Splash Damage knows their way around an online shooter; they made their name in the early 90's through mods and the like. They crafted Enemy Territory and Quake Wars and they seem to have a handle on class based shooting, especially in terms of the classes themselves. Now it's the turn of Brink, a complex game that requires some effort to get the best out of, but doesn't seem to deserve a lot of the review flak it's been getting.
Set in the dystopian future, a huge man-made floating city known as the Ark is in dire straits, food is running out, disease is rampant and an oppressive security force is curtailing the population and making everything seem very Orwellian. Enter the battle between the Resistance and Security as one of either faction and you'll see the same story play out with slightly different cut-scenes for both factions. Brink is very much about the player's own story as it's told through the narrative of the clashes between these two factions, rather than about the game having a long complex plot that plays out through some non-interactive battles now and then.
What's there is slim, but still meatier than either Team Fortress 2 or Left 4 Dead 1 and 2. I put quick caveat there saying that I adore both games, so that's not a slight against those or Valve...so the fanboys can put down their pitchforks and flaming torches right now!
Brink is an odd beast, its complex as I mentioned before but it's also fairly simple to get to grips with and has a lot going for it. Unfortunately those strengths are also the game's weakness since the generic shooter crowd, weaned upon their daily dose of Call of Duty 4 and its many shooter clones are going to find nothing really to like about the game. For anyone who has a love of class based play there's a lot going for Brink as long as you have the patience to dive right in.
A word of warning as well, don't expect the single player to be anything more than a training mode for the true online game, this is at its heart a game about the multiplayer experience and anyone who tells you that the game's single player is basically a replacement for that is selling something. Brink's single player is basically a way to train you to play online, with friends against/with computer opponents and it does have drop-in/out co-op which we'll talk about later on.
A Brink match can essentially be broken down as a series of linked objectives that allow the attacker and defender to accomplish various goals. There's always a timer and the attacking team must achieve its objectives before that runs out, the same goes for defence. It's a basic concept that we have seen time and time again across numerous genres; however in this case it's all about the way that you accomplish those goals with your team. Team plays a big role in Brink and it's almost useless for you to try and CoD Lone Wolf this title. There are numerous primary and secondary objectives for your team to accomplish during a match.
Primary: Team A has to guard objects A B and C for 15 minutes.
Secondary: Build Hall MG nest.
Secondary: Construct barrier 1.
Primary: Team B must destroy objects A B and C.
Secondary: Guard soldiers.
Secondary: Destroy enemy barrier.
It's a simple example and Brink's maps are far more complex most of the time, with layers of objectives that can trigger after the first is failed depending on the role of the team on attack or defence. The correct mix of classes will allow you to succeed, the Engineer can place mines and turrets down (later on) to protect the area, repair any defence emplacements or construct barriers that impede the enemy if you're on defence like Team A there...Medics can keep Engineers health buffed and throw revive syringes if the Engineers constructing the barricade or disarming the bombs fall.
Soldiers can do what they do best; putting on the hurt and Operatives can sneak around causing trouble and hacking Command Posts.
On the attacking Team B, Engineers can support their allies by buffing their damage; Operatives can try and sneak into the enemy area and in disguise take over turrets and the like. Medics keep the Soldiers alive and Soldiers are tasked with destroying the 3 objectives. If the defenders fail then the map switches (often) to a secondary task that the attackers must perform, stealing data, escorting a VIP or planting a bomb on a reactor behind an armoured door, which first must be opened by hacking the control panel elsewhere.
How this all plays out is up to you, your role on the battlefield and how you want to play. You can wade in guns blazing or go for a support role, standing back and buffing the team, laying down mines, turrets and so on. I've seen Engineers storm into the enemy's temporary front-line and lay down a mine, or even throw up a quick turret to distract the bad guys long enough for someone to sneak past.
This isn't like Call of Duty and it's certainly not really like Team Fortress 2 with rocket jumps and crazy explosions. There are a lot of tactical options available for the player if they just take the time and dig in.
Fortunately there's a series of training videos available and thankfully the patch now allows you to spend time with just the one, so you don't have to watch all of them linked as you did with the early builds of the game. That took you half an hour but did reward you with 1000xp for the trouble. I would advise you do spend some time flicking through them since they do give a good insight on how the game plays, what to expect and the kind of things you can do on the battlefield with your teammates. It may seem daunting at first, but it's actually fairly useful to watch those.
Ok, so I've covered the whole - this is the kind of objective based play you can expect from Brink. Just how the hell do you play it though?
I suggest that you don't play it like you would Call of Duty - you'll get killed quickly and frustrated fast. Brink requires knowledge of the Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain system, or SMART for short. It's a simple system that kicks in when you hold down sprint and aim towards something you'd normally get stuck trying to climb in a game like CoD. A small wall: the enemy of every Call of Duty soldier and most shooter protagonists since the dawn of shooters is nothing to the medium and light body types of Brink; they'll climb onto it and use it as part of the scenery to get around quickly.
