Brink Xbox 360, PC, PS3
Brink is a very strange and unique game. Granted, a lot of it has been cribbed from other titles within the crowded FPS genre, but as the sum of its parts, it is quite the original in this world of military shoot ‘em ups and futuristic space marine battles. What you have here is a real mixed bag of a game that meshes some of the outsiders of the genre into a blender and spits out something that is strange, difficult and almost certainly going to be misunderstood by quite a few, although the gamers who understand its charms may be put off by some of the other issues that this unique title has.
Firing up the game for the first time and you’re greeted with a lengthy video explaining the tactics you’ll need to succeed in Brink. You don’t have to watch it, of course, but with the lure of a free 1000XP, you watch it and realise that what Brink is, at its heart, is an objective-based multiplayer shooter. Splash Damage made their mark with this sort of game way back when they were making mods for Quake 3 and Return to Castle Wolfenstein, including the excellent Enemy Territory. They followed this up a few years back with Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, and while despite being a decent little shooter it got lost in the shuffle, with Battlefield: Bad Company, The Orange Box and Call of Duty 4 making it look a bit ordinary.
So, what is it all about, then? The floating citadel of Ark is what appears to be a last bastion of humanity in a world where the seas have risen. A civil war has broken out between the rich folk who have a security team fighting to maintain the lifestyle that they have there whilst the poorer resistance are fighting to escape and attempt to find if there is a way of life outside Ark. You pick a side, create your character and then start fighting through the missions towards your goal. The conflict is shown from both sides, missions weaving between one another to tell the story, with neither side having particularly good or evil motives. Kind of like Waterworld. KIND OF. It is hardly the most rivetting of narratives, but sets the scene for a whole load of deathmatch action.
In all of the pre-release build up, a lot was made of Brink’s art direction. The character design is genuinely wonderful, looking like something from the pages of a classic 2000AD comic, and the clean look of all the menus is pleasing to the eye but also easy to navigate. The actual levels themselves are quite basic, covered in dull textures and a strange “Vaseline” blur over everything. The character customization is absolutely fantastic, full of different options and colour schemes that you unlock as you increase in rank, and can easily make a unique avatar to do all your killing with. No females though, which seems like a strange choice. Or, hilariously, a complete oversight.
Each player has the choice of four different classes, all with different skills and roles within the team. Soldiers can replenish ammo and plant charges on objectives that need destroying. Medics are responsible for buffing health and getting downed teammates back into the game. Engineers can leave turrets and mines in defensive positions, as well as being the only class that can repair certain objectives and the charges and hackboxes planted by the soldiers. Finally, there’s the Operative, who can disguise himself as one of the opposition and hack terminals. Experience is gained from completing objectives, which can be spent on upgrading your base skills, or acquiring specific new abilities for each class.
Ripping the best part of the flawed Mirror’s Edge, Parkour also features heavily in Brink. Holding down the left bumper starts you running, and puts you into what Splash Damage calls S.M.A.R.T mode. That’s “Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain” to you and me. In this mode you can scale surfaces, hop over objects and dive across gaps simply by just running at them. It is Brink‘s ace-in-the-hole, as it provides moments that other online shooters cannot. Choke points can be circumvented, opposition can be flanked and objectives can be reached through unguarded routes all with a bit of creative thinking with the surroundings. Tweaking the weight category of your character will allow or restrict certain parts of parkour, but allow you to soak up more damage – a fair trade-off.
After a few hours of objective based deathmatching, one thing becomes very clear – Some of the objectives are far more fun than others. The ones that have you destroying doors or the capture the case style fetch and bring missions are going to vary depending on what strategies players are using, what classes are in play and a whole bunch of other factors. The escort missions, where you have to follow a robot drone or a human NPC to a specific point are a lot weaker. They always follow the same preset path, through the same choke points and ambush areas, meaning that there’s less scope for those brilliant moments of improvisation that make multiplayer shooters so much fun.
The single player “Campaign” is just a series of ten botmatches that can be played in co-op or against another human team, tied together with some forgettable cutscenes. The A.I quality is super-inconsistent, ranging from parts where they will literally line up to be shot, to times where they are so efficient that victory is only possible with a full team of high-end players providing back up. There is also challenge mode, a series of – unsurprisingly – challenges that actually do a better job of teaching you how Brink works than the introductory video. Thing is, there’s only FOUR of these, and due to A.I oppostion difficulty and A.I teammate incomptence, on harder difficulties are an absolute excercise in frustration. Make no mistake, this is a multiplayer game, and should be enjoyed as one.
Which is why it is an absolute shame that, right now, at launch, the multiplayer aspect of Brink is unreliable at best. For every match that you enter where everything goes off without a hitch, you’ll have three more that are so laggy they’re unplayable, matches that default to mission failed as soon as you join them or just crash outright during a host migration. (Note: In the days since launch a patch has been released that “fixes” the lag issues by halfing the amount of human players in a game as the default matchmaking search which isn’t really fixing the problem at all, as the 8v8 games are still a coin toss as to whether the lag will be awful or not. The crashes and other bugs, however, appear to be unfixed.)
The thing is that when everything does work, Brink is a fantastic fun online shooter, with just enough stolen ideas all rolled into one package that it ends up feeling very unique. Being the guy on your team who freeruns around a choke point to get the drop on the opposition is super-rewarding, but unfortunately these moments are infrequent, due to either the laggy netcode making the multiplayer frequently unplayable, and the fact that the single player mode is ruined by dreadful A.I bots. It is a shame, because Brink provides a genuine alternative to a lot of the cookie-cutter multiplayer FPS games and it is certainly one of the most inventive available right now. A few patches and some regular DLC (apparently a first batch is promised for free), offering more maps, missions and character costume parts could be all this needs to push it over the edge of greatness but for now, it teeters on the brink. Ouuuuuch.