As I attempted to dive headfirst into the waters of Brink, I found myself at a loss. I could not find where Splash Damage had hidden the story. The story is not in the campaign mode, or the free play mode, or the challenges, but is, instead, in the instruction booklet. The flimsy pages piece the blank narrative together. Brink takes place on the ARK, an above-ground version of Rapture from BioShock. The creators envisioned a perfect floating society that could be self-sustaining and unicorns and puppies could frolic freely in the gumdrop forests. However, as Earth began to flood, more and more people came to the ARK, overcrowding the hovering utopia. Human nature being what it is, greedy individuals were able to gain all the resources for themselves, leaving immigrants to the ARK with nothing.
This conflict leads to the first major decision you must make as a player: Which side will you fight for? On one hand, you can fight for the Security forces who wish to save the ARK and find a way to redistribute the wealth so all members of the population are satisfied. On the other, you can choose to aid the Rebel forces that want to escape the ARK (to where? The Earth is flooded…). Neither side is particularly likable. Plus, you play both sides of the campaign anyway, so ultimately, your choice doesn’t matter in the slightest.
To be fair, the game does attempt to give some exposition before missions, but all the characters talk with thick and heavy accents. Normally this would no be much of an issue, but Brink has no option for subtitles. This means that I was unable to understand anything my characters were saying to one another. Even if you want to follow an incomprehensible plot, it will be almost impossible considering the impenetrable accents of the protagonists.
It's always the "ideal" societies that seem to fall apart.
One of the biggest selling points for Brink is the customizable character options, but for every success Brink finds here, it also courts failure. There are a multitude of facial features, although most of them look identical. In an era where Mass Effect has given me more sliders to beautify or defile my Shepard, simply using pre-made options isn’t enough. The same problem applies for the outfits as well. Brink offers a plethora of different styles of clothing, but rather than choosing the shade of your fancy new duds, you must select from a list of predetermined color palettes. The only real choice that affects gameplay is your character's body type. Small characters run faster and jump higher but only use SMGs and have less health. Large characters sustain more wounds with their access to all weapons but run slower and and have a shameful vertical. Medium characters fall squarely between these two. In addition, all the customization feels pointless. Once you enter the game, the noticeable differences rest with an individual's physical build, making all the cosmetic alterations feel hollow.
Finding a playable session is difficult as well. When checking multiplayer filters, you must decide whether or not you want to play with other people (always play with other people), the AI difficulty, and if friends/foes can be a higher rank than you. Brink will then search for a match meeting your presets and place you in the thick of battle. However, it always seems to find a full server or an empty one, and neither choice is perfect. If you find a full server, Brink would be much more enjoyable FPS if not for lag so severe it renders the game almost unplayable. This issue has been addressed in a patch, but latency issues still make their presence known. If you find an empty server, then relish the life of a lone wolf; it will be just a multiplayer trial of you and your team of handicapped bots against another team of AI bots.
Should you find a functional server, Brink can be a very rewarding experience. Each class in the game (Soldier, Medic, Operative, and Engineer) all have certain types of objectives they need to complete. Soldiers blow away the competition, Engineers rebuild fortifications, Operatives hack electronics, and Medics revive teammates. It sounds simplistic, but when a team is working together as a whole unit, Brink finds its stride.
Speaking of stride, Brink’s other major selling point was its inclusion of parkour within its FPS formula. Like in Mirrors Edge, you can vault over obstacles, wall run, and slide your way around the map. Brink boasts a "SMART" running system in which you hold down a button and your character automatically performs these acrobatic moves. The system works great, but the maps are not set up in such a way to encourage this free running mechanic. The levels are fairly small and confined, leaving little room for death-defying feats of parkour prowess.
In-game, these two characters will look exactly the same.
Moving on with the topic of strange design decisions, I cannot fathom why both Campaign and Freeplay are in Brink. Both game modes feature the same maps, similar objectives, and both provide the ability to play with friends online. Therefore, the only purpose seems to be splitting the player base in half. Why include two modes that serve an equal purpose?
The other game type in Brink is Challenge mode. In this game mode, you choose from a series of missions that increase in difficulty as you complete them. Finishing a challenge rewards players with new weapons and firearm attachments for their loadouts. You can also complete Challenge mode with up to three friends cooperatively, but doing so does not allow you to unlock armaments and attachments. Once again, this begs the question, "What's the point?"
Brink is in dire need of a party system. In order to play with a group of friends, Brink requires you jump through a series of hoops. First, you have to find a server (but not a full server or else your friend won't be able to join on you). Second, you must invite your friend to play Brink (and hope no one joins the game in the process and fills up the server). Third, you must wait while Brink loads the match for both you and your friend. All in all, this process can take up to five minutes of waiting, inviting, and loading, leaving you with the painful reminder: you bought Brink.
Brink may look pretty good here, but remove those textures and it will make you cry.
I have never been one to care much about how good a game ‘looks’, and therefore graphics hold little value to me. But for a current-gen game, Brink does meet those standards. As I mentioned before, the character designs are messy and indistinguishable. Brink suffers from some major texture issues too. Texture loading can take up to thirty seconds before the entirety of the surface finally pops in.
While the environments may be muddy, the characters in Brink do move very fluidly. It is fun to watch as teammates scamper up a wall or slide under a door, but the number of times this excellent animation comes up is few and far between because the levels offer so few opportunities to fully utilize the running and jumping mechanics so heavily hyped before launch.
Brink was a game I wanted to love. I was ready to call Brink my "Game of the Year" based on the trailer alone; then I played the retail release, and now I am ready to call it "The Most Unfinished Mess of the Year." Brink has great potential, but it is wrapped in a shell of horrible interfaces and miserable design mistakes. I convinced friends to buy it so we could all play together, and to those people I apologize. I hope you are proud of yourself Brink because you are the last straw that has finally forced me to ignore all pre-release buzz for future games.
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Splash Damage
Release Date: May 10, 2011
Number of Players: 1-16 (Multiplayer)
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC