It’s a unique mash. If you were to combine the first-person parkour of Mirror’s Edge with the class-based object shooter Team Fortress 2, you would get Splash Damage’s Brink. Published by Bethesda and a few years undertow, this colorful shooter is finally ready to fall into the hands of gamers. But is it worth your top dollar?
If you’re a fan of objective-based shooters, then yes. You won't find any traditional death match modes or control point missions. Instead Brink tasks players with taking on the roles of soldiers, medics, engineers and operatives to complete objectives. With a story entirely integrated within the multiplayer experience, the single-player and multiplayer are one and the same. Those looking for a pronounced solo experience should not turn to Brink. However, if you’re comfortable working and communicating with other players, it's time to get excited.
But first some business. Have you ever heard the saying “Show, don’t tell?" I’m of the opinion that video games should take this a step further with the motto “Do, don’t show.” When someone boots up a game, regardless of whether or not they've read the manual, it should introduce the mechanics in a slow and understandable manner.
Unfortunately, Brink is all about showing gamers how to play. When you first start the game and have to pick a side (no real difference exists initially), Brink asks players if they would like to watch the training videos to explain the mechanics of the game. If you say yes, you’ll be rewarded with 1000 free experience points, but these videos each take ten minutes to watch. Who wants to do that instead of jumping into the game?
Part of the problem rests with Brink's absent single-player campaign. Sure, players are recommended to play through the different missions on the security and the resistance sides using bots, and that's kind of cool (although it’s much easier and more fun with other players). However, these campaigns can be played cooperatively and with real-life players joining the other side. Since the game is basically open from the get-go, the game provides very little guidance on how to play because you aren't exposed to any training. There are no tutorial levels (other than some ignorable challenge modes). Just pick up and go.
While that makes the game sound largely negative, the whole experience changes once everything clicks and players understand the UI, the goals, and how classes work. By paying attention to the lengthy training videos, you’ll gain some insight into the four different classes and the three different weight classes. Soldiers are the explosives masters, who set charges to blow up barriers and bridges. They can also send supplies to other players. Medics provide a healing and revival role (perfect for escort missions), and they increase the health of other players.
Engineers are the defensive class (and my favorite). Able to place mines and turrets, they improve the damage potential of their teammates and remove explosives and hack boxes set by the other team. The operatives are the spy class, who disguise themselves as enemy players and hack turrets and objective devices. With the running and gunning, each class plays exactly the same, but the different abilities makes it important to have an appropriate team of squad mates designed for a particular objective--be it hacking a box, escorting a hostage, or destroying an obstacle. It’s a balanced scheme, and as you unlock more abilities and items, the class dynamic becomes much more essential.
One of the few elements that causes players to react differently are the three weight classes. Starting out with the medium build, players unlock heavy and light builds as they level up. Besides the hundreds of clothing and facial customizations, picking a build has a major impact on the game. The medium build is standard, a middle of the road run-and-gun. The heavy can take more damage and use heavier weapons, but he’s slower and can't vault over many walls. The light build dies after a few shots and can only hold the lighter guns; however, they can straight-up parkour around the levels.
Called the SMART system, by holding a trigger, players can enter a sprint that automatically sends them up and over obstacles. The light builds are especially fast, and they can wall run around the stages, swapping health for speed and the ability to traverse levels in a way that may seem impossible. Thankfully, challenge courses are meant to force the player to explore the extant of free-running in Brink, and are areas that many players are bound to exploit.
As mentioned, playing by yourself is a pointless exercise. The single-player missions are a replica of the multiplayer missions, and Brink has been designed from the ground up to get players to interact with each other. When it’s good, it’s really good--with players communicating their separate missions goals and trying out creative applications of the class abilities, such as masquerading as an enemy character to steal a suitcase before sprinting back to base or dropping a turret on top of the enemy’s defenses to double-team opponents while a partner takes care of the objective. When the game is bad, you usually have a team of bots and players with no idea what the hell they're doing, and once everyone comes together, the experience can get heated. Unfortunately, since I was playing prior to launch, some connection and lag issues did come up, but a Day One patch promises to smooth over any lingering issues.
Brink has a story, but it's barely any better than Team Fortress 2’s odd plot about competing construction companies, and the little random audio logs that players collect do little to explain matters. There’s this Ark. It’s a lovely place, all snowy white and floating about in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. While at first it's home to scientists and wacky celebrities, by the time 2045 rolls around, the whole world has flooded due to global warming, bringing with the tide a few stragglers hoping for safety. These “guests” are now looking for a way to return to the outside world, while the founders of the Ark insist they are all that remain.
Honestly, while the plot is potentially compelling, it’s so bland and non-existent in the actual game that it can be outright ignored. The absolute lack of women in Brink is a curiosity worthy of discussion, but we’ll leave that for another time.
The bare-bones plot leads to two basic level themes: shipyard ruins and electric blue and white resort areas. In all technicality, you can only play a limited number of stages, which round out to about eight. If you play through the game on the resistance side (completing resistance-focused objectives), when you jump over to the security forces, it’s the exact same levels, only from the alternate perspective. It’s much less of a problem than you would think (this never cost a comparable game like Left 4 Dead sales), but it left me itching for more levels, especially ones that could better flesh out the world of the Ark. Hopefully the requisite DLC is substantial and not overpriced.
Besides the parkour elements, Brink has a lovely visual style reminiscent of Mirror’s Edge, which is nice to see. The character models themselves are very distorted, with long limbs and stretched faces. These are some ugly dudes, but after a while their appearance better fits the game, and players will have a great time decking them out.
Ultimately, it comes down to what players will be playing hours and hours with their friends. Like Left 4 Dead and Team Fortress 2 before it, Brink is a multiplayer game plain and simple, and going about it solo completely defeats the purpose it was made for. Jump in, meet some people, and work hard to tear apart the mechanics and goals of the game. Brink offers an incredibly satisfying multiplayer experience. Playing any other way is not worth your time.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]