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Brink review

by Garnett Lee, May 17, 2011 12:45pm PDT

Brink's design draws from both sides of the established mold for shooters, melding together a single-player campaign with a multiplayer game built around developing unique player characters. The result creates a hybrid team-based shooter with a story to tell that maintains a fast but purposeful pace whether or not it's being played online with others. That is, when it works.

Brink seems to live up to its promises in stretches where all of its pieces come together perfectly in sync. I'm holding down my role, contributing to the team. Others are playing along and doing the same--some of them friends, some of them strangers, and some of them AI bots. And we're succeeding, or failing, together.

But Brink is a tease and its own worst enemy. Its complex mix of components introduces a number of potential failure points, that developer Splash Damage hasn't sufficiently solved. As a result, Brink struggles to hold all of its pieces together. When it starts to fall apart, it comes crashing down like a house of cards. There is no middle ground with Brink. It's either working, with everyone in the flow of the game, or it's a confusing, nearly unplayable mess.

Technical execution is only one of the problems, but it's a big one. Something is not completely right with the way Brink handles its online connections. At times the view spastically hops around, with the game seemingly unable to figure out where the character actually is. It shows one point of view for a moment, and then changes its mind, abruptly teleporting me several feet away. This most frequently happens coming back into the game after getting killed, making it extra annoying when all I want to do is get back into action. The 360 version of the game suffered from this hiccup the most, but I saw similar behavior on PC, even with dedicated servers.

I expect these issues to be temporary and taken care of with a patch. The same can not be said for the rest of Brink's challenges. I hesitate to call them "problems" because they're more about the nature of the game. For all the talk of making a game anyone could hop into and have fun with, Brink is a complex game. It demands a lot of its players to get their fun back out of it. That may be too much to ask of the general online community simply obsessed with the prestige of its kill count.

Even for experienced shooter players, the first few matches of Brink are bound to be a little befuddling at best. The basics of pointing the business end of an assault rifle at the enemy and squeezing the trigger remains the same. Beyond that, though, there's a whole new language to learn for how Brink explains what's going on, what needs to happen next, and how best to help the team make that happen.

Brink's greatest transgression might be overestimating the ability of players to get how the game works. A ridiculously long tutorial video hints that the developers may have figured this out, but too late to make substantive changes to the game. Needless to say, at over ten minutes long, the video is good for little more than building irritation while waiting to actually play the game.

Neither do the tutorial challenges offer the intended help in learning the game. The developers had the right idea in incentivizing the challenges to get players to do them (weapon unlocks open through completing them). But they serve solely as drills, offering little more than a chance to upgrade one's skills in the game as opposed to actually learning the core concepts. In the end, Brink becomes a baptism by fire with the real learning of how to play the game taking place in live matches.

Despite the perseverance it took to get there, I found the payoff to learning how to play Brink worth the effort. Though the wealth of classes, skills, and weapon upgrades presented a lot to pick up at first, I found that doing so opened up a tremendous amount of flexibility in matches. Unlike other team-based games where I might choose a role and stick with it most of the way, I found myself swapping classes several times per game. Sometimes I changed just to get in there with the class needed to accomplish the next primary objective. But almost as often I'd select a role that would figure in as support whether as a medic to help keep the team up, an engineer to establish a defensive position, or something else along those lines.

It's this deeper sense of satisfaction from figuring out the best way to contribute to the team's success at which Brink most excels. The firefights get plenty intense, but the down-the-sights action in Brink is sterile. The guns could be as soon firing paintballs for all the impact they seem to have. Though there are a number of models in each class of weapon, the differences are slim. I wound up using the different variants to remember which setup I had on each. For instance I had my "silent" rig with silencer setup on one assault rifle, while on another I had my "full loud" tweaks for fast reload and maximum damage.

To really bring out its best, Brink needs to be played with real people online. Yes, it can be completely played offline, with AI-controlled bots filling out both teams, and, with the difficulty turned up, these drones do an impressive job of using all the tools at their disposal much as a human player would. They do not, however, coordinate together all that well. Nor did the paper-thin story do much to engage me the way a true single-player game would. The cutscenes that introduce each level are good for little more than a chuckle and will be relegated to "skip" after the first play through.

Though the story hook didn't set, I find it hard to imagine how any game where each scenario is intended to be played over and over could pull off sitting through story scenes each time. That won't be what puts me off Brink. Nor will it be the lackluster feel of the shooting. I suspect I'll tire of the included levels, which have already started to feel a little repetitious, long before I tire of the game. Until then I'll keep coming back for the dynamic game Brink gives me as I swap around roles always looking for the best way to help my team get a win.





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