As a first foray back into the first person shooter gaming scene, Brink is surprisingly entertaining.
When it comes to games, I don’t generally play first person shooters. That said, I’ve grown rather bored with Tomb Raider and Hitman Absolution; I needed something different. The only problem is that games in general are very, very pricey – thankfully I remembered an old friend’s advice and checked out the Steam store’s free to play section.
Most of the titles were shooters, though, not that I really mind; I’m just not really into that kind of game. I found a couple of first person shooters and a few strategy and horror games, which looked pretty good and added them to the Steam wish list. Then I had a different problem: choosing a game to start with.
Brink was one of the first person shooters that I’d selected to try. And at first glance, I found it a blast (pun-intended). Don’t get your hopes up though. Let’s dive into the review.
First off, what is Brink?
Brink is a first person shooter developed for Windows, Xbox 360 and PS3 by Splash Damage and Bethesda. The game was released in 2011 and focuses on parkour style movement (and that’s about as close to parkour as I’m willing to get). The online servers can host up to sixteen players who can play co-operatively, competitively or against AI bots (I’m guessing this last one is for solo play).
While the game only received mixed to average reviews, by 2012 it had sold 2.5 million copies. Brink became free to play on Steam on August 22, 2017.
So, how am I going to review this game?
The Learning Curve
In general, the game’s pretty easy to pick up and play, and since it’s free on Steam I’m sure there are many players out there who love Brink to bits. That said, the game features quite a steep learning curve.
There are four in-game classes of characters: Soldiers, Engineers, Operatives and Medics. Each class has its own skill-sets, which can help or hinder gameplay.
There are also three body types: light, medium and heavy. Light body types are probably the weakest in terms of physical strength and are limited to lighter weapons but they move the fastest and are more agile than the other two body types.
Medium body types can carry all but the heaviest weapons (i.e. M60 Machine Gun) and are a bit more durable than their light bodied counterparts, able to take slightly more damage. They are also capable of some pretty good amounts of speed.
Heavy body types move the slowest and can carry all weapons and can take a ton more damage than their counterparts. They are limited in terms of movement however, which makes them rather unreliable – in my opinion at least.
With regards to movement, Bethesda and Splash Damage developed the SMART (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain) system. The system works by noting a player’s position within the in-game environment and predicting what he/she is trying to do before automatically navigating around obstacles without the need for complex button/controller input from the player (thank you Wikipedia).
There are three modes of play: Campaign, Free Play and Challenges. The campaign mode is the story (obviously), Free Play mode is replaying campaign missions under modified circumstances, and challenges are additional exercises (that’s the best way I can describe them).
Sounds simple enough, right?
Well, it is… sort of. You do get a tutorial video that you can re-watch whenever you need to but that video covers every aspect of the game at once, which could easily result in information overload.
The controls also play a huge part in the steepness of the learning curve as even when you’ve calibrated the controls to be what you’re familiar/comfortable with you have to watch everything you do. This is particularly true of the movement controls but I’ll come back to that in a bit.
Weapons, Upgrades and Combat Mechanics
This is where Brink has a problem… a few problems actually. The selection of weapons is limited to around 24 guns in total (that’s both primary and secondary firearms). In terms of upgrades there’s quite a number of them but once again the limitations are somewhat ridiculous. You have universal upgrades, which any class can use and then there are a few class-specific upgrades, which are even more limited.
The weapons themselves are also problematic. If you were to compare Brink to something like Battlefield or Call of Duty you’d see a huge difference between the games; and not for the better let me tell you. The guns are all hyper-stylised and they look really great but they’re so unbelievably ineffective! There’s practically no recoil on most of these firearms – the one exception being the Barnett Light Rifle, which basically breaks your back every time you fire it – and they don’t do nearly as much damage as actual firearms.
The weapons upgrades are another problem, they mostly hinder equip speed or reduce the already minuscule amount of damage done by the weapon in question.
Why are these things a problem and what do Battlefield and Call of Duty have to do with Brink? One word: realism. Think about it, if you upgrade a weapon it should theoretically be better in some regard, right? Well, that’s the thing. Upgrading the weapons in Brink does more harm than good in the long run. Then there’s the lack of damage/stopping power and recoil in the firearms of Brink.
These are all things that both the Call of Duty and Battlefield series do well. The firearms are realistic in terms of damage, stability and accuracy; there are also a few more options in terms of which weapon to use.
The combat mechanics are also remarkably plain; there’s no real creativity in designing the combat.
Game Maps… What are those?
Yet another point where Brink stumbles: there are NO MAPS in this game at all. The closest you get to a map is a little circular thing with dots on it to represent your team and the opposing team. And that’s it. This unfortunately makes gameplay so much harder than it needs to be because now you have little choice in running blindly and hoping you find your guys in the event that you need to re-spawn after being killed.
The sad thing is that I actually kind of like this idea. Hitman Absolution did the same thing with its ‘map’ so you had to really pick out a set of landmarks to help you get around the levels.
If we were given the option of seeing a map/floor plan of the level before spawning it might be different, but we don’t and this just adds to the confusion.
All that said, the levels in this game are really well done.
Single Player vs. Multiplayer Gameplay
The single player or ‘solo’ gameplay mode isn’t bad but it’s not great either. Playing with the AI is just not reliable because the AIs have a tendency to do their own thing and only really do anything when they feel like it… of course. Throwing in the added incentive of an ammunition pack seems to help – forgive me a sarcastic chuckle.
