Brink and the Parkour Revolution
The introduction of mouselook was the eureka moment for first-person shooters. It seems like such a basic and obvious concept now, but back in the early ‘90s, it was mind-blowing. Keyboard controls became laughably archaic, while circle-strafes and spinning jumps were the new moves of choice. Then, nothing. The innovation stopped there. Crouches, rocket-jumps, and vehicles entered the scene, but even with all of our new toys, the perfect assault could be foiled by a waist-high fence. Brink, with it’s mixture of parkour and fast combat, has the potential to alter the future of first-person shooters.
Parkour’s image is still that of reckless kids blowing out kneecaps while backflipping off garages and pouncing across rooftops, but the truth is far more practical. Parkour is about the efficiency of movement between two points, maintaining momentum, and breaking our perceived boundaries of movement. Parkour in use can be as mundane as going over a handrail instead of around, or zipping down a staircase without tripping, but watching a highly-skilled practitioner is like watching an action movie come to life.
The agile and flowing movements of parkour are not new to video games, but they have received a burst in popularity, especially in third-person action games, including the Assassin’s Creed and The Prince of Persia series. Almost all of these games strive to deliver the most bang for your buck by compressing the flashiest movements into the press of a single button; hardly indicative of the precision and skill that FPS players pride themselves on honing. Perhaps that is why the multiplayer portion of the upcoming Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is focusing more on stealth than pure action.
Mirror’s Edge paved the way for Brink and the fusion of first-person and parkour. The game is a personal favorite, but I can easily see why it failed to burn up the charts. While the plot created some very intense scenarios, it was the repetitive and perfectionist nature of the time trials that kept fans hooked. As such, Mirror’s Edge was more about flight than fight, and about finding the single best path through a level. Mirror’s Edge also had gunplay, but it was unrefined and seemed to exist solely to satisfy the expectations of the masses - it’s in first-person, of course it needs guns.
Brink’s S.M.A.R.T. (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain) system strikes a healthy balance between the two extremes; the simplistic gratuity of Assassin’s Creed and the punishing complexity of Mirror’s Edge. With S.M.A.R.T., movements are dictated by the position of your aiming reticule. Look down as you approach a railing and you slide underneath. Look up and you vault over. It doesn’t sound much more complex than Assassin’s Creed’s brand of movement, but imagine leaping through a window, scrambling over piles of debris, and scaling ramshackle walls to the third floor roof of a sheet metal shantytown, all while dodging and lobbing a few clips of ammo.
I find the mix of parkour and frantic action particularly exciting because I’ve never had the quickest draw, and I am a terrible sniper, but I have tactics. I have a knack for finding unorthodox maneuvers to surprise enemies, but there are only so many tricks I can pull in a map with tightly controlled and purposely designed areas. The developers all but put up signs saying, “Snipe here,” or “machineguns provide cover here.” You can still try to camp, but don’t expect your back to stay safe for long. With Brink’s junkyard-esque levels and ‘anything goes’ approach to movement, predictability is the least likely concern in combat.
Brink has a lot going for it, including deep customization, distinctive style, and a capable developer, but it’s the movement that sets it apart. Modern shooters have obsessively detailed environments that, while pretty to look at, are worthless. What’s the point of a fire escape if I can’t actually use it? Brink has the potential to change the status quo, to make developers think about level design in completely new ways, and to remove the chains that have kept gamers from harnessing the depths of their talents.