STAFF REVIEW of Brink (Xbox 360)

Friday, June 24, 2011.
by Adam Dileva

Brink  Box art When Brink was first shown a short time ago, it quickly got some hype behind it for the visual uniqueness it brought and some of the ideas it wanted to implement; being published by Bethesda probably helped quite a bit as well. It was boasting about bringing a new experience to the shooter genre and it was even going to have a parkour element ala Mirrors Edge. Brink is also a team and class based shooter much like Team Fortress 2 (TF2) and others in the genre. In this sense, Brink will feel somewhat familiar, but its also going to feel completely new.and awkward at the same time.

Brink is brought to us by Splash Damage who is the team that brought us the Enemy Territory games from past so its made by a team that knows what they are doing; my guess is that they were almost too ambitious of an idea they wanted to create, because the outcome is a confusing mess of great individual ideas.

Brink is an odd game, and I say this because it plays much like TF2 and other class based shooters, but theres so much going on constantly that youre always going to be confused at what to do and when, even after the long and steep learning curve. When you play with friends that know the game and their roles, Brink is a great gaming experience, but if youre unable to constantly play with some friends, youre simply not going to enjoy Brink very much.

Set in the future, much of the world has flooded and severe population has made the population retreat to a floating city called The Ark. Eventually the Ark is too crowded and a civil war erupts between the two factions: Resistance or Security. Each side has their story of trying to escape or save the city and youll have to choose a side straight from the beginning.

The problem with being forced into choosing a side right away is that you arent given enough backstory or information to pick the right side for your beliefs. Youll quickly learn though that choosing really has no bearing as you can play either campaigns missions at any time, freely swapping sides to see each side of the conflict. Honestly, theres little to worry about as youre basically just picking a general look preference as your persistent character you level can change their look, class, weapons and faction whenever you want. There are cutscenes before and after each mission, but you wont care, the story is not engaging in the slightest bit and once you learn that the single player is just bots until people join you online, you simply wont care about the Ark and why youre fighting for it (or to leave it).

Technically there is a single player campaign mode but in reality its you playing a multiplayer match with bots instead of other players. Brink is trying to blur the line between single and multiplayer, but because of how shallow the campaigns experience is, you simply wont care about any of the story.

Every mission is essentially a specific map with set objectives (each faction has their own set to complete before the other team does, or has to hold the enemies off). So as you start playing solo, youll have bots to fight alongside you, but youll quickly learn which are bots, as the AI for your squad mates is abysmal. Some of the latter missions on hard difficult is virtually impossible when your bots playing a medic wont even revive you. On the other side, the AI can be punishingly tough and kill you almost instantly as soon as you start shooting them. Youll need to play online constantly to really progress in any fashion but at least you can set it to friends only or open to all. Honestly, the campaign shouldnt even exist as it doesnt even play out like a single player experience. You can imagine the frustration as well when your open game gets filled with player, but they get put on the opposite faction as yourself.

Brink boasts four separate and unique classes that almost mimic what you will see in Team Fortress 2. Medics are self-explanatory as they can revive downed player and buff health, Soldiers can refill your teams ammo, engineers are the ones with turrets and buff weapons and there are also the sneaky operatives. Each class has their own abilities and each class does feel distinct compared to the others. Youll need your team to organize whos going to be what class though as if everyone goes Soldier for example, you simply wont win, youll need a balanced team to progress in your objectives. Luckily no class is left out from wielding specific weapons, thats all based on your own personal progress and unlocks based on mission and levels.

As mentioned above, Brink has a parkour element that is what intrigued me about the game when I first heard about it a year or so ago. The system is called SMART (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain) which is done easily by holding down a single button and youll automatically traverse up or over it if its possible. Having a single button to achieve this, especially in the midst of a heavy battle, is great but its also limited at the same time and it wont always be clear until much trial and error to what can be traversed over. On the same note, youll sometimes climb something you dont want to or even going too far because you were holding the button down. I think the R for Random in SMART is accurate and the map design doesnt really call for any situations where youll flank the enemies greatly simply because you remembered to vault up and over something.