On the other hand, the multi-player gameplay is a bit more stable – at least as far as I’ve experienced. Everyone has a role to play and they do what they need to in order to complete the level/mission objective. I do, however, have to wonder just how many players I’ve irritated over the past two days with how many times I’ve been shot and had to be thrown a revive syringe.
In playing the levels I have, it definitely feels more like a multi-player game than a single player game, which is both interesting and frustrating.
It’s interesting in that I’ve never really played a multi-player game before; I played one round of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 in multi-player with a friend but that’s all. It’s also frustrating because there aren’t really that many things to do and you have to constantly watch your controls so that you don’t accidentally shoot a teammate or vault over a wall or detonate a mine or something else crazy!
The game’s story takes place in the near future where the ocean levels have risen and forced humanity to live on a floating city called the Ark. Civilisation outside of the Ark seems to be non-existent, as the intro movie says: “Not a plane has gone by for 40 years.”
Unfortunately the Ark is overpopulated and is starting to fail. In order to preserve, well, order, a wall is built separating the refugees from the rest of the populace and a war has begun between the two sides. The Security Forces believe in saving the Ark and the Resistance wants to leave the Ark and go in search of life outside the city.
This is a great concept; not very original but it’s still a great concept. The idea of an ideological war has been done in movies and games for years. And that’s kind of the problem. I’ll come back to this.
Overall Pros and Cons: What does Brink have to Offer?
In general the game is pretty good. The sound design is quite nice and the visuals wonderful. The weapons are all sort of unique and the parkour movement idea was both a pretty good one and a pretty bad one. The story idea is, as previously mentioned, not very original, but it’s interesting enough to keep me playing.
Now let’s look at the negatives, and unfortunately there are more negatives than positives it seems. I don’t even know where to start.
The linear nature of the story missions does get a bit repetitive after a while even if each mission is different objective-wise. The game is easy enough to pick up and play, but not everyone will watch the tutorial video on body types, classes, abilities and so on – this results in information overload and a lot of confusion and frustration.
Let’s quickly address the other story problem: the concept. The idea’s good, and it’s a proven selling point. The problem lies in the execution of this idea: it’s done badly – very badly. Don’t get me wrong, I like the story concept, and the fact that I can play as either the Security or the Resistance is really interesting. But it also makes for a very disjointed experience.
Brink also fails in the realism department with guns doing hardly any damage in spite of a huge rate of fire. I don’t know much about firearms but I do know that a machine gun would tear an unarmoured man to shreds and rifles and pistols/revolvers can very easily punch massive holes in a person.
While we’re on the subject of weapons, let’s discuss recoil. There isn’t any recoil on any of these weapons – the exception being the Barnett light rifle – which is absurd. All guns have recoil, regardless of the type of weapon; some recoils are just less powerful than others. This lack of damage and recoil severely hurts the game’s experience for the players who go in looking for a realistic shooter in the vein of Call of Duty or Battlefield.
Finally, the proverbial elephant in the room, the parkour style of movement… where do I start? This was a good idea in principle but not so much in practice. The use of parkour style movement is an interesting touch but it’s also extremely frustrating because the game features hardly any parkour at all and what is featured is a watered down, impossible to control, ridiculously hard to work with nightmare!
Too many cooks in the kitchen: All the problems in a Nutshell
The saying, “Too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth” feels like a perfect summary of all the problems with this game. There are a lot of really cool ideas here but it feels like there were just too many people involved all at the same time and all with different perceptions about how the game should be. This led to the game having a very rocky start and, it was – as I later discovered while preparing this review – pulled from the Steam store in the UK (you can read about that here) and had a number of problems production-wise.
Brink was also harshly criticised for its poor execution, lack of variety and combat mechanics, which I touched upon earlier. This doesn’t answer the key question however: Is the game enjoyable?
Is Brink an entertaining experience?
This is sort of a loaded question but the answer that I can personally give is: “Sort of?”
It’s a lot of fun to play and it’s pretty easy to just sort of pick up. The story has an interesting idea behind it but no real substance and we don’t really care about the outcome of the war. We don’t really care for the characters either or what they’re going through because we don’t have enough info about what’s going on in-game. The combat is repetitive and for a tactical shooter there are very little tactics involved apart from picking out a gun and switching classes in-game.
Trust me, after a while it becomes quite boring doing the same thing over and over and over again. That said, if all you want is a mindless time-killer then yeah, maybe this is for you – though I personally would go with something else entirely.
This is one of those cases where there was a lot of potential that was just squandered. Truthfully, it feels more like there was no clear direction in this game’s production.
Is it as bad as people make it seem? I don’t think so. It’s like I’ve said a couple of times in this review, there was a lot of potential and unfortunately it wasn’t capitalised on. Personally, I’ve enjoyed the game so far and will likely continue to play just for the hell of it, but it definitely still has some huge problems.
Final Thoughts on Brink
<Gasping for breath>
Whoa! This was a long review.
Brink is definitely worth trying in my opinion. Even if you only play one level it’s a good return to the FPS genre – particularly for guys like me who generally avoid FPS games like they’re some sort of plague.
The problems with movement and combat mechanics and so on aside, the class system and modes of gameplay as well as the lack of a definitive map pose serious challenges for newbie players. The generic gameplay as a whole does get a bit boring as well so that could really do with some improvement.
Now, I should really sign off before I faint. Shoutout to my fellow Digital Fox writer Liam Padmore who gave me a ton of information on the game’s background and who also happens to be a cool dude.
On that note, check out this review on the new Monster Hunter game, the 5 reasons to play Final Fantasy World and 5 reasons to be excited for Vermintide II.