Hopes were high for Brink. Cool character design, mixed with Mirror’s Edge FPS platforming and served as an objective-based shooter that could instantly take the fight online, replacing bots for real people. With all these elements and a name that implies it’s already on the edge, it’s a tough task on the hands of developers Splash Damage.
Brink features two campaigns based in the Arc, a futuristic city built for mankind’s rich survivors after the melting of the polar ice caps drowned the world. One story has you playing as the Arc’s security forces, the other shows the same events from the rebels (the former builders of the Arc) perspective, who are trying to escape or destroy the Arc. Yes, someone has been playing Bioshock. Both sides are shown as the potential good guys, but the story is merely filler between matches.
The game is designed to be played either offline with AI bots, online with a mixture of bots (to fill the gaps) and online players as a team or on opposing sides. Matches are assigned automatically if you opt for online. Unfortunately, many of them are empty and there is no game list to pick from, meaning you’re often stuck with the dumb AI.
At least you can actually finish the game offline. The AI in Splash Damage’s console version of Quake: Enemy Territory was appalling. The final stages are frustrating though, as they require blind luck as you one-man-army the whole thing with your team of morons never backing you up. Missions can be played in any order, with the difficulty increasing naturally as you go. This essentially means that you must increasingly rely on doing all the work yourself the further you get, as the usefulness of the AI nose-dives throughout.
Using different player classes, the teams must complete objectives. Such as blowing up targets, hacking systems, protecting drones, destroying barricades and so on. When you play the missions on the other side, you’re essentially doing the opposite and holding your ground. When there are multiple objectives available it helps add some variety and stops the action bottlenecking in the usual areas. It’s just a shame that the end of missions usually boil down to one objective, providing stalemates, bottlenecking and a game that favours the defending side.
Choosing the correct character class is important, as they are sometimes the only ones who can perform certain tasks like hacking or laying explosives. You can also play a supportive role by dropping ammo packs, give teammates combat boosters, or lay down sentry turrets.
The character creation tool has a wide range of clothing and facial features to choose from and the detail is fantastic with the exaggerated characters looking tonnes better than most genero-military types. There’s definitely a Timesplitters vibe going on too, which this generation badly needs.
To unlock most weapons you need to complete offline challenge rooms, which is annoying if you just want to play online. XP can be earned from playing the campaign on and offline and levelling up will provide coins for upgrading abilities like better turrets, quicker bomb defusing, extra ammo and so on. After levelling up you can choose different character size types. The lighter one can sprint fast and climb higher while the heavy one makes up for being slow and lumpy by being able to take more damage.
One of the early selling points of Brink was S.M.A.R.T. – Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain. This was set to add some desperately needed variety into the way players move around in a FPS. Finally, someone was starting to acknowledge the important steps that Mirror’s Edge took. Sadly, the end result is overly simple and clunky. By holding down a button and simply pointing your view up when approaching something climbable, you vault over it or climb up. Sometimes you’ll need to be stood in the perfect spot before the climb animation kicks in too, leaving you hopping around vulnerably as the enemy closes in. It’s a heavily automated system that lacks individual player control for a more rewarding experience. It’s hardly the refined version of Mirror’s Edge that gaming’s crying out for.
The levels fail to excite, as they’re either brown slums and dockyards or the usual labs and bland shopping centres. Feature-wise they just seem to be open areas connected by corridors for you to re-spawn and run through repeatedly.
After attempting to merge so many elements, you can’t help but feel Brink is a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. The platforming could have been an important element if it allowed more user-control and was used in an interesting campaign instead of boxy arenas. Offline, the game modes aren’t fun to play with the AI bots and already I was struggling to populate matches with online players. If nobody wants to play Brink online, then there’s very little point at all.