Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Brink Review

What do you get when you combine a famed, first-rate publisher in Bethesda with Enemy Territory: Quake Wars creator Splash Damage? If your answer was an excellent, innovative and superbly-polished game entitled 'Brink', you'd only be a quarter right. Saying that, Brink accomplishes quite a bit with its unique formula and functionality, but its overall lack of ingenuity turns this incredible-looking first-person shooter into a derivative afterthought.

Brink's story begins and ends with the Ark, a massive structure built to withstand extensive flooding. The planet just happened, coincidentally, to feel destructive, and the waters came, destroying everything and only leaving the Ark, forcing it to become a sanctuary for humanity. But with the Ark isolated and supplies scarce, people began to fear for their lives. Some wanted to escape the Ark to search for other life, but others felt that staying organised would provide more of a benefit. Your decision on this dilemma forms the opening of the game: will you escape the Ark, or save it?

Customisation is clean and the visuals are nice. Kinda like TF2.

The initial narrative sounds intriguing. It's too bad, then, because this is the only striking bit of story the game contains; the rest is merely trivial filler to provide some vague context to whichever map you're playing in. Each map you play begins with a small cut-scene, a conversation between several faceless characters. They can talk about almost anything, from their brother being part of the opposing force to how badly they want to crush the security force barring their escape. Whatever the case is, you simply can't think about what's going on in the world of Brink because you'll never have a friggin' clue.

But then, you were never supposed to.

There's no issue with a game being completely multiplayer-focussed, as there are plenty of titles out there that have utilised this type of design, and succeeded. The problem is that Brink cannot decide what sort of shooter it wants to be. As mentioned above, the game begins with a choice and it appears to be a rather heavy one - the sort typically found in single player games. Once you make this decision, you're immediately taken to the title screen where you can select all the missions for both Security and Resistance factions. What's the point of this choice being present if I can immediately skip to the final mission for either faction? To further amplify this empty function, whether you accomplish or fail there is simply no effect on the world of Brink. There are a couple of scenarios where someone could escape or something could have been blown up, but its effect on the overarching world is negligible. If Splash Damage wanted to create a decent narrative in an interesting world, they should have gone all the way instead of making what is, frankly, a juvenile attempt.

Not even close to as satisfying as it looks.

Being a class-based FPS, you wouldn't expect much from Brink in the way of unique design due to the sheer volume of replica shooters on the market. Surprisingly, Splash Damage conceived some differentiating material that actually makes Brink intelligent when compared to its competition. Gone are the standard deathmatch modes, the lone gunmen and the grenade spamming monsters that plague conventional titles. Brink wants you to work with your team, choose the right class, and complete objectives around the map to build a successful co-operative environment.

Fancy that.

The idea behind this style is fantastic. I can definitely support a developer who wants to move beyond basic kill/death ratios and throw in intuitive gameplay, but Brink just doesn't evolve enough to accomplish these goals. For one, the game comes with two game modes. Two. Your standard 'freeplay' matches are basically the campaign, and both Security and Resistance either play the role of attacker or defender. One completes their objectives while the other prevents them, someone wins, game over. Stopwatch is basically precisely the same thing, but the sides switch after the initial match to see if the other team can gather a higher score. I refuse to believe that a developer like Splash Damage failed to think of other scenarios besides Unreal Tournament's Assault mode.

I don't know why, but the mounted guns in this game really suck at killing people.

At the very least, Brink offers you experience for every little thing you do. Hardly any points are rewarded for kills as the big money is doled out to those who capture points, heal their teammates, provide ammunition, and so forth. That's all dandy, but it brings us to the other major flaw of this game: the classes. Be it the Soldier, Engineer, Operative or Medic, every single one manages to be boring and uninspired. The experience you earn whilst playing as a certain class can unlock other class-specific abilities (like the Engineer throwing down a turret), but none is more useful than the medic who can revive others and boost health, as well as heal himself. Other classes aren't nearly as effective, like the Operative, who can disguise himself as the enemy but, if he so much as tries to open a door, finds his disguise compromised. The only real reason to switch to another class is to complete an objective that only that specific class can accomplish.

Switching classes doesn't bring you unique weapons either. Brink has no prejudice when it comes to weapon selection. Once again, this seems like a neat idea, but all it does is break the classes down even further. The only variation in which arsenal you can use relies solely on your character's weight: light, medium, or heavy. Furthermore, it's a choice you can only switch by going all the way back to the customisation page on the main menu. Heavies are slower but can tout miniguns, whilst lightweights are much faster but can't carry heavy weaponry or equipment at all. Why, come hell or high water, would you make such a unique and game-influencing choice only switchable out of the game?

Hey, that guy is down. Too bad it'll take a full clip to make him respawn.

All shooters are judged by the percieved weight, overall feel, and control of the weapons you tout, and I'll bet you'll never guess how I feel about these. The soldier gets Molotovs, which single-handedly have the most vapid effect I've ever seen in a video game. Grenades in general are underwhelming, and couldn't be less satisfying to throw. The worst, however, comes with the weapons themselves; they don't feel or even sound satisfying when you shoot them. It doesn't help either that characters are abnormally beefy and can require several shots with a sniper rifle to take down.

You might have heard of Brink's 'Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain', or 'S.M.A.R.T.', system. This technicality was supposed to be one of the more unique features of Brink, but all it comes down to is holding a single button as you sprint around the map. With S.M.A.R.T., your character will interact with whatever you encounter automatically. That includes sliding under pipes, scaling fences, jumping across chasms; whatever it may be, you can do it automatically. This parkour style - an incredibly unique feature, particularly in FPS titles - certainly grabbed my attention in the game's many previews, but Bethesda's "move more than you shoot" motto definitely doesn't make sense in the game's context. S.M.A.R.T. doesn't do anything useful since running away from a conflict doesn't help the team and will simply net you a needless death. What's the purpose of moving over random terrain when the other guys can just shoot you while you do it?

S.M.A.R.T. isn't exactly the best implemented feature.

Since it's on topic, I should also mention that this game has had ridiculous launch issues with ATI cards. The in-game lag is also beyond redemption, and it'll probably take you at least a few dozen attempts to find a decent server to play on. But my ultimate grievance - the number one thing I hate the most about Brink - is having to wait for a patch to fix these issues. Releasing a game with some minor flaws and glitches can be endured, but issues that render the game essentially unplayable should never be encountered. With a couple more months of polish, I can't help but think that Brink could have avoided most of these technical flaws.

Brink is an intelligent game at heart, and one that aspires to be much more than Splash Damage has made possible. Its lack of narrative, fractured gameplay and ambitious but shortfallen design leave me only with the resolution that Brink is a welfare version of Team Fortress 2. Brink hints at something that could have been much greater, but never fully explores the imagination that could have made it exceptional.


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