Review: Brink (Console)

May 20, 2011, Author: Ray Willmott

When playing Brink, the very idea of getting tooled up, sprinting ahead into the enemies base and firing away at them until your heart’s content without back-up or any sort of strategy will find you lying face down in the dirt quicker than you can say ‘Help Me!’

If you’re a lone wolf who wants glory, fame and notoriety and complains every time someone in your team ‘steals your kill’, don’t even give this a second glance on the store shelf. Don’t even blink when you pass it by. This isn’t for you, you’re not for it. Go back to CoD.

For the rest of you, read on. Brink may just be the best thing that ever happened to you…

Please note: There will be two reviews of Brink coming from This Is My Joystick! This has been reasoned due to the differences of online play on both PC and Console versions of the game. The review you’re about to read has been played on Xbox 360. A review of the PC version is forthcoming…

To save the Ark or not to save the Ark?
Brink, made by newcomers Splash Damage, has really stirred up some buzz prior to launch. Forgetting the extravagant advertising campaign we’re seeing now, the game was recognised as ‘Game of the Show’ at last year’s Eurogamer Expo and was instantly recognised as a ‘Must Have Game’ in 2011. Powered by iD Tech, Brink’s focus is team-work and is an objective based First Person Shooter. So, instead of running around a map, killing anyone who’s not wearing the same colour armour as you, you need to work as part of a unit in order to complete certain objectives. For example, one map has you placing a hacking device on a terminal and then protecting it from your enemies while it decodes. Then, the second half of your objectives see you escorting a hostage to a train in order to make a getaway. In this case, you’re on defence; however, you can also play the same map on offence at any time. So why are you doing these things?

The Ark, a city that floats above a flooded Earth, was established in order to bring balance and provide safe haven for the human race due to the rising water below. This self-sustained city lasted for a while, providing a small bastion of hope for its population, however, in just a few short years, is starting to collapse from within. Due to an over saturation in humanity and insufficient supplies to meet the demand, revolt has become an inevitability. On the one hand, Security are trying to restore order and balance in The Ark and on the other, the Resistance are trying to escape, and so, Brink sees you taking part in the balance of power to be determined by these two factions.

After a small cut-scene to start the game, the player will be offered a choice as to whether they want to Save the Ark or destroy it. Initially, this may seem a bold decision and something you may not be comfortable in deciding from the outset. However, once you’ve made your choice and designed your character, you can choose the missions you want to take part in, anyway, whether you wish to maintain this confused utopia or send it back down to Earth in a crumpled heap!

Parkour for the masses!

No matter which side you choose, a small cut-scene accompanies the opening of every mission, briefing you on what you’ll need to do and how you’ll need to do. From there, you’ll be right in the thick of the action, whether you’re ready or not… As you progress through the game, Audio Logs and Story Videos are unlocked that will give you more of a perspective on the story, so it does go a bit further than my brief synopsis above.

On the Brink!
So, how does it work? Why is this different from every other First Person Shooter out there? Well, the game doesn’t really do much in the way of teaching you, save for an overly crammed video at the start that really doesn’t really give you much of an insight on how to play. Naturally, Splash have tried to get as many people watching it as possible by offering the player 1,000 XP per view. They’ve also tried to combat any confusion created by the video by directing you to the dossier, which should explain any questions you have. Now, while I’m not really big on these overly long interactive tutorial sessions that take place at the start of most games, I do think Splash should have tried to make something more of teaching its players about a game that is daring to be different from the norm. During my time with the game, the amount of human players I’ve had on my team who have no idea what they’re doing has been surprising but also, annoying when I need them to help me in a jam!

Ain't no hugs in the Ark!

However, anyone who’s played Team Fortress 2 before will be instantly familiar with the format. Once you’ve got through the tutorial, you’ll jump to the character creation screen, where you configure the look of your character, the kind of guns they take into combat and the abilities they’ll have access to as part of their respective class. During your character creation, you can set the default class you’d like to begin each game with (usually a Soldier), however, when you spawn, you’ll find a terminal in front of you which will allow you to change the type of character you play with. The choices of class are Soldier, Medic, Engineer or Operative. Each class has a special ability that they bring into battle. So, naturally, the Soldier is the best warrior out in the field, but he can also give ammo to his comrades (until his own supply runs out of course). He can also use explosives to destroy important targets. The Medic has a stash of health boosters and at any time, he can boost the health of his team-mates. Also, if a team-mate is knocked down in action, the Medic can toss a vial to his comrade, enabling them to get themselves back up on their feet.

The Engineer is one of the more useful classes in the game and is the most integral to ensuring your objectives are complete. In addition to buffing your comrades weapons, the Engineer also builds barricades to keep the enemy at bay or shortcuts to help his team-mates get to their objective quicker. The Engineer is also responsible for overseeing several of the operations that will help you successfully defend or attack your target. Finally, the Operative can disguise himself as a member of the opposition and can sneak into enemy territory undetected. He can also sabotage particular targets and interrogate his enemy to obtain key intel.

However, one element that isn’t in Team Fortress 2 is Parkour, a feature Brink seems very proud to promote. Now, here’s the long and short of it. The Parkour works, it fits the games tempo for the most part, however, it still manages to feel quite constrictive and clunky. Let’s put it this way, it has a lot to learn from Mirror’s Edge on how to do it right. The Parkour doesn’t feel much different from simple ledge grips most of the time and the ground slide is quite inferior when put up against the equivalent in Crysis 2. Fluid movement does come across in the game; your character does feel nimble and capable of conquering any obstruction standing in your way. That said, you’ll find yourself vaulting over things you didn’t want to and crashing into walls that will usually make you vulnerable to potshots. You will use the parkour in the game and it can make for some dynamic action-packed moments but it’s really not as good as it could/should be.

