Before you do anything else in Brink, scroll down the main menu and select the ‘Challenges’ option, and then complete them. There are three triple-tiered levels to work through, and doing so will take less than an hour – and significantly less if you prove to be a dab hand at it. This tiny piece of advice is absolutely invaluable if you want to avoid any unnecessary teething problems in Brink, and because this mode does such an immaculate job of showing you the ropes in a videogame that has never been shy about touting its complexity above everything else, their early completion should really have been mandatory. You’re given a chance to get to grips with the parkour and learn how missions are structured; and you’re also given space to figure out where each character class fits into the action. A helpful female voiceover explains everything thoroughly as you go, and as a welcome bonus, you unlock access to added perks and weaponry when you’re done.
You even earn unlocks and XP for watching additional tutorial video clips via the ‘Dossier’ option in the main menu, and doing this would come highly recommended even if this wasn’t the case. In addition to the Challenges, Freeplay mode enables you to select any mission from the campaign so that you can plough through them (on or offline) with a set of your own specifications in play. The reason that these modes have been included is obvious – never before has ‘practice makes perfect’ been more appropriately applied – but the reason that you’re not encouraged more strongly to partake in them before sampling the campaign is frankly inexplicable. Leaping straight into the main bulk of the single-player experience before experimenting first, may end up making some people so frustrated that they become completely disinterested in persevering with it.
And that would be a monumental shame, because once you know exactly what you’re doing – and more importantly, once you find yourself online with other people who know exactly what they’re doing – the experience becomes a breakneck, thunderously exciting proposition that doesn’t just falter if teamwork isn’t applied; it basically stops existing. There has always been room for lone wolves to prevail in the likes of Team Fortress 2 or MAG, but if you stray too far from the pack in Brink you’re finished; and more often than not, so is your team. Completing each mission involves an entirely uncommon degree of communication and team awareness, and many of the big battles that you end up partaking in will consist of two eight-man groups, standing face-to-face and desperately trying to break the other one down piece by piece.
And this is why one issue that has been raised by a handful of critics thus far – that the majority of the maps consist of little more than corridors that offer up different routes to an impenetrable bottleneck – is a case of simple misunderstanding. If you barge into a gunfight against eight opponents you are going to die, and quickly. If you subsequently swerve the option to instantly respawn, the medic who races in to save you will bite the dust in the blink of an eye too. It is only when you know who is who – and can spot the opposition’s medic running into the fray, say – that Brink becomes a very sophisticated game of knife-edge strategy. If a solitary team member does utilise a different path in order to serve him or herself up as flank bait, if the rest of your squad aren’t in constant contact with him or her (and don’t actively take advantage of the brief moment of surprise and confusion that is likely to ensue) then your team’s valuable foothold is likely to buckle accordingly.
Brink’s character creation tool is flexible and almost exhaustive, and it’s in this creation lounge that many people will end up making a fundamental choice without even realising it: the selection of your character’s body type. This is another aspect of Brink that you aren’t directly encouraged to experiment with, but doing so will help you to tailor the experience to your own needs. This is the only customisation option in the game that actually affects the gameplay, and the differences between the light type (fast, amazingly adept at parkour but light on health) and the heavy type (slow, unable to leap over anything higher than the knee but capable of taking massive amounts of damage) are very stark indeed. Different body types tend to be valuable in different scenarios, and as was the case in Enemy Territory: Quake Wars you are fully able to create more than one character; although each profile’s unlocks and XP tally remain separate.
In summary… this isn’t Call Of Duty; heck, it isn’t even Team Fortress 2. Brink is a startling example of a development team going for broke in an arena that doesn’t normally demand this much learning and patience; and whether Splash Damage have totally succeeded in capturing the imagination of the public obviously remains to be seen. But if you’re modest enough to accept that you aren’t going to be a demon immediately, and are prepared to put the hours in, Brink is engaging, rewarding and utterly distinctive; and also capable of providing you with more teamwork-based ‘wow’ moments than any other FPS in recent memory. Because Brink is a mature videogame in every relevant sense of the word, it is probably not for everyone. But then, the best software these days very often isn’t.
Watch the Brink trailer here: