We've been anxiously awaiting Brink's release ever since it was first announced way back in 2009. When developer Splash Damage promised customizable characters and weapons, a parkour-style SMART (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain) movement system, and of course, eight player online co-op, Brink seemed too good to be true. I'll put any fears you may have to rest now; Brink is a very good co-op game. That being said, there are some serious flaws that keep the overall game from being great, mostly on the single player front.
When you first pop Brink into your system of choice you will be asked to join a faction on the overpopulated, artificial island called the Ark. You can either play as the Security or the Resistance. Think of the Security as the clean-cut Haves, and the Resistance as the rag-tag Have Nots. After you've picked a side you choose a face and voice for your character. One of the first things I noticed was how bright and clean the menus are. The black and white contrast is very striking. The next thing I noticed is that most of the available faces are dog-butt ugly. Don't get me wrong, graphically the faces look fine, but the characters' mugs are slightly reminiscent of the puppets from the old UK show Spitting Image, just not as grotesquely exaggerated. Thankfully, Splash Damage didn't include female characters. Now I know why the pre-release vidoes of this game featured so many masked characters.
You can choose to jump right into battle from here; or you can spend time tweaking your appearance and choosing your default class and weapon preferences. It is also here where you will decide whether or not to give your character any scars or tattoos. You will be able to apply scars or tattoos only once, and then you're stuck with them. (Until you make a new character. The game allows for a roster of 10 avatars.)
Body size is important in Brink. The skinnier you are easier it is to move up in the world, just like in real life. You will have access to the medium body type at first. Later you will unlock the small and large body sizes, which greatly impact your movement speed, SMART capabilities, and weapon load outs. Unlike the scars and tattoos, body type isn't a permanent decision, you can change it between matches the same way you can change a hat.
Once you're happy with your character you'll dive into the gameplay. Brink gives you three options: Campaign, Free Play, or Challenges. You will earn XP and level up in all three modes, plus, each mode can be played co-operatively. The Campaign is where most people will start, and where most people will have their problems, especially if they try to go it alone. When you first begin the Campaign you can choose solo, co-op, or versus play, public or private accessibility, bot difficulty, and prefered skill level of joining players.
Cargo shorts? Check. Belt vest? Check. Trash bag sleeves? Double check! Let's go shoot some fools.
Every campaign mission in Brink is an 8 versus 8 contest. Make no mistake, this is not a team deathmatch. There will be no Kill to Death score at the end of the level. Each map has several objectives for each side to perform in a set amount of time. We'll take the first mission as an example. If you're playing as the Resistance, you have to guard a door. There are plenty of side objectives, but your main focus better be protecting that damn door. A ten minute timer counts down. If the Resistance holds the door for the entire ten minutes, the mission is declared a success and your team wins. If the Security manages to breach that door in the ten minute limit, a chunk of time is added to the counter and a new objective opens up. After a brief cut scene the mission expands with new objectives. Now Security has a wounded VIP they are trying to evacuate from the area. Your mission as a Resistance team member is to stop them. If Security moves their VIP to the evac zone before time runs out, the Resistance loses. If you stop the evac, the Resistance wins. At the end of the match the game displays a scoreboard depicting the top player in each class, the top player overall, and who had the most kills. With the exception of the kill score, these rankings are based on the amount of XP each player earned.
How you decide to be an asset to your team is entirely up to you. The squad commander will bark orders at you constantly. It's helpful in the early levels, but it began to grate on my nerves later in the game. You can access an objective wheel by holding Up on the D-pad. Here you can choose whichever objective suits your chosen class. Or, you can stop by a command post and change classes so that you can complete a specific task. It you tap Up on the D-Pad you will assign yourself to the main objective. Another nice thing about the objective wheel is that you can see how many players are attempting each available task, so you can fill in the gaps as you see fit.
In a game where communication is key, voice chat is switched off by default. You can select players to join a fire team to open a voice chat channel, but we quickly bypassed this in favor of an Xbox LIVE party. The party option was also the way to go if you wanted to organize any friends, since there is no lobby system. If no human players are talking you can rely on the objective wheel to tell you where to go. When a mission is selected an icon appears on your HUD. Head toward that icon, and you'll find some action. You can choose a wide variety of options, from escorting players, to hacking terminals, to reviving downed teammates. If your way is blocked, simply hold down the left bumper to enter the SMART movement system, and your character will vault, slide and climb their way there. Small characters can wall jump and scale most things, allowing them to traverse the battlefield quickly. Larger avatars lack speed and mobility, but gain a defensive edge and the ability to equip heavy weapons.
Each of the four available classes possess their own unique roles. Operatives can take on downed enemy's appearances, get behind enemy lines, and capture team-buffing command posts. Medics can revive, buff and heal themselves and other players. Engineers can deploy land mines and turrets. Soldiers can absorb damage and supply other teammates with ammo. All of these actions reward players with experience points. Sure, you can get XP for kills, but you'll get tons more if you support your team and complete objectives. Each class has ten to eleven abilities you can unlock and purchase through leveling up. If all this sounds great to you, it's because it is. Brink is a fantastic co-op experience with other players. Unfortunately, this is not the case when playing solo.
AI bots pictured from left to right: Not on my team, Not on my team, On my team.