Character customization is an integral part of Brinks experience, both visually and with innate perks. As you level up you unlock more outfits to customize your character to any style you desire. Theres quite a lot of choices for head, arms, legs, faces, hair and more and itll come down to the limit of your imagination. More than just aesthetically, you will also be able to experiment and create your abilities in any way you wish as well to suit your play style. If you make a mistake you can simple repsec with a hit to XP loss or make a completely new character to level differently. Theres also weapon unlock to change and buff your loadouts but these are only acquirable through single player only missions that are tough and frustrating to play. Playing online as much as I have, I rarely see people with unique weapons for this reason (that and you really need to know where to look to find these unlockables as it is hidden in the menus).

Each level has its own objectives (for both sides) that need to be completed in a set time limit. Sometimes youll need to defend an onslaught, steal Intel and bring it back to base, blow barricades, escort VIPs and more. The opposing factions objectives will always be to prevent you from completing yours which makes for some fierce battles once your team figures out what to do. The pacing is staged and new objectives unlock as you progress past each stage, the frustration comes from simply figuring out what you need to do at a said time.

When players are downed, medics are given an objective to revive players, when enemies place an explosive on a door, engineers objectives will be to disarm it and so on. Theres always something for everyone to do other than simply killing the other team but the issues lies in the interface. For starters, you need to hold down a button to bring up the objective wheel then you can choose to highlight any objective which starts to make things cluttered very quickly. This even begins to impede on your shooting skills as you wont always instantly who is friend or foe. While theres no team damage, youll waste much ammo and grenades on your own team unknowingly in all the confusion.

At launch, Brinks lag when playing online (which is really the only way to play) was crippling to the point of being unplayable. Im not exaggerating either, as you would rubber band for the whole match even when you found a good room. When a game that is so dedicated to being played online, this is simply excusable. Now to be fair, theres been a recent patch that has mostly fixed the lag issues, but there are still some unplayable gaps when first joining a server and the odd time here and there which only stacks on top of the games mechanics frustrations. Its been made better, but its not fixed. Requiring players to constantly be communicating in a team based game also made the lag a deal breaker.

Brink visually sets itself apart from any other shooter with its very unique and odd artistic style. Characters are embellished and slightly cartoony but the facial detail is astounding and quite varied. Unfortunately Brink is riddled with issues that bring down its package as a whole though. AI is so useless that you cant play single player with any consistency; grenades are useless and pack no punch or radius and most players simply arent going to get good at the game due to the very steep learning curve (I had to have someone tell me how to revive when a medic saved me).

The loading times between missions are painfully long and I highly suggest installing the game to the hard drive if you plan on playing for a prolonged time. Brink is the epitome of a love it or hate it game. I was somewhere in the middle as I can see the potential Brink has but I didnt have a full team of friends to constantly play with as playing online with random people usually doesnt work out for the best. If you can figure out the objective wheel and have a static group of friends to compete with, Brink has much potential to be played for a long time; thats a big if though.

Brink is simply confusing and I dont think many players will give it the time needed to figure everything out. Sadly it also doesnt live up to most of the expectations it had when it was first shown either. The SMART system on paper is an amazing idea to be implemented into a shooter but poor map design where you cant even make much advantage from it makes it feel flat and pointless. Constantly progression your character and the deep customization is a big plus but this too is also much trial and error.

Brink feels large but as I went through the menus I quickly realized theres not even a dozen maps in the game, so while you play both sides of the maps, they do become old very quickly. As I previously said, technically theres a campaign mode it really isnt a streamlined story experience wed expect from any other shooters story. It feels like Brink is trying to take Team Fortress 2 to the next level and while it has many of great ideas, its the perfect example of why mashing a bunch of different ideas together doesnt always work. Id honestly wait until theres a Game of the Year edition (if there is going to be one) down the road as the amount of content included on the disc as it is now is just too bare of an experience to justify full price at this time with the issues it still contains.

Overall: 6.2 / 10
Gameplay: 5.5 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10



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