Also available on: PS3, PC
Developer: Splash Damage
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Genre: First-person shooter
New IPs in the over-saturated FPS genre have a lot to live up to and the competition is incredibly fierce. A new title needs to stand out and offer something a little bit different if it wants to attract attention and pull players away from the likes of Crysis, Call Of Duty and Halo. Bethesda's Brink has certainly piqued our interest thanks to its unique look and parkour-based movement system, which allows players to nimbly traverse levels with all the grace of a well-armed ballerina. Unfortunately, Brink proves that looks can be deceiving. Although by no means a bad game, it fails to live up to the hype, despite offering an engaging multiplayer experience.
The game takes place on a floating city called The Ark, which was built 40 years prior as an experimental, self-sustaining paradise. However, rising water levels have left The Ark isolated and it has since fallen into decay. Cut off from the wider world and filled with tens of thousands of hungry refugees, The Ark is now in the midst of a civil war. Players can choose to play as a member of the resistance, who want to flee The Ark and explore the outside world, or as a member of the security forces, who believe that The Ark can survive with law and order in place. Neither side is clearly defined as good or evil, which makes the struggle an intriguing one. However, the plot is never truly developed and remains relatively shallow. Barring a quick cut-scene at the beginning of each side's campaign and one at the end, the narrative is limited to short, pre-mission briefings and tedious unlockable audio logs.
Brink's single-player campaign is also lacking. Instead of regular, story-driven levels, which take players from A to B, Brink features a collection of objective-orientated, team-based maps - plus a minor challenge mode which works the same way as a tutorial. There are eight maps in total, with goals and tasks changing depending on which faction is selected. Objectives are ranked in order of importance and can be easily picked from the game's user-friendly objective wheel, which shows players where to go and which class is needed for a particular task. There are four classes including soldiers, who are able to dish out ammo and blow things up; medics, who have the ability to revive fallen comrades and are particularly handy during escort missions; engineers, who can repair things and disarm the aforementioned explosives and operatives - the sneaky ones able to hack terminals and steal data. Character classes can be changed at will from command posts, which means that while it's hard to master one specific role, players can take matters into their own hands if a particular task is proving troublesome - which it will during single-player sessions.
In the game's defence, team-based titles are never as much fun when played with the computer, but Brink's solo mode is outright infuriating. The AI characters rarely prioritise and seem to be obsessed with side-objectives, leaving the human-controlled player to defend doors or plant explosives on heavily-guarded landmarks with little or no aid. It's a shame because the problem could be easily fixed, or at least greatly improved, with a basic command/communication system. The respawn system is also rather annoying. Fallen soldiers spend an age writhing around on the floor waiting for medics to appear, or for the respawn timer to count down to zero. However, the respawn window appears so briefly, that players usually end up waiting a further 15-20 seconds for the next one to come along or for another batch of unreliable AI medics to show up. It's not a game-breaker, but waiting around like that seems a little pointless when in most other titles you're able to respawn straight away.
Fortunately, the Brink experience transforms with a few additional people in tow – although there can be a problem with lag with too many on board. Objectives remain challenging, but are far more achievable when tackled in numbers and with a little communication. The game also benefits from having one of the more comprehensive upgrade and customisation systems to date. Earning experience and levelling up is relatively simple and allows players to make a vast number of practical and superficial tweaks. Additional skills such as sprinting reloads, building turrets and adding firewalls to command posts (making them harder to hack) are all up for grabs, as well as weapon upgrades such as new scopes and clips - affecting reload speed, accuracy etc. Thankfully there's even a grenade upgrade which increases its blast radius – essential because up to this point they're about as effective and impressive as a banger from a joke shop. Customising appearances is also fun and the wonderfully drawn, pointy, slightly cartoonish characters ooze personality, especially with a few well placed cosmetic modifications.
The game also features some really impressive maps, which not only look good, but are extremely well designed and come to life with the game's SMART (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain) movement system. Each stage is full of detail and contains lots of things that can potentially be used to vault over or slide under. Zipping around levels in this way is as simple as holding down a button, and true to form, a player's level of agility can also be customised. Bigger guys have increased health and can carry heavy weapons, while the small, skinny types are able to reach new heights and have access to extra parts of the wonderful levels. As good as the levels are, however, it is slightly odd and a little baffling that there aren't more of them or additional game modes outside of the main campaign which take advantage of the vast location.
A large part of the Brink experience is terribly frustrating, particularly when playing the game with little or no human assistance. The AI is awful, rarely helping the player to achieve important goals, which makes accomplishing objectives and finishing levels incredibly difficult. However, disregarding the single-player experience entirely and taking it for the multiplayer game that it is, Brink begins to feel much more satisfying and engaging. The irritating respawn system, multiplayer lag and some of the other flaws remain, but with some human companionship, goals are achievable and the game becomes fun. A little communication allows players to use tactics and tackle objectives in greater numbers, while upgrades and character classes take on a greater significance and add the required depth. Brink isn't quite what we were expecting and has a few too many flaws to topple the FPS greats, but it is worth a pop if you like multiplayer shooters.
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