The City Of The Ark is a strange place. For one thing it floats atop a flooded Earth, a last bastion of luxurious living for the ultra-rich that's simultaneously besieged on all sides by the homeless and destitute who want nothing but a dry piece of land to call their own. For another thing, most of the people that live there look like the stylised lovechild of Desperate Dan and Eric Cantona. Thankfully though, they're all rather intent on killing each other in magnificent ways that genuinely push the boundaries of online shootery.
In many ways the battle between The Ark's security forces and rebel contingent are a logical progression from Splash Damage's work on the Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory and Quake Wars. A further condensed class system is at work, for example, with potential jobs for each team member now conjured up dynamically by what's happening in the level. Brilliantly though, Brink is a game with narrative, with each rival side following a separate story throughout the game - complete with mid-level banter, scripted sequences and narrative twists and turns.
One level sees The Ark's police (eight co-operative players) warily entering Container City, escorting a robot that will defuse what has been reported as a dirty bomb. Container City once stored the belongings of The Ark's high and mighty inhabitants, with clever automation ferrying items back and forth from their lodgings, but has become a rusting slum. Now, however, the chit-chat between the player characters suggests that violence is likely to erupt - a sudden spray of NPC bullets then confirms this, as does the presence of band of rival Rebel players out to thwart you. In essence Brink merges single-player and multiplayer experiences. And it does so beautifully.
As the bomb defusal robot crawls through the rusted red crates of the level (recalling the Gold Rush map in Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory) you can simply run around and shoot stuff in a fast-paced deathmatch style, or you can bring up a menu with the various minimissions open to you at that time - each one with an experience points reward that reflects its difficulty. In this case you could be asked to sprint behind enemy lines, for example, to find a hapless rebel who needs a spot of torture so that he reveals the location of the reported dirty bomb. Otherwise you could swap classes and become an Engineer at one of the command posts scattered through the level (Soldier, Medic and Covert Ops are the others that've been distilled down from earlier games) and be directed to blast a hole in some scenery to make a shortcut.
If you just want to help out though or find yourself between tasks, in Container City the basic escort mission will always be there to fall back on - culminating in the robot cutting its way into a suspect metal box, while you and your team fend off waves of enemies trying to stop you. Once success is achieved, meanwhile, a cutscene will play showing your team discovering more than they bargained for within the container - although what that is hasn't been underlined just yet. Said narrative may not be of Team Fortress 2 cinematic standards, very little is, but is hugely brave when merged into the context of multiplayer gaming.
In terms of looks alone, Brink is striking. Take its airport map for an example: a sleek blue creation, left for the dust to settle once there weren't any more places for the planes to fly to. It's full of streamlined smooth curves and fancy architecture, yet the scattered baggage and general unkemptness tells a different story.
The actual players meanwhile are cartoony muscle-men, designed in an impressive (but not APB impressive) creation suite where hairstyles, bandages, tattoos, scars and different faces can all be swapped around at will. As long as you don't mind the Desperate Dan/Cantona issue you'll be good to go.
With vehicles seemingly abandoned, and perhaps Quake Wars' asymmetrical teams to boot, in many ways Brink appears to be a return to the ethos of Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory - itself still, staggeringly, the third most played online shooter. It's a brave game and a fascinating one, but also a dangerous one should its constituent parts fail to gel together.
That won't stop us getting out our sandbags and Wellington boots in anticipation though.
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode