London-based developer Splash Damage might not be a household name, but in its ten-year history it's created a number of much-loved multiplayer titles, and established itself as the cream of the crop when it comes to objective-based online games.
Its last release, Enemy Territories: Quake Wars, was the unfortunate victim of an FPS purple patch that left it adrift in the midst of some real titans of the genre. Despite a generally positive critical reception, it was ultimately a momentary blip on a radar dominated that year by ambitious narrative-driven shooters such as The Orange Box, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Halo 3 and BioShock.
Now it's back with Brink - a game which promises to match Splash Damage's multiplayer pedigree with a gripping campaign. Can the UK studio really challenge the genre's best in single-player; offering a neat narrative thread (and thus more commercially viable package) than SD's previous efforts?
In short, not quite, but if you're an online gamer, there's a lot to love about Brink - provided you give it time and dig deep enough. The co-op modes in particular are excellent and stylish. But when it comes to campaign, you'll struggle to shake the feeling that even for a new IP, this one's a little unsure of itself.
Brink documents a civil war in a futuristic city known as the Ark. Originally built as an experimental self-sustaining city, the Ark became a bastion of human life after the planet's seas rose to destroy civilization. The floating utopia was plunged into chaos when flooded by refugees from the outside world; and the city that was built to house 5,000 was forced to accommodate 50,000.
To maintain order the Ark was split into two: while a small percentage of the populace live comfortably, the majority live in disease-ridden slums and are plagued by inadequate shelter, food and water. Since no ships or planes from the outside world have been seen in 20 years there's little to provide hope for the down-trodden denizens of the Ark's underbelly. It ain't much fun down there.
The unchanging harsh conditions lead to the creation of a Resistance movement, and a clever twist on the usual good vs. evil campaign dynamic. Do you join the Resistance, and aim to seize power and search for life outside the Ark - or do you join up with the Founders and its Security Force, whose very survival hinges on establishing and maintaining order within the walls of the city?
Depending on your choice the game will ask you to create a character fighting for either the Security or the Resistance and play the relevant campaign. Yet despite the seemingly well thought-out premise and the potential to explore interesting themes, telling a memorable story never seems to be Brink's priority.
Beyond the initial opening, narrative is delivered through short cut-scenes before and after each of the game's 20 missions. While the voice acting and dialogue might convey a sombre tone and touch upon complex issues - such as fighting against family and the cost of freedom - their brevity gives the impression that they're just providing an excuse for whatever objectives the game mode is comprised of.
Each individual mission is tied to the next by a logical narrative thread of progression, but the structure of the game means its delivery feels awkward and disjointed. When you kick off the campaign, you're dropped into a screen with each and level for both the Resistance and Security laid out and selectable. Unbelievably, you can pick the last mission of the story and play it from the outset.