Brink's a unique first-person shooter. How often are you able to say that in the most oversaturated market in video games? Developer Splash Damage, makers of respectable entries in the Wolfenstein and Quake series, decided to take inspiration from contemporary team-based shooters like the Killzone series and Team Fortress 2 while mixing in elements from the interesting parkour title Mirror's Edge. Combine that idea with one of the deepest character customization options yet to be seen and it sounds like Brink could have been the best shooter of 2011. While Brink certainly doesn't falter in creativity, it fails to reach any sense of feeling complete in almost every other regard.
In the fictional story of Brink, two factions, the Resistance and Security, are at war with each other over control of the Ark, the-supposedly-last hope for humanity's survival since a great flood consumed all landmass. With a playable story for each faction, you're given the choice of whether you want to save the Ark or escape it. Just as paper-thin as the plot may look, the bland dialogue, cluttered narrative, and lack of drive make this a missed opportunity. The idea of getting both perspectives is admirable, since neither the seditious Resistance leader Chen nor the power-hungry Security leader Mokoena are without fault; however, Brink's delivery of both stories is fettered by inconsistencies for both sides. After completing both campaigns, you'll notice two or three missions on each side confuse which story is canon, since they're trying to be interconnected. On Day 2 of the Resistance side, I rescued a pilot from the infirmary of a prison; but on Day 5 of the Security side, I secured that same prison holding that same pilot with no explanation of the other events that occurred! It only gets more confusing with "What-If" missions that completely contradict expected canons of the story. Given that the missions are playable in any random order, it's no surprise in knowing a structured narrative was the least of the developer's worries.
There's always been leeway for stories in video games, especially for a genre that's primarily about shooting with reckless abandon. Where games almost always falter in delivering stories like literature, their advantage in showing and doing, rather than telling, is what makes them entertaining. Brink is one of the biggest culprits to not follow this simple rule. While loading up each mission, you're greeted with your leader explaining each detail of the mission-in a lower volume than when playing the game, and then presented with pointless rambling from your three squad mates (who never display their names). Even the audio logs, one of the many rewards you receive throughout the game, all force you to listen to the entire backstory while staring at your character in the main menu. If you want to present a story, why place so many roadblocks for the player to emotionally invest in it? Overall, Brink's questionable decisions harm what was essentially just a somewhat interesting story to begin with.
Brink maintains a solid, if unbalanced, relationship between the two main facets of visual design: artistic and technical graphics. Brink's main draw would be the interesting presentation style of the characters, with some of their physiognomies, like the ears and nose, being cartoonish in size. This aim at uniqueness is supported by the divided residencies of both the Resistance and Security members. Expect to be constantly going back and forth between locations that look like the Founder's Tower, the great spire located on The Ark, and bases made up of old boats and shipping containers.
Where Brink succeeds in artistic approach, it fails in technical design. Most problems offline revolve around glitches, obtrusive loading times, and texture pop-in. Experiences only get worse when playing online. To make matters worse, there's really no reason for me to believe a talented developer couldn't have handled the engine/assets with relative ease. There's never a time you'll be blown away by the details outside your created character(s). Nevertheless, Brink's shortcomings in technical design shouldn't completely dissuade players from enjoying the view since the art design has rarely been seen in games.
The sound design in Brink deserves about the equal amount of criticism and praise. With the ability to change gun muzzles, and add silencers, the sheer variety of the gun sounds is only held back by the body type you choose. Light body types get the short end of stick as they're forced to stick with a sub-machine gun and pistol combination. The roar of battle can really heat up thanks to loud guns and loud teammates yelling out where they're going. The main fault in sound design falls on the voice acting. While the explanation of how every nationality ended up on the Ark is acceptable, the overly gruff voice timbres of both leaders and the certain dialects that are almost inaudible overstay their welcome shortly into the game. Overall, every excellent aspect of Brink's sound is nullified by every bland aspect, while certain facets like the soundtrack are just average overall.
The introduction to Brink's gameplay is quite welcoming to even a newbie of the genre. With dozens of introduction videos showing and discussing the rules and mechanics of the game, it's easy to understand every facet of Brink before deciding to go to the campaign or multiplayer. It's also encouraged that you play the four 'Challenges' first in order to unlock new weapons and attachments. Since even the challenges grant experience points, it's not hard for anyone to attain a few different clothing designs before even touching the core of the game. The amount of customization, even before stepping on any of the campaign maps, is incredible. The different amounts of tattoos, face paint, headgears, gun configurations, and more set it apart from the majority of shooters I've touched that limit their customization specifically to the weapons.