As you progress through Brink, you earn experience points by completing operations within the game. XP, as is the standard with lots of games nowadays, serves as the in-game currency and enables you to buy upgrades for your weapons, new items to modify your appearance, additional qualities within each class and just about anything you can think of. As I said before, the game offers you almost limitless potential in the way you can customise your character. Everything from tattoos, to masks, to body types and hair styles. Brink offers you a character customisation screen like no other FPS game before it.

However, while Brink is attracting one type of buzz for its diversity in gameplay from the likes of CoD and Halo, Brink may also be memorable to some as Splash Damage have decided that despite the ridiculously extensive character customisation abilities (102 quadrillion unique combinations enough for ya?!) that are available from launch. It’s strange then, that players will not be allowed to create a female character of any type. In fact, despite some of my fellow gamers attempts, they can’t even create a man that looks like a woman. Controversial in these times, to say the least…

Apocalypse now!

The game can be played competitively and cooperatively and that’s whether or not you’re with friends or you want to go at it alone with and against bots. Be warned, though, the bots can be really unforgiving. They have pinpoint accuracy and are liable to gun you down in two bullets. Although, they’re also quite an erratic bunch. At times, they’re so precise and accurate with their shots that even on the easiest difficulty, you’ll be frustrated. However, they also have a tendency to stand there and do nothing unless you fire off the first shots at them. This can be increasingly frustrating when you’re trying to work with them as part of a team unit as they don’t seem inclined to co-operate well with you and end up just standing around more clueless than the rest of us who’ve just sat through the training video. So, perhaps it’s better to play with real people as much as possible then, eh?

Look at me, I’m different!
Graphically, you’re either going to love or hate Brink. It certainly has a unique style that almost borders on the cell-shaded but doesn’t quite take the plunge. You can certainly draw some similarities to the likes of Borderlands with this one but with a rougher edge and less cartoony. It has an art-style that suits its futuristic, sci-fi environment and has set itself apart from the competition, but the oddly proportioned sized heads in comparison to the rest of the characters body and the over-puckered lips might divert someone’s attention from the game and potentially put them off a purchase altogether.

Neo is the one!

Unfortunately, that’s not the only issue that might steer you away. At times during play, the frame rate is unforgiving, unrelenting and bordering on the unplayable. You’ll sometimes find yourself stuttering around the map, generally skipping out the key animation of your character’s legs moving, then, just when everything seems back to normal, you’re lying flat on your back, bleeding out. Despite the patch that appeared at launch, Brink is still in need of a fix. You can certainly attribute some of the issues to server lag, but it’s also quite obvious that some of these issues stem from the game’s engine, which really does need some additional TLC.

I call upon the angels; raise me to my feet…
The sounds of gunfire, of screaming and shouting for help and incoming enemies volleying all over the battlefield will be familiar to anyone whose played an FPS over the last fifteen years. The sounds of war, even in this futuristic utopia remain the same as ever and they’ve been captured here and made to fit appropriately in the Brink World. The music is quite divisive, if you can even hear it half the time. Usually, the effects drown out anything else in the game, although the one musical piece anyone who plays Brink will be instantly familiar with is the one where you find yourself on your deathbed, the screen blacked out and the sounds of the Angels beckoning you to the heavens. The music is there, it’s lurking in the background but this isn’t much of a focus of Brink and certainly doesn’t hit you with an impact the likes of Halo does.

Unfortunately, just as the frame rate affects the graphics, so the sound takes a beating and creates some of the most inhuman sounding effects you’ll have heard this year. This does little to give the game credibility. It’s just so unfortunate that with a game that does so much right, it is still marred and scarred by things that really hold it back from achieving its full potential. Issues that could have been avoided and erased but have been allowed to linger and tarnish the end product.

B… Br… B… Bri… Brin… Brink… l… la… l… la… lags…
The most common complaint about this game falls on its lag and well, all I can say is, it lives up to the hype. Brink is laggy, it’s buggy, it’s incomplete and it falls flat on its face with its multi-player. Interestingly enough, some people I’ve spoken to claim they’ve not had a single instance of lag while playing Brink.

Well, I’ve had several.

Girls don't wear tattoos that's why only men are in Brink. Yep, that's what it is...

As much as I want to ignore them, I can’t. Brink has major faults. Splash have even acknowledged these by reducing the number of players that can play Brink at the same time. Simply put, the servers can’t handle the influx of people playing the game at the same time. Whether Splash were being modest and didn’t expect this many people to buy their game or whether their servers really just weren’t good enough, I don’t know, but Brink is, by no means, a fluid, online multi-player experience. I only hope that the patch was supposed to be a temporary fix, that it’s not the result and this isn’t Splash’s answer to fixing the problem.

Don’t get me wrong, you can play Brink online and you can have a mostly unphased experience, but it’s not often and at some point, you’re likely to be affected by it.

I was also disappointed there was no option for Split-Screen included. I do feel a version of this could have been implemented into the game and made to work in some way. Split-Screen is still a very popular multi-player tool that seems to be gradually getting phased out this gen and that’s a shame. Although, with that being said, if the game is suffering on a full-screen, do we really want to see what would happen when it’s halved?!

Don’t Brink?
In the final analysis, Brink is flawed genius. It’s a game filled with promises, expectation and potential, but does fall short of the mark due to the way it has been launched. I’ve no doubt that the game will be tweaked, refined and sculpted into the definitive online experience it can be, unfortunately, the version we’re left with is really going to test your patience whilst waiting for that potential.

However, despite its flaws, this is a game that deserves a chance, whether that means you go out and buy it, or rent it or play it at a friends house. Brink is still a very entertaining game. The game is due to be patched again in June, along with giving you additional maps as part of a free download. Let’s hope it helps us to see more of the good things about Brink and less of the bad.


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