Reviewed: June 3, 2011
Released: May 10, 2011
The first time I saw the teaser video for Brink I was like, “Holy crap! This is awesome. FPS and parkour action in the same game!” I couldn’t wait. The second time I saw Brink was at the 2010 E3 demo where I got to play a very early build of the game. This time it was more like, “Holy crap! This game sucks!” And then Bethesda pushed the release date until 2011, so I kept my fingers crossed and hoped that they would be able to deliver the game promised in that original movie.|
Well, Brink has finally arrived and while it is certainly not as bad as the atrocity I played last year, it still has a long way to go before it ever lives up to the sparkling hype of that first teaser video. Brink just seems all over the place when it comes to design. It tries to mix FPS, action, and tactical strategy, it tries to tell a story, and they even try to work in some RPG elements. All the ingredients are there but the recipe is flawed.
Brink kicks off with a narration of current events that puts you in the futuristic floating city called The Ark. Somehow, through an ongoing conflict lasting more than 20 years the city is divided into two warring factions; the everyday citizens known as the Resistance and those who try to keep them in check, Security. Each faction is given their own set of missions that run concurrent with the other factions, so for instance, if you are the rebels then you might be asked to free and escort a prisoner to safety, while Security players will be charged with stopping the rebels and keeping that prisoner from escaping. You play either side by choosing a story arc in story mode or a faction in multiplayer.
The first thing you must do is create a character, which is one of the cooler aspects of Brink and sadly, also the most pointless. You can spend hours tweaking every facial variable possible – honestly, this is the best visual character generator to date and I hope to see it in more games in the future – and then you can pick clothes and tattoos, etc. Once you have your character you can choose either the Resistance or Security story path, but no worries; you can always take that same character in the alternate story path and keep your level upgrades and unlocks. The fact you can change class, weapons, and faction at any time gives you little incentive to create multiple characters unless you are unhappy with your face – the only element that is locked in.
Your first trip through the character creator will reveal a host of locked items ranging from clothes and tattoos to all sorts of weapons and mods. These are unlocked as you play the game and level up, but sadly there is a level-20 cap on the characters, which you will likely hit before finishing the game on both factions. Brink is class-based allowing you to play as a soldier, medic, engineer, or operative (spy). Each class has their own unique skills that make them a valuable member of a team, but only when working together as a team. There is no room for lone wolves in Brink.
This means that if you are playing alone and the computer is playing the rest of your team you are at the mercy of some questionable AI. And if you are playing online with strangers you are at the mercy of everyone’s’ egotistical quest to win the game by themselves. You can be bleeding out calling for a medic, but if that medic is on the other half of the map doing his Rambo impersonation his healing powers do you no good. There are a ton of great ideas lurking beneath the surface of Brink, but there just aren’t enough thoughtful and strategic gamers out there to make the game play as the designers intended. Obviously, you'll want to play with a core group of friends you know you can trust to play as a team who take their roles responsibly.
All those cool parkour moves from the original teaser don’t look nearly as impressive when seen from the first-person view but they are super-easy to pull off thanks to the SMART (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain) system. It takes a bit of practice but once you learn the levels and how your movement is based on your size, speed, and direction you are looking, things get real fancy. Example: You can be running at a table and if you look up you will vault over the table and if you look down you will slide under it. No real thought required other than holding down the SMART button and adjusting your view while you run. If you enjoy scampering through these complex levels (a great tactic for the operative class) you will definitely want to pick the smaller size characters, as the medium and large guys don’t move nearly as fast or fluid. And speaking of “guys” – don’t look for any female characters in Brink. This is a 100% exclusive Men’s Club.
There are 50 skills to unlock and you can assign and reassign up to 20 per character allowing you to fine-tune to your playing style between matches. The skills are surprisingly balanced yet they hardly affect the gameplay, which allows for a greater range of player levels in any given match since even newcomers can compete with level 10 characters at no real disadvantage. You’ll earn XP by completing mission objectives, working as a team, and of course, killing the enemy. Oddly, you can earn the most XP by healing your wounded teammates, which only makes it that much more surprising there aren’t more people playing as a Medic.
The online and solo experience are one and the same. Brink is a multiplayer game only so if you do venture into the missions solo any missing humans are replaced with AI bots who are fairly aggressive and totally predictable. With only 8 maps (16 missions) and four possible classes to choose from, there is a bit of replayability, but the locations and the objectives will become too repetitious to explore all your gameplay options before you get completely bored with the content. Even worse, while the mission maps are huge, the objective locations never change so once you memorize the layout there is no sense of exploration or discovery.
Gameplay is pretty slick with the mouse and keyboard, but works just as well with an Xbox 360 controller. The mouse certainly offers that added level of precision that simply can't be matched with an analog stick. After many hours playing on the Xbox I became a head-hunting death machine once I was armed with my Logitech gaming laser mouse. Even the parkour and regular movement was surprisingly intinutive with the keyboard.
Visually, Brink is all over the place. The character creation utility features some of the best graphics in the game but once you have created your player and admired those awesome tattoos and scars in full 3D rotation you are sent into The Ark which is a haphazard mix of various locations of questionable quality. Despite super-customized characters, everyone looks the same once you’re in the game. The levels are stylized with lots of HUD visuals making everything look very “busy” and confusing. Once you look beyond the interface and annoying character outlines, there are some remarkable graphics and level design, and if you have a good PC and video card they can easily surpass those of the Xbox 360.
After the horrible experience of playing the broken-audio 360 version I was so glad to hear Brink in all its uninterrupted glory on the PC. The game sound great with exciting music, quality voice action, and plenty of gunfire and explosions. The overall mix wasn’t quite as 3D as the 360 but it still sounded great with speakers or headphones. My only real complaint is a lack of effective bass which made explosions sound pretty weak.
Brink could have been a great game, both solo and online if a little more work had gone into it. The campaign isn’t nearly long enough, the mission objectives need to be randomized to make full use of the maps, and the bots need better AI or I need to have more direct control over them. There are a ton of unlockables, but you’ll hit the level cap in only a couple days, and there is no real incentive for starting new characters other than to restart the level grind. Sadly, there are a lot better FPS and tactical-RPG games out there for the PC; far too many to recommend Brink to anyone unless they have already played all the rest. If you’re curious give it a rental but avoid a purchase until it drops to $29.