Developer: Splash Damage
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
A month has passed since Dave awarded Brink's PC version a solid 7/10 - and promised that one of us would take a closer look at how Splash Damage's team-based shooter handles on consoles. I've developed a complex relationship with Brink over the last 30 days... and though it's an experience that I've come to love, there's no getting past a number of elementary mistakes that hold it back.
The Ark, a sprawling mega-city wracked by a bitter civil war, provides the setting for eight varied objective-based missions. Players choose to join the beleaguered Security forces fighting to maintain order or a ragtag band of angry ne'er-do-wells known as The Resistance, and set to in a capable series of escort, capture the flag and assault gametypes. Solid mechanics and familiar control layouts mean that anyone with an FPS background can quickly learn the ropes, though tight teamwork takes precedent over the traditional survival of the fittest. The maps are sprawling, labyrinthine and packed with alternate optional objectives that can make victory much more efficient; many of which are accessible via the one-button SMART parkour dynamic that allows players to scamper around the scenery. An intuitive objective wheel makes choosing and locating these missions very simple.
The forgettable storyline is streamlined and unobtrusive; dishing out enough details to hold your attention yet never getting in the way of the action. Brink's campaign missions can be played through canonically in singleplayer mode (with bots padding out the roster) from either perspective - or enjoyed online with up to fifteen other players. Eight maps doesn't necessarily provide excellent value, but the dual perspectives and alternating roles of attack and defence conspire to create a deceptively replayable core of levels. And as much as anything, the core gunplay is intensely satisfying.
Brink's four classes all boast different skills and abilities. Soldiers, for example, pack powerful explosives to destroy objectives or circumvent obstacles. Engineers can break open pesky safes and construct fortifications, while sneaky operatives do their best to hack computers and engage in electronic warfare. Naturally, it's up to the medics to revive downed players and keep their team in the fight. Each archetype has their role to play in directly completing the mission (as well as sub objectives such as capturing command posts, repairing lifts or destroying barriers to create shortcuts), but gratifyingly each class also has a number of unlockable abilities that can be used to buff, heal or resupply their team mates.
Balance is always an issue for online shooters, but Brink manages to achieve perfect harmony between classes and abilities due to the fact that each build can equip any weapon. You'll feel potent and powerful regardless of your choice of class. Medics and engineers are equally capable of mixing it up on the front lines as their hardy soldier brethren, which has the knock-on effect of making the gameplay much more accessible to fans of traditional FPS titles.
Brink's persistent character creation is its major addictive draw. I've probably spent more time agonising over different haircuts, outfits and weapon attachments than I've actually spent playing the game itself - and every action carries its own experience reward. Completing objectives, buffing team mates and hitting enemies grants players much more XP than they gain from kills, putting the emphasis firmly on cooperation rather than lone wolf heroism. Regardless of whether you play with local bots or share the carnage online with a mix of human and AI players, you're guaranteed to rise through the ranks and have great fun doing so.
In theory, this holistic approach coupled with the focus on teamwork should make Brink the finest cooperative shooter of this console generation.
Every once in a while, you'll stumble across a like-minded squad of team players who get into the spirit of things; splitting up into small groups to engage separate objectives and dominate your opponents. Unfortunately the level design and emphasis on escort sub-objectives usually does its damnedest to stop this strategy in its tracks by creating unavoidable choke points and bottlenecks. Shamefully, most matches are won by the team who are willing to commit the most warm bodies into directly assaulting or defending the objective - and whilst it might seem fun to unlock the odd lift or capture a command post, the sad fact of the matter is that every player who isn't clogging up the breach with their freshly-slain corpses is ultimately a waste of a player slot. Tight cooperation between classes helps to alleviate this problem somewhat (and critically, it's always fun), but Brink doesn't quite manage to fulfil its ambitious mission statement.
The much-vaunted SMART system is functional at best and borderline broken at worst. Though the different body types have different levels of athleticism, you'll frequently find yourself overshooting basic jumps and getting stuck behind small obstacles that weren't approached at just the right angle. SMART works more often than it fails, but the level design just isn't open enough to make it particularly relevant. There are also a few problems with targeting allies to administer buffs or throw them revive syringes, which can result in the occasional aggravating death.
Brink's bots are... unpredictable. While they're sometimes capable of healing incapacitated players or assaulting objectives, they're equally likely to stand around ineffectually while taking fire or merrily scamper off to fulfil an obscure sub-mission. This would be fine in a deathmatch-centric shooter like Quake III or Unreal Tournament, but it's impossible to rely on them as team mates. Which is, after all, Brink's unique focus. The singleplayer campaign is therefore much more miserable than it needs to be - and multiplayer bots do little more than pad out the roster. It's a shame that the objective circle can't be used to give orders to your AI comrades (usually: rush the objective, for the love of Allard!).
The progression system may be incredibly addictive, but it's also flawed at a very basic level. Unlike most shooters that drip-feed a constant stream of unlocks, Brink holds back its all-important class abilities for many hours... and eventually drowns players in an overwhelming deluge of unlockables every few levels. You don't have time to get used to each one, and strangely, skill points are still accrued after each individual level. You'll have to impotently sit on a massive pile of points until the next big shopping spree. Acquiring weapon attachments is an astoundingly bizarre non-sequitur, as they're doled out as rewards for completing a disconnected set of challenge maps. These levels aren't much fun and are completely disjointed from the rest of the game - and I genuinely can't understand why scopes and mounts aren't deployed as rewards for skilful play or completing class-specific objectives. Weird.
At launch, Brink justifiably came under fire for netcode that simply wasn't fit for task. I'm delighted to report that constant maintenance and speedy title updates have fixed this problem to an acceptable level - and though you'll occasionally encounter a little lag from time to time, any issues tend to be caused by individual players' connection speeds and NAT types. Splash Damage have also implemented an online stat-tracking service (that wonderfully doesn't display your kill/death ratio as part of its commitment to teamwork over individual glory) and soon plan to roll out clan support. The appearance of organised clans who understand the maps and communicate effectively will irrevocably change the experience, and we can't wait to see how it plays out.
Finally, it's time to talk about the graphics... which are nothing to write home about. The console versions are noticeably jaggier than their PC counterpart (c'est la vie), and exhibit some muddy texture work and noticeable pop-in. Personally I couldn't care less about graphical prowess so long as the gameplay works, but if you're a slave to visuals, Brink won't set your world on fire . The id Tech 4 engine is simply getting too long in the tooth.
- Refreshing focus on teamwork and cooperation
- Unbelievably addictive levelling system and character customisation
- Perfect balance between classes and abilities
- Brute force and bottlenecks overshadow intricate team play
- Unpredictable bots make singleplayer incredibly frustrating
- Riddled with inconsistencies, niggles and flaws
The Short Version: Brink certainly has its shortcomings, but despite everything, the experience never stops being fun, engaging and addictive. You'll form a complex relationship of love and frustration... but thankfully it's one that's built to last.