With such a thoroughly saturated market, it takes a lot for any FPS to make an impact in the genre, let alone a totally new IP. Brink is such a title, and it aims to make its mark on a very crowded genre with some novel features and a deliberately team-oriented focus.
Set on a large floating city called the Ark, created due to rising sea levels and general global calamity, the premise of the game revolves around a battle between two factions. Ark Security is the police of the floating metropolis, and aims to save the city, whilst the Resistance is a rebel faction that will stop at nothing to escape the confines of the urban sprawl.
Join the battle
The game’s story is paper thin, despite introductory cut scenes prior to each campaign mission, and it’s more of an excuse to fight than anything else. Still, in games like this, story isn’t really important, so it’s no biggie.
The game itself is an objective-based team shooter that pits Police vs Rebels on a series of maps that feature a set of offensive and defensive objectives. These objectives include such things as blowing up barriers, escorting VIPs or vehicles, hacking computers and grabbing cases of intel and delivering them. Each map is structured around these goals, and as well as primary objectives, there’s a range of secondary tasks, such as building shortcuts or taking over command points that will make your tasks a little easier and open up alternative routes and ambush points.
Players join the fray as one of four different classes, each with different abilities. Soldiers can throw special Molotov cocktails and can resupply ammo, Engineers can buff weapon damage, place mines and build turrets, Medics can heal and revive allies and Operatives can don enemy disguises by interacting with fallen foes.
As well as combat abilities, each class also has specific objective-based skills. Soldiers are the only class able to plant C4 charges to destroy objectives, Engineers can repair escort vehicles, Medics can heal VIPs, and Operatives are the only class able to hack primary objectives.
This ability structure means that a winning team needs to have a good balance of units, and this is further demonstrated via the command wheel. Accessible at any time, this wheel points to all objectives and also shows you how many of each class your team has. This wheel is also accessible from command posts, which is where you can change your class and restock ammo and swap out weapons.
As well as the classes, you can choose from three body types. The options are normal, heavy and light. As you might guess, heavy characters can take more damage, but move slowly, normal players are an all-round mix, and light can take little damage, but can move around at high speeds.
This weight class also affects one of the game’s most interesting features, the parkour, or SMART (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain) system. This system allows players to seamlessly move through the environment, vaulting over rails, climbing ledges and even wall running, all with a single button press. Simply hold LB and you’ll automatically scale the environment as you run. The effectiveness of this differs between weight classes. Heavy classes can’t run fast and can only vault and climb small obstacles, whilst light characters can climb almost anything and are the only class to wall run, with normal sitting in the middle, able to us parkour moves on most objects, but not all.
This class system isn’t locked to specific class types, a la Team Fortress. In Valve’s title, for example, the only heavy weapons guys are large bruisers able to carry heavy ordinance and take a lot of damage. In Brink, however, you can be a heavy Medic, or light Soldier, and are free to mix things up.
What’s more, aside from a couple of exceptions, all characters can wield all weapons. Medics can carry assault rifles and shotguns, Operatives can wield grenade launchers and heavy Soldiers can use pistols, if they wish (but are the only class to be able to use heavy machine guns etc).
Been there, done that
It’s an interesting approach, but sadly, it doesn’t entirely hit home. You see, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve heard much of this before, and that’s because you have, many, many times. Brink‘s core gameplay contains very little in the way of originality, aside from a couple of small twists. This class-based teamplay is nothing new, and even the developer itself has done it all before with Quake Wars and Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. The classes on offer are basic cookie cutter units taken right out of every generic team shooter ever created, and the objective-based gameplay is also a simple rehash of other titles.
The parkour element is certainly interesting, but I found that I largely ignored it, instead playing the game like any other FPS. It’s just not all that useful, really, except in the game’s challenge mode that’s designed for this ability. It can occasionally be cool when you find a nifty shortcut in the midst of battle that lets you get the drop on foes, but it never really shakes off the feel of a gimmick, and is by no means a solid feature.
The class system is a little more flexible than most other titles, granted, but it’s also flawed, as every class can use every weapon. The weapon-specific class approach works far better, in my opinion, with each class having specific weapon specialities. Of course, some may disagree, and you can’t deny that the abilities, especially skill buffs each class can apply, are very useful. For instance, Engineers can increase weapon damage for their teammates, and Medics can increase unit health past the norm. It’s interesting, and works well enough, but isn’t a revelation.