Maintaining the same formula as the developer's earlier titles, Brink's class-based structure revolves around four typical characters: Medic, Soldier, Engineer, and Operative. Each class has different characteristics and side objectives that reward the adventurous types for leaving their comfortable class. Each class does the expected: Soldiers can resupply ammo and have specific demolition objectives, Medics revive and buff players' health, Engineers focus on turrets and repair-specific objectives, while Operatives can use disguises from dead enemy players and are the designated hackers. The use of the "UP" button on the D-Pad allows players to focus on specific objectives. Nearby command posts let players experiment with the team's productive glue quite often. The disastrous problem presented in this is how map design causes certain classes to feel underappreciated. Since the maps consist of a few choke points-making them feel so much smaller, Operatives rely on strays in order to successfully acquire a disguise without going unnoticed. Even worse is how certain purchasable perks you can acquire upon leveling up feel useless. Even the excellent customization presents problems to battle-related design choices. Since body types aren't exclusive to classes, players can become a minigun-touting heavy body type medic; furthermore, becoming an unfair advantage since a heavy medic has the most health and heal itself within a second (provided he/she has enough supplies to do so). It's a shame to see such a respectable idea of granting players more customizable freedom can also create a startling amount of balancing issues.
The chief nuance that Brink created that makes it an unique amalgam is the use of parkour and freerunning within the class-based elements. In order to accomplish this, Splash Damage developed the SMART (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain) System. By noting a player's position and predicting what he is trying to do, the system lets players navigate complex environments without equally complex input. This means of getting from one place to another could've opened the door for new combat ideas; unfortunately, those ideas fall short because of how restrictive it feels. Some areas look like they could clearly be vaulted by the medium and light body types, but are essentially blocked by invisible walls. While the SMART technology does augur a new possible way for gamers to think of first person combat, Brink's use of it evinces many into correctly believing this tech is still in its infancy stage.
The mechanical aspects of the gameplay suffer from a litany of problems. Brink's objectives revolve around the simple ideas of escorting, sabotaging, and defending. Most of these objectives require a certain class in order to achieve your final goal, such as operatives being the only one that can hack. Since you only get to play eight maps as both sides, these objectives start to wear thin since you already know the choke points by the second time around. This wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing if the map design and AI weren't terribly uneven. Firstly, friendly AI are either there as a distraction to the enemy or the team in general by capturing command posts that are completely irrelevant (and yelling it in your ear every time they're attempting to capture it!). Secondly, the enemy AI is the most inconsistent I've ever witnessed in a game from this generation. Enemies are either programmed to camp at specific choke points, the objective, or outside your base. It sometimes feels like the map design is even encouraging this sort of attitude! Their rubber band attitude of being bullet sponges or instantly responding to shoot you, even when you have the silent running perk, when you've even entered their line of sight-regardless of distance, detracts from the overall experience. I've experienced moments where enemy bots have killed me while I've knocked them down. It's a fair defense to say the AI is tasked with so much more than usual because of the objectives and class-based tasks involved, but that sort of AI isn't nascent technology to the gaming public. Overall, the campaign portion is broken unless you're able to replace your team's bots with online players.
While playing offline is an option to avoid, Brink countervails that criticism by making every mode open for more players to join. It's in this foundation, gamers can be somewhat relieved to know certain problems facing the campaign can be avoided online. The problem with this lies in the technical problems that can sometimes render games unplayable. Since I can play other shooters online with relative ease, I have enough reason to believe the problems I face on Brink mostly come from the online coding. Since you're limited to the same eight maps from the campaign (discounting the two average maps in the "Agents of Change" DLC) that only offer one other mode besides the same ones played in the campaign, enjoyment of the online wears almost as thin as the campaign. To make matters worse, the nearly-moribund community will more than likely force you to play an online session with more bots than online players. Although I can appreciate the cohesive online nature Splash Damage tried to make, it's impossible for me to disregard how often Brink stumbles over its own incompetence in every online and offline mode.
Brink fails in so many more areas than it should. How do you screw up storytelling in a first person shooter to this kind of a degree? The most shocking part is knowing this game came from a developer that's won a few significant awards earlier in this generation. While the game displays many rookie mistakes, there are still qualities to admire. Yes, I said it. Despite the amount of problems that could be compiled to be longer than my average grocery list, Brink still yearned to be something different from everything else. It may not have the finesse of Mirror's Edge or balanced nature of Team Fortress 2, but those ideas are still brought together in this title to create something new. Brink will more than likely deliver an underwhelming experience to anyone who has played a handful of [this-gen] shooters, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't at least be appreciated for what it is trying to accomplish.
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