Walls, crates, vents and pipes quickly become another set of tools to use to get around the levels, light body types find even better routes are accessible to them and they can zip around those at a cost of low health compared to medium and of course heavy. SMART knows where you want to go most of the time, you aim down under a pipe and you'll slide through the gap, aim up at it and you'll mantle onto it or vault the pipe effortlessly.
Slide a lot, sprint and B really makes for a quick getaway from enemy fire. Play as a team, teamwork is essential to Brink and the classes are designed to exploit this utterly. This isn't just another run and gun shooter, your guns aren't that effective and don't expect to get one shot kills like in CoD, you can seriously put the hurt on someone but that's about it. You'll have to do more than that if you want to put them down. Firepower is key, lots of it, lots of skill is required to make sure that you can keep a parkour-ninja in your sights to drop them.
Soldier: You'll do a lot of ammo restocking for your team; you'll be able to destroy objectives that are marked with the explosive charge icon.
Engineer: You place down mines, turrets and buff the damage of your team. You can repair and construct objectives that are marked with the gear icon. You do get more abilities later on as well.
Operative: You can disguise yourself as the enemy as long as no one from their team is looking. You can't attack whilst disguised but you can get behind enemy lines and do your thing. You can also spot mines by iron-sighting them and hacking objectives marked with the hack box icon.
Medic: You can buff the health of your team; you can revive downed teammates with syringes and other useful things later on.
There's an Objective Wheel which is simple to use, always highlights the current objective in gold and allows you to quickly select sub objectives off the d-pad in a moment's notice. The d-pad being your one-stop shop to using your abilities in the heat of combat, once again, it works really well and never confuses you. You also get XP rewards for those objectives, so get to using that wheel often!
You have 3 body types in the game, these have a bearing on the weapons you can use and the damage you can in combat. Heavy takes the most damage, can't parkour at all and can use every weapon type available including the huge chaingun. Medium is a good mixed all rounder, can parkour some and has access to a lot of weapons, all except the heaviest. Light is a parkour-ninja, can't take much damage but moves faster than the other body types and is limited to light weapons like the smg and so on.
In this way Brink doesn't restrict weapon loadouts to classes, just to the body type. Having a Heavy body type with a Medic class creates a bullet soaking madman that can keep the team afloat and help achieve objectives quicker. A Heavy with a huge chaingun and the Engineer class can make sure he can get down those turrets quicker than anything and remain standing whilst he does so.
So you achieve objectives, work as a team with the other players and have a custom character. How's that character work?
Brink lets you store up to 10 custom characters from both factions, so you can create a database of favourite characters specced up to various class requirements. Each character begins at level 1 and rank 1, they can't do much at the start and must gain XP to level up and rank up. As you gain XP and unlock things for your character you can customise the various aspects of how you look and create a unique identity in game. You can also assign abilities to your character since you're given level up points to buy those with.
There are general abilities such as taking less damage from gunfire, being able to reload whilst sprinting and class abilities for the 4 classes. These are all fairy well balanced and offer you another layer for character customisation. Being able to place better turrets as an Engineer and give your friends better weapon buffs means you're likely to keep them (and yourself) in the fight longer.
If you achieve 2 stars in the few challenges for your first character, you'll unlock weapon mods for all your characters and these are game-changing mods that actually mean something in terms of extra damage, accuracy and so on. Each mod has bonuses and detriments so it's impossible to mix/max your weapon. The customisation system for both character and weapon is simple and effective; it also makes for a lot of variations. You can also change the voice package for your character and there's a few to choose from, covering a lot of ethnic and racial accents.
You have a custom character, custom weapon and XP...how does this XP system work?
At the core of Brink is a refreshing take on the old levelling up systems, a take that makes the other systems seem a little bit old-hat. Everything you do in Brink nets you a steady stream of XP. From buffing a teammate, to guarding an objective, to achieving a primary goal, it all keeps that XP flooding in. There's also no kill-stealing in Brink since you're rewarded with XP from the bullets that hit, not the fact you killed the guy, everyone gets a share and you are left with that - hey TEAMWORK feeling that's missing from a lot of shooters.
You level up, you gain cool new unlocks, you rank up, you gain access to new abilities and until you hit level 20, you're always getting XP. After that it's pretty pointless really unless you're playing for that whole: TEAMWORK thing I mentioned before and helping your team get through its objectives. You can always create a new character and start again tailoring towards a different class, or you can respecc, which costs you a level and gets you all your spent points back.
Death is handled nicely as well; you can either respawn in the next wave after 20 or so seconds. Or you can wait for a Medic and you're clearly shown that Medics are on the way and how many. Only if you're double-tapped or struck whist down are you killed and respawn instantly. On the maps there is usually only one control point from where you launch your initial assault and you must run back from there all the time, there are a few cases where this isn't true and the frontline moves forwards somewhat. Saving you from having to spawn right back at the start and leg it into a map all over again.
The maps are well designed with a nice level of complexity for those people who want to get into the parkour side of Brink. Sometimes I felt that they might be a bit too claustrophobic and then I got over that thought and realised it feeds well into the whole gameplay mechanic and makes for some amazing tense battles in corridors and atriums.