The AI in Brink works well the majority of the time, but it can be an absolute nightmare at the worst possible moments. When I was playing solo I would have medics ignore me. Brink's version of flag runners would stand still. The AI would rarely complete primary objectives. For example, if a terminal needed to be hacked, I could stand on guard as a Soldier and wait for an Operative for the duration of the match. I would have no choice but to run to the nearest command post and change classes, then try to fight my way back as a weaksauce Operative. Don't get me wrong, Operatives can be very cool. It's just that I've leveled up my Soldier skills the most, then Engineer, followed by Medic, and finally Operative. I'm also rolling heavy body, so I'm kind of like a squishy waddling duck when I'm not playing soldier class. The friendly AI is serviceable most of the time, but occasionally it will leave you very frustrated.
The biggest offender is the enemy AI. The game seems to have a sort of "rubber band AI." This concept is common in racing games. It allows the AI to keep up with you no matter how far ahead you are, unfairly balancing the game. In the first mission I mentioned above, don't be surprised if the easy to handle steady flow of enemy players turns into and eight man tactical onslaught in the closing minutes. To make matters worse, most of your own team will go off to complete secondary objectives at inopportune moments, and there is no way to give orders, ask politely, or even beg them to stay with you.
The simplest remedy for the poison AI is to play with a friend. I played Brink with a handful of other people online for a few days, and one human ally can change the tide of battle. Speaking of that, I'd like to thank Mollarom from TheWayOfTheGame.net for being an excellent team player during the game's pre-release weekend. If you don't happen to have random gaming editors passing through your play session, the second simplest solution is to drop the difficulty level. For some missions the "Easy" setting should be called "Fair."
The Campaign story is loosely held together by short cut scenes which you will most likely be skipping by the third mission. You will see your created character in the cut scenes, which is a nice touch. What's interesting is that you can play both the Security and Resistance campaigns with your character, no matter which faction you choose. Actually, you can play any mission at any time, right from the start of the game. You can even begin with the last mission of a campaign, if you want. Just remember, the missions generally get harder toward the end of the campaign, which makes the enemy AI more devious. Your character will change his look depending on which side you are fighting on. You can customize faction appearances independently of each other. i.e. If you change your Resistance hair style and shirt, it doesn't affect your Security hair style and shirt. Scars and tattoos stay, though.
You can see your character in his Resistance or Security gear with the push of a button.
Free Play allows you to play any map, and is the easiest way to get into a versus multiplayer match. You can also adjust options like friendly fire and voice chat. If you host a private match you can change player counts and other rules of the game. There are 8 maps available, and they play differently depending on which faction you are representing.
The Challenges are an interesting little diversion. There are four Challenges and each one focuses on the different skills you will need to survive in Brink. There are three difficulty levels to a Challenge and each level unlocks new items or features. You can play these solo or co-operatively with up to three other players. It's through this mode that you will unlock new weapons and weapon customization options. Most players will be able to complete the Challenges almost immediately, unlocking all of the guns and weapon attachments in their first few hours with the game.
Whether you view this as a plus or minus is a personal choice, but I was disappointed to have the entire arsenal laid before me so early in the game. I would like to have seen more Challenges with fewer guns unlocked at each stage. This would have spread out the rewards. The weapons themselves are a little disappointing, as well. I haven't noticed much difference in the guns I've unlocked and the ones that were available at the start of the game, with the exception of the mini-gun. Each one does have a cool look and fun customization options to play with, but it just isn't very deep.
Brink has been designed to play through multiple times. Unfortunately, everything can be easily unlocked in a week. I will have already reached the modest level cap of 20 by the time you are reading this. Clothing and firearms carry over to new characters, so each new avatar you create will have almost every customization option available upon creation. The only thing a new character has to unlock will be level-based abilities, and since you can respec your main character, it's kind of pointless to create a new one. Respecing will cost you one level of experience, which you can gain back in a few battles.
Mike got his hands on the PC build of Brink, and here's what he had to say:
"An issue that bears mentioning is the surprising lack of any sort of lobby system to organize co-op partners, which is nearly criminal in this day and age. Now, the auto-matchmaking during the campaign ensures you'll (almost) always be playing with others, but a better way to organize play sessions would have been welcome. What IS welcome, however, is the fact that the PC version has a server browser to find open games as well as dedicated server support. Direct IP connections are also available, but connection issues are plaguing users as of this writing (open those ports, people!)."
"While mostly solid, the PC version contains some particularly nasty bugs. One of the more common ones causes all of your non-environmental sound to cut out, which turns the game into quite a strange experience, let me tell you. That particular one lingers until you restart the game, too. Annoying. Loss of connection also causes a crash-to-desktop error, so be prepared should the game start getting laggy."
Brink has it's flaws, but it is a blast to play. The character models look great. The environments are a little dull, and I noticed some minor texture issues. These graphical hiccups are easy to overlook in the heat of battle. The controls are tight and the guns feel right. The gameplay experience itself should keep people coming back for more. Watching your XP score grow as you resupply ammo and heal your comrades can give you the same feeling of accomplishment as lining up a perfect headshot. Seeing small body types parkour (is that even a verb?) around the slow heavies is a trip. Repelling the last ditch effort of diabolical AI with a friend in an early level can feel just as rewarding as an end-game scenario in some other shooters. Even when a mission is unsuccessful you can still bank experience points if you're a good team player. It's not as deep as I would have liked, but Brink is a must play if you enjoy co-op shooters.