Who knew that the turnstile-avoiding acrobatic practice known as free running would prove such a boon to gaming? For anyone put off-balance by Mirror’s Edge’s prioritizing of running over gunning, though, Brink lets players wall-hop and vault without ever holstering that grenade launcher. It’s more than a gimmick, less than a genre-defying innovation, but literal and figurative flexibility allows this objective-based shooter to make for higher ground while its competitors duke it out over ever-shrinking FPS real estate.
As a member of either Security or The Resistance, players roam The Ark, a man-made archipelago that began as an eco-conscious experiment, but became humanity’s last, best hope after the planet went from 70 to 99 percent water. Inevitably, civil war ensued; the ongoing details are provided via sturdy but bloodless cutscenes that show off Brink’s rangy, cartoonish character models. These appear at the top of multiplayer and single-player missions alike, which says less about their importance than about Splash Damage’s attempts to dissolve the boundary between on- and offline play. In either mode, completing objectives as one of the game’s four classes—engineer, medic, soldier, or operative—showers players with XP, wardrobe options, and new abilities, but developmentally stunted, bullet-absorbing bots and some unbalanced single-player challenges make certain gamers won’t forget which is which.
While the opportunities to deck your character out in dystopian finery are many, customization doesn’t stop at the cosmetic. Players can choose from three weight classes (after earning them, naturally), each with its own allotment of health, speed, and weapon load-out. Since a big part of the game’s appeal is holding that left bumper to activate SMART (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain) in order to slide under obstacles and scrabble up walls, the nearly skeletal light class is the most satisfying. Nothing beats making your way up the side of a crane to construct a death-dealing Gatling turret.
Combat is consistently and gratifyingly chaotic, as the objective system organically builds choke points, and maps reward (or require) a good range of classes. Still, the game isn’t frustration-free: Bulk, unlike class, can’t be adjusted on the fly, escort missions are ludicrous, and the soldier class is underpowered. But a combination of good looks, heavy customization, and frenetic, fluid gameplay gives Brink the edge.