Personally I don't see why people aren't that fond of Brink, I cut my teeth on Team Fortress for Quake and Brink takes me back to the days where teamwork was more important than watching some 12 year old score a 20 headshot killstreak on Call of Duty: Black Ops. The gameplay side of it feels fun and refreshing and most importantly it doesn't appear to be all that flawed, sure there are some choke-points on a map that can get contested and turn objectives into a race against the clock...but that only adds to the overall experience for me. To get that sweet last minute hack objective, or defuse that bomb after taking down 3 enemy bad guys and dodging a landmine, that's the stuff that dreams are made of and so is Brink in that respect.
Yes there are some choices of design that I would have done differently, but they're ingrained into the core of the game now, they can't be changed and most of them are mentioned in the multiplayer section of the review. Overall though, gameplay is good and solid with enough of a difference to stand out from the jaded shooter crowd.
Brink reminds me of a higher-tech version of Time Splitters and I loved that game. I love Brink's quirky style and it's pulled off mostly without a hitch. There are some times when textures load in slowly and you get an Unreal Engine (odd with ID Tech 4) style pop-in for the texture. This is forgivable since the game has character in those graphics, the environments and the whole feel is a far cry from the stale first person shooter genre, I haven't seen anything like this since Borderlands and I loved that game too for its quirky graphical appeal. If you're looking for realistic shooter graphics, this isn't the one for you. if you want a 2000AD comic style appeal and bright environments with a variety of different styles, then Brink is sure to appeal graphically.
Animations are good in Brink, there's a lot of character to the various cut-scenes and the style is echoed in the animation. The in-game animations are decent as well with characters running, sliding and dodging in fluid motions that look the part. The parkour system is well animated and there are no real moments where it looks like characters are floating magically around. Weapon and equipment animations are also well done.
There's a low level of physics here, most grenades (except for frags and molotovs) have a knock-down effect, the frag does a lot more damage and knocks people further, the same for the Molotov. Apart from that, you have impact based physics for characters that smack each other in melee and slide into each other when sprinting.
Oh boy, this is a mixed bag. When it works, it really works and when it goes wrong the AI looks really dumb. Since the day 1 patch things seem to have gone a lot better for the old AI. It now uses turrets more efficiently and works out routes better, the Medics are pretty much the star of the show and they'll intelligently (enough) try and revive you if you go down. Of course if there's something more important to do first they'll get the objective out of the way, healing the Engineer for example with a few seconds left on the bomb he was defusing, more important than getting the player on their feet. The AI is really only there as a training mode for the online part of the game.
I'm quite fond of the sound design for Brink, all apart from the weapons which could have done with a meatier set of effects. The grenades sound a little off too with only the barest whump when a frag goes boom.
The music is decent enough, it's not intrusive and it has a nice ambience about it. It works well in the context it's used.
I like the voice work, it's solid. The script is decent enough but what really shines for me is the whole: context sensitive orders and speech. Your character is talkative, so even if you're the silent gamer type, you'll still be telling your team what you're up to regardless of what you're not saying on the mic.
Brink is made for the human vs. human element of play, it's pretty important that you remember this. There's nothing like playing against human enemies, using human tactics and basically pitting your wits against your fellow humans. The AI is passable when you play cooperatively against the enemy but the true experience is when 16 players (8 per side) are fighting for control of the various objectives.
A day 1 patch arrived that seemed to have smoothed out a lot of the net connectivity problems with Brink, though some still persist and I found a few hosts that were painfully jerky (mostly in the US I think) for the game. It was still fun enough but I can't wait for them to fix that side of Brink to be honest.
Apart from this, there's no game lobby...its drop in/out play and you can set up matches that anyone can join or you can set it friends/invite only.
You can play Campaign online with up to 7 other people on your team, against 8 other human players or a mix of humans/bots.
You can set up a Freeplay that allows you to change various variables about the match, length, friendly fire and so on. You can specify how many bots and humans can be present and more.
You can search for games based on your rank or higher, you can even specify that your rank only be allowed on your server. Or you can allow anyone of any rank to join and so on. This way matchmaking is fairly decent and you aren't thrown into a game where you end up being outnumbered by ninja assassin level 20 Engineer parkour masters.
Brink plays exactly the same way offline or online, there's truly no divide between the single player and the multiplayer.
I think Brink is a breath of fresh air in a stagnant genre populated by Clones of Duty. Of course many of you won't agree with me on this, no doubt some of you may be incensed enough to leave a comment as to how Brink didn't live up to your expectations. In the end though, these things are all opinions and mine is this:
Brink is a flawed gem of a game that could have done with a bit more polish, the campaign is over in a flash but that's fine since the objective system and versus play makes for a load of challenge. There's bound to be some more DLC and I can't wait for a few map packs since this is a game that regardless of those flaws, I plan to play the hell out of.
Brink is at its heart a class based team multiplayer experience and as for that heart? There's a lot there, so give it a chance.