|REVIEWS - VIDEOGAME REVIEWS|
'A redefining FPS'; 'a game-changing addition' – whoever marketed this mediocre addition deserves a knighthood...
We delayed this review of Brink because it felt important to examine the new FPS from Splash Damage in its ‘proper’ setting; with other human players. Having spent a considerable time playing Brink in both ‘single player’ and multiplayer modes, it is now possible to pass fair and true judgement on it. Brink does occasionally add something to the genre, but it's not the redefining release we hoped it might be. While multiplayer provides a respectable level of enjoyment – when it works properly – the single player campaign is virtually non-existent. Basically, Brink is a multiplayer game through and through, which is a damn shame because, with its vast and diverse world, Brink could have easily made for an excellent single player experience; which would ultimately have led to a much greater game.
One of the most interesting aspects of Brink is its setting, which is rather different to the gritty realism of most games on the market. OK, while Brink may be another shooter set in a post-apocalyptic environment, at least this one isn’t because of a nuclear war...It’s floods this time; but Brink’s floating utopian city ‘The Ark’ isn’t affected by the events, thus keeping its high class residents safe from the tides.
However, The Ark isn’t just a home to those in the tower. Refugees – or ‘guests’ as they’re often called by the Security faction – have come to the city and struggle to find a life in the ever growing slums. The guests, unhappy with their lot, take up arms as the Resistance Faction, looking to escape the Ark and bring help from any remnants of the outside world, while the Security faction are tasked with preventing their revolt in order to avoid any other outsiders discovering The Ark.
So, I haven't said a whole lot, but that’s pretty much it when it comes to the story. It’s a shame that, aside from the cut-scenes scattered precariously throughout, there’s no real narrative to the game. The Ark could potentially provide so many stories, with the variety of accents from around the world during the short cut-scenes giving us a glimpse of the global nature of the city. Nonetheless, at least the scenario gives players enough of a reason for there to be a civil war in the first place.
Brink is divided into a series of 16 skirmish battles, based on eight maps which can be played as both resistance and security sides, and which are all based around both team and class based objectives. The missions are exactly the same in both single and multiplayer modes – hence the reason I previously referred to Brink as a multiplayer game through and through. The only difference is that when playing the single player campaign, every other ‘player’ on the map is an A.I. controlled bot (Similar to that of Splash Damage's previous multiplayer title, Quake Wars). Online multiplayer is therefore how Brink should be played, especially when the limited intelligence of your computer controlled teammates is taken into account....these we’ll come back to later.
Brink is very much a class based game with four different types of combatant available to the player – Soldier, Medic, Engineer, and Operative. Now, if like me you’re a seasoned Team Fortress 2 player, three of these four classes will sound very familiar...while Operative is more or less the Spy but in thrice as many letters. Furthermore, the four classes in Brink function in a somewhat plagiaristic fashion to their Team Fortress 2 namesakes. The Medic’s primary objective is to heal team-mates; while the Engineer is responsible for maintaining vehicles, building and maintaining sentry guns, and disarming the explosive charges that the Soldier can plant (not much then – Ed). The Soldier is very much the destructive ‘tank’ unit, while the Operative does exactly what it says on the tin: sabotaging and hacking as you see fit.
Each of the four classes can be used in each mission to complete a series of objectives, with good teamplay bringing far more XP to the player than just kills. For example, killing an enemy will get you around 20 XP, while aiding team-mates with a health boost, ammo supply, weapon strength buff etc will gain you considerably more. However, it’s completing tasks from the Objective Wheel that bring the biggest boosts to XP.
Another of Brink's self-explaining features, Objective Wheel, allows the user to bring it up – at any point during a match – and select (using their left stick) the objective they wish to complete. The primary objective – the one required to win the mission – is always at the top of the wheel and highlighted in yellow. This can change throughout the mission, depending on your progress.
Confused? OK, well, take this mission – you are in charge of escorting a vehicle towards its objective. While the vehicle is moving, The Engineers primary objective, like everyone else, is to keep the bot moving. However, if the enemy team manages to damage the bot enough for it to stop moving, the Engineers primary objective will then transfer to repairing it. while his team-mates set up a perimeter with which to protect him.
Of course, with this being an objective ‘wheel’, there’s a large choice of tasks to perform, and a great number of secondary objectives available; many of which, like their primary brethren, are class specific. Some, however, are not, with the most prominent examples being to capture supply and health posts. While in no part an integral part of Brink's missions, there are a number of obvious benefits to your side possessing both supply posts, such as multiple spawn points and a regular health buff for your entire team. Ultimately, the numerous objectives lead to frantic battles as the two teams fight to complete their opposing attacking and defensive tasks, both of which are dependant on the mission type and the map.
This system works very well in multiplayer and provides a lot of fun – so long as you’re playing on a team that actually works well together! When the team is less cohesive, Brink becomes incredibly tedious and somewhat frustrating...not what you hope from an apparent 'generation defining' FPS. Considering the importance of teamwork, it’s surprising to see that Brink doesn’t have a lobby system that allows you to join a multiplayer versus game with friends; which brings me onto my next point.
This is frustrating in a number of ways. First of all, it's disastrous when attempting to join an 'in-progress' game, as my group of four soon found out; it simply takes forever, jumping from server to server as it attempts to find a game with space. Secondly, the (occasionally) severely laggy servers – a result of the fact they’re hosted by a player – means that even when you find a server, the connection may be so bad that fluent gaming becomes impossible. Things have improved since a post release patch, but the issue does occasionally persist.
