Brink is one of those games that is bursting with great ideas. It’s got a wonderful setting, a wide range of things-that-go-boom and a very unique aesthetic. It even brings in-vogue parkour-style free-running into the FPS genre, offering a wholly new way to run-and-gun.
However, it seems that good ideas – much like good intensions – often pave the road to gaming hell.
Like a lot of recent upcoming games, Brink’s set in a world on the edge – or, more accurately, over the edge – of an ecological disaster. Global warming has lead to rising sea levels, and one answer has been the Ark, a floating city. However, things have gotten out of hand and refugees from slowly sinking coastal areas have flooded the utopian city, turning into an urban sprawl of haves and have nots.
The game revolves around two factions – the Security forces, who want to maintain the unity, safety and sovereignty the Ark, and the resistance, who want to escape. It’s a kind of odd conflict, though, as it seems to us that if there’s a group of violent trouble makers going to so much effort to leave... perhaps you should just let them go.
The two sides are starkly different in their design, though mechanically identical. The security forces feature clean para-military uniforms, while the resistance features a grubby, almost punk look. Even the two parts of the Ark that missions take place on are similarly styled.
This bold aesthetic is taken to an almost TF2-like extreme when it comes to facial design and body shape. Features are extremely caricatured, and animation similarly warped. It makes for a unique look, to be sure, but it also works against the apparent grimness of the setting – we kept expecting much more humour from the game’s characters. This is the first jarring disconnect the game delivers, but, sadly, not the last.
Too fast, too furious
The actual game, is also a curious affair. There singleplayer, co-op and multiplayer modes, but they all offer not only the same maps, but the same missions. Essentially, they’re not different modes at all, and you could easily ditch the idea of them being different parts of the game by simply including an option to alter the amount of bots in any given match.
To that end, there’s very little point in going through the singleplayer campaign, unless you want to get some experience and upgrades under your belt, because the patchy AI and spawn-run-die gameplay renders playing alone a frustrating experience. Co-op can be fun, but again, you’re held up by poor AI, both on your team and fighting against you. The full multiplayer’s arguably the highlight, but even this has its flaws.
Brink revolves around a changing set of objectives that you must protect, blow-up, hack or escort to victory, usually one after the other. So, you might need to free a prisoner and then escort him to a waiting vessel. Along the way, you can also use a hub-style menu to choose other objectives to go after, which could include healing other players, taking out enemy command points, or any number of contextual things. The idea is that the battlefield is constantly evolving, and you have to keep up with it; you can even change your class at command stations to respond to new objectives.
In practice, though, you end up with a way too hectic, often conflicting mess. A lot of this comes down to how essential the objectives are to winning – get a bad team (or dumb AI), and you’re behind the eightball right away. But the pace of the game is often too fast to get a feel for what needs doing. You might only just be getting into the groove of defending a certain chokepoint when the whole objective switches – many games (Bad Company 2 comes to mind) feature this kind of rolling gameplay, but Brink goes way over the top.
Too, the environments really work against any kind of flow. They’re mostly built up interiors, multi-level rooms linked by tight corridors. It’s difficult to get an overall sense of the action, and overcoming that learning curve seems a chore that delivers little real payoff. And it doesn’t help that the game’s biggest ‘draw’, the SMART parkour system, actually falls flat. In Assassins’ Creed it feels special, because only you can do it; in Brink, everyone can, and it loses polish because of it. What’s more, since sprint and SMART use the same key, it can be hard to keep proper control as you traverse the busy map levels, and a lot of the parkour animations lock you in for crucial seconds of gametime. Rather than being special, it just ends up being frustrating.
Finally, the game’s actually quite buggy, even after multiple launch patches. Sound drops in and out randomly, while lag spikes make accurate fire and even movement seriously problematic.
We wanted so much to like Brink, and maybe it’s just that a lot of the design choices don’t sit with what we want from an FPS, but at the end of the day the ultimate expression of our disappointment is this – it’s one of the fastest games to be uninstalled from our gaming rig in a while.