Brink Review

Brink is set on the Ark, a city built on artificial islands in the sea as a secluded enclave from a world increasingly on the verge of collapse. The residents find themselves more secluded than they bargained for when rising sea levels flood part of the Ark and isolate it completely from the outside world. Twenty five years later, the Arkís last arrivals and working classes find themselves living in squalor while the Ark becomes a virtual police state while trying to keep them in line. You can choose to play for the oppressed and aid them in their attempt to find a way to contact the outside world and get away from the Ark, or to play for the Arkís security forces and fight to restore order to the Ark.

The story is there to serve as the setup for a series of levels and as such thereís not a lot of depth to it. In fact, you can skip it altogether and play the levels in any order that you like regardless of your success in each level. This may seem to be a little unorthodox as far as single player campaigns go, but in reality Brink is not a single player game. Sure, it can be played offline on your own, but AI bots will take the place of your allies and enemies so youíre in reality playing a team-based multiplayer game in a practice mode. But more on that in a bit; first letís take a look at what that team-based gameplay entails.

Brink is a team objective game. On each map one team is the attacker and the other the defender (with up to eight players per side), with the attacking team attempting to accomplish a series of set objectives before time expires while the defending team attempts to prevent them from doing so. There arenít any death match, CTF, or control point variants as in many online shooters Ė each map is tied to its fixed set of objectives and is played that way exclusively. If youíve played some of Splash Damageís previous games such as Enemy Territory: QUAKE Wars, then this style of play will be very familiar to you.

Brink screenshot 1

Each team, Resistance and Security, has the same four classes available to it: soldier, engineer, operative, and medic. Soldiers have the best weapon selection of the classes and can spawn ammo and resupply teammates. Engineers can buff teammatesí damage and place mines. Operatives can detect enemy mines and disguise themselves as members of the opposing team. Medics can buff teammatesí max health, heal other players, can revive fallen players to save them a trip back to the respawn point. Each class also has a special ability that comes in handy for completing objectives. Soldiers can plant explosive charges, engineers can repair damaged consoles and machinery, operatives can hack systems, and medics can heal VIPs while an escort objective is active. You can change your class at any time at command posts, one of which is always located at the spawn point, so a team can adjust their class mix throughout a match to fit the needs of the latest objective.

Objectives fall into a few categories which you can probably guess by now Ė VIP escort, system hacking, repair, and demolitions. These are mixed up a bit in each map, but with the limited number of objective types and limited number of maps (eight) thereís a certain degree of natural repetition to the game. Simultaneous and/or differing objectives for each team would have gone a long way towards making things more interesting or at least to adding more depth and strategy to the game. As it stands thereís only one active objective at a time and itís always one teamís job to accomplish it while the other opposes it, so the game plays out like a soccer game played by six year olds, with everyone bunching up on top of the current objective. The maps themselves are a mix of good and not so much so. The ones that have design flaws will make themselves apparent to you fairly early on, with chokepoints that turn games into battles of attrition without giving anyone a chance to think about objectives.

The game rewards you with experience as you play based on your actions. Obvious actions such as killing enemy players and completing objectives for your team will earn you experience, but the game is also very careful to award you for support actions that benefit your team. Doling out ammunition, reviving fallen players, defending an objective, and the like all add to your experience total for a match. It doesnít matter if you play as one class or all four in a match, all experience goes into a single total. As you earn experience your character will level up, giving you access to new character customization items and options as well as perks and weapon customizations. Some of the perks are generally, but most are class-based so when cashing in your upgrade points youíll have to decide whether to put all of your perks into a single class or spread them around. This is a little counterintuitive to the gameís on-the-fly class switching design, and if players tend to move towards specialization as the game evolves it could begin to present team balance issues, especially given the way the game handles match-making.

Brink screenshot 2

Brink brings an interesting innovation to shooters with its SMART (smooth movement across random terrain) system. Basically itís a context-sensitive movement system that dispenses with the need for a jump or similar buttons. As youíre sprinting the game will automatically select the best maneuver for you to get over, around, or under obstacles. You have some control over things in that if you approach some sort of barrier if you look downwards a bit youíll go under it and similarly looking upwards will have you vaulting it. It works quite well and itís a lot of fun to go dashing up and over one obstacle after another with cat-like agility. The system also adjusts to your characterís frame size. If you go with a small character, youíll trade some health for more agility that will open up more parkour-like maneuvers for you such as wall-running. Of course if the lure of being able to wield the biggest guns in the game is too strong and you go with a large character, your SMART options will be more limited.

Brink has single player, co-op, and multiplayer modes, but the only real distinction between them is how many slots in the match are filled with AI bots. In single player everyone except you is a bot, in co-op all human players are on the same team with any remaining slots and the entire opposing team consisting of bots, and in multiplayer, well, youíre never quite sure what youíll get. Brink tries to get you into a match as quickly as possible, so youíre never stuck sitting at a lobby screen waiting for other players to drop in. On the other hand, you canít tell the game to wait for a full complement of human players or look to put together a team with a good mix of skills. Once your game launches itís not easy to tell how many actual players are in the game Ė to do so youíll have to pop-up the leaderboard and look for the lag indicators that tag players as human. And whether or not those players are human will make a big difference because the AI bots are simply atrocious players. So much so, in fact, that you probably shouldnít bother with Brink if youíre thinking of buying it to play exclusively in single player mode.

For an objective-based game, itís odd to see that the AI doesnít seem to be in the least bit concerned with the objectives. The AI bots are obsessed with taking and retaking each otherís command posts, almost to the exclusion of all else, and youíre stuck with attempting to accomplish all of the objectives on your own. I played in games in which I completed objectives completely uncontested by the enemy AI, and I canít remember a single time when the AI completed an objective for my side. The AI is adequate at defense objectives, but when itís the other team defending itís you against the other team while yours is running around doing who knows what. These AI issues extend to co-op and multiplayer games in which the AI fills any open slots, and their presence has a decidedly negative impact on the game.

Brink has occasional flashes of brilliance and fun moments, but on the whole it just feels like a game that needed more time in design and development.  From a design standpoint, there are some good ideas, some not so good ideas, and others that are conflicting, leaving the whole thing feeling like it needed to be further fleshed out before it was implemented.  And from a development one, well, out of the box Brink has some serious sound problems (as in it regularly cuts out completely) and a whole host of minor graphical and other glitches (I'm also hoping that the weapons' overzealous recoil and wild inaccuracy is a glitch that will be patched along with the other issues and not a conscious design decision).  A day one patch has been promised, but without a list of whatís addressed in the patch (not to mention that itís not available at the time of this writing for me to check out) I canít say what will be fixed and what wonít. Iíll follow up later to report on whether or not the patch cleared up some of the issues I experienced with the game, but I have the feeling that it will be the first of several patches.

Final Rating: 60%. Brink, indeed an aptly named game.


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