Also, although there’s a wide range of weapons on offer, some of which have to be unlocked Call Of Duty-style, most are almost the same, with minor differences in stats only. There are a number of dull assault rifles, a couple of shotguns and other wares, but nothing all that interesting. You can unlock weapon attachments, such as silencers and scopes, but many of these are for decorative reasons only, and result in a rather limited weapon system.
There’s an impressive character customisation feature that lets you mix and match outfits, which are unlocked as you progress, but again, this is purely aesthetic. A skimpy vest offers the same protection as a huge armoured torso, so there’s no practical reason to use any outfit, other than to change your appearance. A great idea would have been to bestow small skill buffs with specific outfits, but this isn’t the case.
Of course, all of this content so far is dressing for the main FPS gameplay, and if a game gets this right, such as CoD, then you can forgive a lot. Brink, however, doesn’t get this right. In fact, Brink is one of the clunkiest and downright clumsy FPS titles I’ve played in a while.
The game just doesn’t feel right, with sluggish controls and questionable design. Weapons often feel totally ineffective and hold little ammo in each clip, leading to constant reloads, and grenades are almost always pointless unless they hit your target in the face. Even mounted machine guns struggle to deplete the ample health pools of foes.
Level design is a major bugbear, though, and most are simply a series of chokepoints, funnelling each team into a crossfire of lead, making for little in the way of tactical play. This is horribly apparent when playing against the game’s rather questionable AI, and the opposing team will simply stand en masse in a chokepoint, whilst your allies run into the resulting wall of lead like lemmings. Objectives are often in areas that favour defenders far too much, making for a rather unbalanced experience.
Playing online alleviates this to some degree, and in truth, is going to be the only way many will enjoy the game. So, if you’re a solo player, you may want to think twice. Not only is the AI often quite poor, but depending on your difficulty, the ratio of damage is totally off kilter. You’ll often empty clip after clip into foes and they’ll refuse to drop, whilst the AI can drop you with a couple of bullets. Rather than add enjoyable challenge, this simply makes the game unbalanced and annoying at times. It is playable, and even very enjoyable once you get used to the sluggish pace and pea shooter weapons, but if you’re going to enjoy Brink fully, you have to go online.
That said, AI does perform tasks such as completing objectives, and your teammates with heal and revive you, as well as buff your stats, so there’s a little mileage in single player. I should note, though, that your unlocked skills and abilities are global, and carry over from single player to online and vice versa, which is a great idea.
Once you do go online, the game will open up and will demonstrate the good points of the title more, especially if teams work together. And, when playing against real people, many of the faults will be remedied and Brink can become a totally different game, which rescues its overall score. If you find a good group of people, Brink may even be a real winner, but I still think that the poor level design and generic feel will hamper it overall, and it pales in comparison to its far superior competition.
Visually, Brink looks quite nice, running on id Tech 4, but the actual design of the locations is a little bland. Characters and some outfits look cool, though, but a little more originality and flair would be welcome, and more varied locations would spruce things up.
The audio, on the other hand, is a little problematic, mainly due to the constant stream of audio distortions and effects you’ll be hit with in battle. I can see the developers have tried to reproduce the feel of hectic skirmishes, with grenades causing ear ringing and other explosions drowning out your ability to hear properly, but the end result is off-putting, and sounds nasty. Couple this with some utterly generic FX and voice work, and it’s all a bit mediocre.
Brink it back
Despite plenty of faults, Brink isn’t all bad, and with a little time the game can become quite playable and enjoyable. The class-based system works well enough, and the objectives, although familiar, make for some great online play. It’s just a shame that the so-called revolutionary elements are far from it, and token additions like the subpar free running do little to enhance the title.
If you’re a fan of games such as Team Fortress or Quake Wars, then Brink will certainly appeal, and the little touches may be welcome additions to the formula. But if you’ve gotten used to silky smooth and buttery game engines and controls like those seen in CoD and Halo, you’ll probably find Brink to be a disappointment. Solo players with a lot of patience may also get some enjoyment out of it, but this is definitely an online multiplayer title at heart.
Brink will be released on May 13 and can be pre-ordered from the Den Of Geek Store.