Before we begin, it needs to be said, to avoid confusion later, that this is a PC exclusive look at Brink. At the time of writing, the console version differs enough to justify separating the two and judging them on their own merits, rather than just playing one and falsely claiming it is representative of the others.
Other members of the Dealspwn hive mind will be addressing the pros and cons of the pad-based version, but for now, we're firmly in mouse country.
Brink is your traditional Splash Damage multiplayer shooter at heart, though obviously things have moved on since the underrated Quake Wars. This is the first time the team have created their own universe and the Ark, the futuristic island-type world the game's set on, is in chaos, the forces of law and disorder butting heads in an effort to achieve their goals.
The Security side is desperate to preserve the idea of the Ark and to stop the Resistance from destabilising it. Both sides have a campaign you can play through by yourself with teams of bots helping and harming you.
Each mission can then be played online with human players, which is naturally where the vast majority of your time will – and indeed should – be spent. There's also a section where set piece challenges can be attempted, unlocking large amounts of extra parts and clothes for your character and his weapons.
You'll be wanting to go online as soon as you can, because playing with a team of AI bots quickly becomes frustrating. Splash Damage games always put a massive emphasis on effective team play, something that makes them both stand out from the crowd, but also puts off (initially, at least) those used to the run-and-gun Rambo affairs like Call of Duty.
Because of this, each mission requires careful coordination between the four different classes, with each of them proving useful at some point. Medics might not have so many primary objectives to take part in, but without their revival and health buffing abilities, a team can't function effectively.
Engineers get to do most of the primary stuff, like building or repairing objective targets, and they also get things like mine and turrets to deploy, but they're always vulnerable when going about their business, needing the likes of the soldier to cover their backs.
The Soldier doles out ammo and can plant explosives on certain objectives, while the Operative is used to harass the enemy with his ability to disguise himself and also hack turrets and so on. They get the least enviable primary objective, having to hack targets, because their progress can be reversed (an engineer's can't be) and it takes them much longer to achieve their task (a soldier's bomb can be defused easily, but doesn't take that long to detonate).
All this means that good teams will have a balanced selection of each type of class and bad ones will fall into the trap of everybody changing to the primary objective class because they all want to be the one to complete it.
Because of the design of the maps, to win you have to be really focused on completing objectives in order to win. Sadly, the AI just doesn't pull together enough when on the attack, making it very easy to hold them off if you're on defence, but also very hard indeed to break them down if they're the ones doing the defending. In fact, it becomes almost impossible on the later missions.
This means you'll be heading online much sooner than perhaps Slash Damage intended, ignoring the storyline they've created. Thankfully, playing with humans is a very satisfying experience, although there are couple of long term worries that we'll discuss later.
Playing with humans brings out the unconventional, both in their tactics foiling your defensive plans or your own doing the same back at them. The most important thing is you feel like part of a proper team, rather than the leader of a pack of bots. This is the key to making Brink (and other Splash Damage games before it) so much fun to play when it gets going.
While there may only be eight maps on paper (a particular favourite at this time being the prison break one, where the Resistance has to smash its way into the complex, release some guy and then fight their way to the exit with him) this is actually more than in any previous Splash Damage game, and it needs to be remembered that all of them can be played in many different ways. For example, one map can be played from two radically different perspectives (i.e. as Security or Resistance) and then you've got to consider that each class changes how you'll approach them as well. There's a lot of potential for replayability here, and hopefully the planned DLC coming in June will be the first of many updates to keep things fresh.
There are also dozens of different guns to experiment with, though there isn't a great deal of difference between the majority of them. These are restricted depending on what body type you've selected for your character in the hugely extensive customisation suite.
The Heavy body type can use all available weapons, even the meaty stuff like a mini-gun or grenade launcher, but it can't move very quickly and doesn't make use of the whole parkour movement mechanic effectively. The Light body type is the opposite, easily manoeuvrable but unable to use any sizeable guns. Medium is obviously a trade off between the two.
The parkour terrain manoeuvring is actually a bit of a disappointment, on the whole, considering it was one of the major selling points during the advertising campaign. The main problem is that the environments don't really allow you to make use of it creatively in any meaningful way, and this leads to the main issue with the game as a whole: bottlenecks.
It's hard to get away from them in any multiplayer game that involves objectives. At some point, every game is going to have an area where both teams end up struggling over. Brink's map design, while incorporating loads of side paths and flanking routes, is perhaps too condensed, leading to more chokepoints than necessary. A team that knows what it's doing defensively is incredibly tough to break down.
This is the main issue, but there are others. The game's got a storyline, but you'll end up just skipping it to get into the action, which is a rather sad state of affairs as clearly a lot of thought has gone into trying to create a reason behind the action. And all you'll do is spit in the eyes of the writers and demand to shoot people in the face quicker than they want you to.
While Brink is definitely easier to get into and has less of a steep learning curve compared to Quake Wars, it's still going to take most players a while to learn the maps (vital) and to get used to things like the objective command wheel (useful) and the particular quirks and capabilities of each class.
Brink desperately wants to be a more mainstream-friendly game than its predecessors, and it certainly is, but there's enough complicated stuff left in to potentially scare off the casual observer. And, although this particular player (i.e. your reviewer) doesn't care about and is quite happy to put the time in to learn a game like this, because it's far more rewarding that way, it's still an issue that needs to be considered if you're not of that mindset.
Having said all this, and to be honest the game has so much to it, we'd be here for days describing all its elements, it's a good game. It's one of the few games that makes you forget about merely getting the most kills and proving how much of a kill-stud you are. It makes you care about your team-mates and the objectives. Even when you're not getting anywhere, when the action's pent up into a corridor and the attack has stalled, there's always something you feel you can do to try to even the odds, to break through. Which will inevitably fail, but you get up and try again.
As for technical issues from the PC side of things, your correspondent has perhaps been fortunate to not experience any. It's not necessarily the answer you wanted to hear, but it's only the lack of a purchasing option on Steam at the time of writing that has caused this reviewer consternation. As for all the bugs that have reared their heads, your correspondent hasn't personally come across them.
There also hasn't been any noticeable lag when connecting to servers or playing on them, and aside from a slightly muddled server browser, the whole experience has been relatively painless. Whether this is an issue still afflicting the console side of things, only those who are playing that version would be able to comment with authority.
- Focuses on teamwork
- Massive scope for customising your character
- Might only be 8 maps on paper, but that doesn't tell the whole story
- Bots don't push for the objectives
- Still hard for casual players to 'get'
- Plot sadly will be ignored by nearly all
The Short Version: Splash Damage have attempted to make their unique brand of multiplayer shootage more accessible to the masses with only limited success. Still a great team romp, but chokepoints are too obvious and frequent.