In addition to this, to this day I have not come across any server which features the ability for players to chat and attempt to work as a team. So, unless you’re playing across party chat on Xbox Live (as I did) cohesive teamwork becomes a somewhat distant dream. That said, any human player has to be better than the A.I. bots that regularly pop up to balance teams.
To put it bluntly, the A.I. of your teammates is shocking. While playing offline, it seemed that I was the only ‘player’ focussed on completing the mission objectives, with my squad instead choosing to run around aimlessly, whilst causing a general nuisance and contributing nothing. Sure, when playing alone you don’t want your A.I. teammates doing all the heavy lifting for you, but their tendency to die so often makes completing some missions frustrating.
This is especially the case in maps with severe bottlenecking points where the enemy team can set up shop and guard a single point. Instead of considering their options, your A.I. bots run mindlessly towards it and get themselves killed...over and over again. While most of the time it is possible to take a variety of routes through the maps, escorting a maintenance robot or VIP often requires rescuing them if they get pinned down...it’s when the worst bottlenecking occurs. The bottlenecking isn’t exclusive to ‘single player’ by any means, but at least when playing with other humans you can formulate a plan to attack the zone from the side or behind. This need for playing as a cohesive unit makes the AWOL lobby system a rather significant downfall of Brink's.
Therefore, it's unfortunate that the player has no influence over any of their A.I. teammates. If Splash Damage could implement an objective wheel which allowed you to make the bots focus on a specific goal, it would make the whole issue much less annoying. It’s not as if the idea hasn’t been implemented before – with the Left4Dead games being a prominent example of controlling objectives for teammates in use. The ability to have some control over A.I. teammates – which can also feature in quieter multiplayer games – would really add to what is supposed to be a team based game.
Where Brink does excel, however, is through the use of the S.M.A.R.T. movement system; and through using this – and good teamwork – choke points on maps can be avoided. Simply put, S.M.A.R.T. stands for "Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain" and arguably adds a very interesting element to the gameplay. While running towards an obstacle, look up and your character will jump over it, look down and they can slide under things. Combine this with the ability to slide into opponents - and inevitably knocking them over - and the S.M.A.R.T. system adds something frantic to the game; and indeed, in this one aspect, to the genre. It’d be great if other FPS titles could adopt a similar system in future.
When it comes to how Brink looks, it’s clear that the characters are the main focus of the game. While the maps and environments generally look fine – aside from the occasional clipping issue – they’re not outstanding. They all mostly adhere to one of two formulas – a map inside The Ark that features a lot of different shades of grey and blue, or outdoor maps that show the brown and orange of the slums. The two type of maps are hard to tell apart when it comes to looks, but then you could argue this allows players to fully concentrate on the battles...you wouldn’t want to get shot in the head looking at a pretty texture, would you?
It’s the player avatars that are certainly the most impressive thing about Brink's artistic style and, even before customisation, the long faced characters look distinctive. Splash Damage claim that with character customisation, there are 102,247,681,536,000,000 possible combinations of character. You could spend a long time customising your character; their clothes, their hair, their body type, and all in order to make your avatar truly unique.
To tie this customisation in with the game itself, Brink allows you to unlock new items as you level up, adding to your character while gaining new abilities. Weapons are also customisable thanks to unlocks released after completing certain challenges. Each level up allows you to buy an ability your character can use in the battlefield, be it a general one or one for use by a certain class, with this adding even more to customisation and the idea that you’re character is truly unique.
It’s likely that you’ll want to specialise in one or two of the four roles because, with a level cap at 20, you’re not able to unlock everything. 20 is a low level limit for a game as focused on multiplayer as Brink and can be achieved in a relatively short amount of time. As such, something tells me that when the first batch of paid for DLC arrives for Brink, not only will it add to the small number of maps, but it’ll also increase the level cap.
But no matter what you’re level, you can spend hours tweaking your character's outfit, making it as wacked out as possible, safe in the knowledge you’ll look unique. It’s your character, representing you amongst the many numbers of Brink players – so he needs to look good, right?
Perhaps it’s the expectations we put on Brink before its release that make it a disappointing game in a number of ways. After all the talk of combining single and multiplayer, the single player mode consists of playing with bots as we were with Unreal Tournament over a decade ago. The absolute need for cohesive teamwork also means that as a ‘single player’ experience, Brink falls flat thanks to your A.I. teammates' ludicrously low A.I. The lack of a proper single player campaign really does make the interesting world of The Ark feel much less used than it should have.
However, take away the bots and play Brink with your friends and you can expect an enjoyable – albeit repetitive – team based shooter. Sure, the maps can be a bit samey and it’s obvious that Splash Damage will be releasing DLC in future, but when things go right Brink is a hell of a lot of fun, especially when the creative use of S.M.A.R.T. is taken into account. But this, frustratingly, doesn’t happen as often as it should and Brink has a tendency to become stale, and tedious when things go wrong. The game has so much potential to be great, which, at the moment, it just doesn’t fulfil. Future updates may change this, but are you willing to pay for it? Brink looks set up to make the most out of DLC as it can.
It’s tough to strongly recommend a game which, while occasionally perfect to play, often feels incomplete. While we can’t be sure what the future will bring for Brink, we know one thing for certain; it hasn’t redefined the FPS as it claimed it would.
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