake Wars.” Was it addicting? Absolutely. Was it “good”? That’s kind of a stretch. At the end of the day, the thing still handled like an air hockey table, and the feel was loose in general. Splash did very little with “Quake Wars” that wasn’t better somewhere else, and it’s small wonder that the game hasn’t aged overwhelmingly well.
2. Bethesda. Here’s the thing: you tell Bethesda to make you a game, they’re on it. You tell them to publish a game, and suddenly they have two left feet. Since expanding their interest in shipping product, they’ve had a string of inexplicable duds: “Star Trek: Legacy,” “Wet,” “Rogue Warrior.” What, do you guys just pity crap games or something?
3. Story. You say “po-tae-toe,” I say “cheap excuse to make every bloody level look exactly the same.” And furthermore, I don’t care for some of the character designs. One second, it looks totally gritty and real, but then the facial structures of the characters come out from behind their masks, and they inexplicably look like “Team Fortress 2.” I find it jarring.
4. Persistence. I suppose you’re noticing a pattern by now. I am concerned how the ability to grind offline will affect balance in the land of deathmatch. Is this going to be one of those games where I shouldn’t even bother logging in unless I’m 12 years old and drink enough Red Bull to turn an actual bull red? Are we going to have “Call of Duty” ninjas appearing on the tree-line, rife with unintended permutations of perks? These are the questions that keep me up at night, Splash Damage.
5. SMART Button. If anyone reading this is a “Gears of War” fan, you started rolling your eyes the first time I mentioned this. I know I cherish the dozens of times I’ve found myself vaunting, “Paths of Glory” style, from the safety of cover into the loving embrace of a Blood Mount. Assigning one button as “Mr. Context” has never worked perfectly yet; it hasn’t even been good enough not to complain about. I’m not saying Splash Damage won’t pull it off, but I am saying better man have lost their lives trying to find that particular El Dorado. Good luck.
All in all, I have high hopes for “Brink,” but it’s certainly not a game I’m ready to call a guaranteed win. Splash Damage has a storied history in the multiplayer world (they started out as scrappy modders), and “Quake Wars” showed a knack for balance, but “Brink” is a seriously ambitious endeavor that will either make or break the young studio. Only time will tell which.
if the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning