"I kind of miss the days when games were judged on their game-playing merit alone. I'm a little concerned about how far we (the game industry) are into the licensed four-page-ad marketing blitz era these days, which may be a natural evolution of the industry. But I'm always worried when we put more emphasis on glitz and production values than on the game. That's a trend that looks good for a while until you realize there's no game industry any more. If we don't have gameplay, we can't really compete with other forms of entertainment because we can't do graphics as good as the movie industry and we can't make sounds as well as the recording industry. All we can do that's special to us is be interactive. So we have to hang on to that and make sure we do a good job." - Sid Meier
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First-Person Shooters have a distinct, formulaic presentation that their genre has been perpetuating since the first sprites were slaughtered in titles like Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. Since then, as all things usually do, FPS games slowly evolved, branching off to find their particular niches and the bases of fan to subscribe to their particular brand of violence. Be it mindlessly shooting everything in sight, endless customization, risk and rewards for closely following team-based mission objectives or filling a particular role in a squad better than anyone else – there is still something for everyone who wants to play an FPS.
Releasing at relatively the same time, both Section 8: Prejudice and Brink have had their fair share of love and hate from FPS fans as well as the wider community of gamers. But while both are summarily different in what they offer, they both appeal to their respective cliques in a very well-thought out manner. The only question that has realistically risen to the surface during the hours of gameplay is: What about either would appeal most to any prospective shooter player?
That can be a dicey question.
Brink (PC [Reviewed], Playstation 3, Xbox 360) Developer: Splash Damage Publisher: Bethesda Softworks Released: May 9, 2011 MSRP: $49.99
Section 8: Prejudice (PC [Reviewed], Playstation 3, Xbox 360) Developer: TimeGate Studios Publisher: TimeGate Studios Released: May 4, 2011 MSRP: $14.99
Both S8: Prejudice and Brink prove that that the FPS has by no means reached a development plateau and that the genre still has quite a bit of life left in it. This is because, at times, even the smallest additions can have drastic evolutionary effects on the overall sum of the initial design as envisioned by the developer.
What made the original Section 8 so much fun was that it drew as closed to the novelized version of Starship Troopers, at least in regards to human technology, as I imagined any game dev would ever be able to approach. Dropping out of the sky in armor and avoiding anti-air fire was prospectively one of the coolest game mechanics to resurface since parachuting into multiplayer combat was initially done. Ultimately though, the game served as more of a teasing prospect of things to come, leaving my geekiest notions wondering what the hell had happened.
Tightening up the entire experience, complete with a more concisely enjoyable campaign and excellent multiplayer, Section 8: Prejudice proves that a full-fledged, disc-based release isn’t necessarily the course of action a developer needs to take to get their pet project into the hands of the gaming masses. Releasing via the Playstation Network, Xbox Live and Steam, it was able to reach the maximum amount of potential players in the most limited amount of time and for all intents, it worked out.
Narrative aside, the gameplay solidly offers FPS fanatics and sci-fi aficionado identical experiences, the ability to almost infinitely customize their characters before setting to kick ass. And while the campaign is a good introduction for most new to the franchise, multiplayer is definitely going to be what keeps gamers coming back for more.
Replete with all the weapons, equipment and gear to keep you consistently trying something new, one would argue that such a level of customizability increases the odds of a broken, unbalanced multiplayer experience – but this never seemed to surface. The changes, ranging from increasing sprinting speed, shield power, reinforcing armor or weapon damage all offer players the ability to suit their in-game armament to their particular style of play. Serving to tie the experience together, it was fascinating to see how the changes were more than aesthetic or something to make the player feel warm and fuzzy inside, but allow the player to bend their particular character to their playing style as opposed to the game forcing the player to adapt to how it wants you to play.
Beyond this, the game modes outside of the campaign, which included such standards as Deathmatch is really where the game is going to continue shining for players who continue to find themselves attracted to the particular niche that S8: Prejudice appeals. Assault, which was additional content unlocked over the course of play by gamers working together and accumulating kills collectively across PSN, XBLA and Steam.
Speaking of working together, let’s talk about Brink for a few minutes. Despite concerns that the game shipped broken, which in all honesty it did, following a brief update it became a non-issue, finally allowing players to enjoy the damn game. Upon beginning the game, following a somewhat grandiose explanation of why you should care about the Ark and the battle around it, you are asked to pick a side: Rebels or Security Forces.
Ever having a subtle love for order, it was an easy choice to pick Security Forces. I customized the bullet sponge that’d be heading out on missions, checked the controls and jumped in. The campaign had a bit more flavor to it than S8: Prejudice, but only subtly so.
Between both games, the gratuitous use of bots in the campaign – allied or opposing – is blatantly essential to the design philosophies of both titles at the very basic level. Regardless of how ‘life-like’ a particular AI can act, a buzz-phrase since before shooters like Perfect Dark, they still aren’t a match for living, breathing and ultimately vilely creative humans who can outthink, and out-kill, any opposition in their path. Sure, bots are good stand-ins, but it really only serves to create the illusion of a full-game while making the player feel significantly less Forever Alone.
Not that this is either a bad or good thing, but while both games use AI-controlled bots amidst the campaign to create a convincing environment of play, it is beating-off-in-the-player’s-face obvious in Brink. Where Section 8: Prejudice has a more standard FPS campaign feel to it – giving the player the feeling of being a hero with an ally or two in tow – Brink sets out to make gamers feel like one of fifteen other ‘real players’ in an enclosed space, akin to a genuine multiplayer match, which only serves to highlight the glaring issue. Perhaps an unnecessary amount of griping, but for someone who frequently favors single over multiplayer, it is a true-to-life problem.
Purely aesthetic customization aside, the gameplay feels relatively solid when compared to other titles in the FPS crowd, but it fails to distinguish itself to be a standout must-have. The weapons have a decided level of purpose, each killing the enemy as one would imagine it would, but the real glowing part of the experience was the objectives.
Lately, shooters such as Black Ops, have encouraged team-based players to go lone wolf, garnering kills in exchange for screwing over teammates who set out to accomplish objectives. While there are times when straight-up Deathmatch is all too appropriate to getting the full out value, objectives – encourage teams to operate cooperatively towards a higher goal than individual players would otherwise be able to achieve alone – is an appreciable, and almost outright laudable, endeavor on the parts of developers.
Nevertheless, this seems to fall flat on its face, breaking its nose and chipping its teeth when a single human attempts to achieve a fulfilling team-experience amidst Brinks bots. Again, this doesn’t make the game bad, just a soulless purchase for any gamer who lacks the wherewithal desire to play a game online. And that, at the end of the day, is a true disappointment for such an otherwise conceptually interesting game.
Are either of the games fun – yes, but for very different reasons. Where Section 8: Prejudice allows for a full-on all-around amount of enjoyment – single or multiplayer – Brink is a bit of a one trick pony. If you’re looking for something on the cheap that offers a satisfying single or multiplayer experience, then Section 8 will definitely keep FPS fans who’ve tired of Halo and Black Ops busy for sometime to come. However, if you’re looking for something to replace Counter-Strike in terms of exceptional PC multiplayer gaming, Brink tries, but doesn’t come close – but it does offer a welcome change of pace for online gamers.