Brink, PC – Review
Brink, PC – £14.85 delivered
Registers on Steam.
Review by Lewie Procter
I often feel like I’m too old to properly get into multiplayer shooters these days. I’m only 23, but in my teenage counterstrike heyday I could keep up the pace in online games, whereas I just get slaughtered playing CS these days. It’s hard to say whether Brink having successfully sucked me into a team based FPS is a huge success of design, or just it being a game that is in tune with my skills, or a mix of the two, but I’ve been kicking ass at Brink online, and thoroughly enjoying myself in the process. Here’s why.
Brink is a team based versus shooter. It has bots for single player, but if you are looking for a single player shooter, I highly recommend you look elsewhere. There’s been a glut of brilliant FPSs with solid single player campaigns over the last year or so, and Brink’s single player mode does not outdo them.
However, if you aren’t terrified by interaction with other humans, Brink is a very nicely refined class based shooter, with lots of unique touches. Occasionally everything comes together, and when you have a particularly good match, Brink is peerless.
Set on the Ark, a near-future floating city. Brink tells the story of a conflict between the Resistance and the Security, one side fighting to escape the Ark, the other trying to keep it under control. Most of the story comes in the form of skipable cut scenes before each mission, where you see the lead up to the battle from the perspective of whichever side you’re on, but there’s also things hidden amongst the levels that add to the narrative. The story is interesting, and the setting is unique, but it takes a backseat to the manshooting, and if you’re anything like me, you’re not going to be watching any of the cutscenes more than once.
You start off by building your character. There’s a whole bunch of cosmetic options that gradually unlock as you play through the game, but the elements that affect gameplay are: bodytype, weapons and abilities. You don’t have to make any permanent decisions here, bodytype, weapons and abilities can be changed at any point in the game (but only between matches, not mid-match). I’m not exactly sure what technology Splash Damage are expecting to be developed between now and when we live on floating cities that will let people switch from this to this like changing their shoes, but sign me up.
The three different body sizes represent a trade off between manoeuvrability and beefiness. The light has lower health than the rest, and his limp wrists are too feeble for the heaviest weapons, but in return has the fastest sprint speed, and can wall jump and climb up higher ledges. The heavy has more health than the other bodytypes, and has access to the full arsenal of weapons, but has a slower, more deliberate pace, and is a bigger target. The medium is a compromise between the two. I’ve been almost exclusively playing as the light since I unlocked it, the increase slide length is both highly badass and highly useful, and reaching areas and shortcuts around the levels that the other classes can’t is a tonne of fun, and is a great way to sneak up behind a big group of enemies and rack up a lot of easy kills.
There’s a decent selection of weapons, SMGs, rifles, pistols, shotguns and a grenade launcher, although you have to unlock them by levelling up. Each weapon is also customisable with various add ons and tweaks that affect stats like accuracy, range, clip size and damage, so if you feel like tinkering with your gun you can tune it to suit your playstyle. The sounds the weapons make is a little inconsistent. Some of the pistols make a delicious “BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!”, but some of the SMGs could do with packing a bit more punch.
The abilities system links up with the class system. Classes are the four roles you can occupy, that each have different special abilities, and are able to tackle different specific objectives needed to accomplish a mission. These classes can be switched on the fly during matches, so if a particular role required for a task is under-represented in your team, you’re able to head to a command post and instantly swap. How the abilities work is that there are five categories. One for abilities that will benefit you no matter what class you have currently selected, and then there is one category of abilities for each of the classes. It’s impossible to unlock all of the abilities with one character, they’re purchased with credits earned as you level up, and once you hit the level cap that’s it. For any given match you need to have made a commitment to your particular set of abilities beforehand.
I opted to specialise as a medic, so only bothered investing in general skills and medic specific skills. This means I’m at a disadvantage when I switch to any of the other classes, but have got lots of fun tricks whenever I am a medic. The whole system could be made a little bit clearer, because it’s not entirely clear exactly what a character actually is. You use the same character no matter which side you are on, and the separation between which things you can change, and when you are allowed to change them, can be a little counter intuitive, even if there are solid design reasons behind the distinctions.
With the goal of facilitating teamwork, Brink uses an objective system that gives every player instructions of what they can do to best help their team win the match, each appropriate to their class and overall team objective. It then rewards players with experience for carrying out these objectives. For instance, as a medic, you might get the choice of reviving fallen team mates, escorting a mission critical player, or capturing command posts (which give your whole team supply or health boosts). The idea is that players can always have a range of instructions for how to best support their team, and if attempting one objective they keep hitting up against a brick wall, you can avoid frustration by trying something else. There’s plenty of times when I’ve found my team keep getting killed at a particular bottleneck near a mission critical location, which is a perfect time to switch to an alternative objective to tip the balance in your team’s favour.
There is a button to instantly select the most important team objective, or you can bring up a radial menu to quickly pick from the 4/5 different objectives available to you.
The objective system isn’t perfect, there has been several times when it’s given what I would describe as strategically questionable instructions. For example, on one level, you have to prevent the other team taking some fuel to a plane. I saw many of my teammates just standing next to the plane, because they were being drip fed experience for “Guarding the plane”, when really they needed to go and help kill the baddies that were on their way, which was not one of the objectives. As a framework for how to learn the ropes though, it works, it’s just that going outside that framework will mean missing out on experience, since you will only get the boosted experience for a specific task if it is your current objective.
There’s a balance between independence and interdependence, where working as a team together is essential for winning, but breaking off from your team to be a solo hero from time to time is also viable. Players can give each other buffs to stats like weapons, health, and refill each other’s ammo, depending on which class you are, so working well as a group can give you an advantage over your enemies. On the flipside, the right person in the right place can turn the tide of a whole match, and my favourite moments have all come from solo achievements.
Brink successfully removes a few of my major frustrations with traditional online shooters too. Instead of simply dying when you get filled with bullets, you get incapacitated. Once incapacitated, you lie on the ground feeble waiving your hands in the air. You’re then given the choice to either wait for a medic to lob you a healing syringe, which lets you revive yourself, or you can choose to respawn when the counter hits zero. This means that, as long as your medics do a good job of reviving you, you’ll spend less time hanging around waiting to get back into the fight. Later on you can unlock abilities that let you use your sidearm whilst incapacitated, and medics can (at the level) self revive. You can also finish off incapacitated enemies with a few more bullets, or using melee attacks, which prevents them being revived, but it’s quite fun to down a few guys, then wait for an enemy medic to come to heal them, then kill him too.
The melee attacks are nicely implemented too. When you’ve got your primary weapon equipped, you use it to knock people off their feet. It doesn’t take off a huge amount of health, but it temporarilly prevents them shooting back at you, and it’s pretty easy to finish people off whilst their knocked down. When you switch to your sidearm, instead you’ll use a knife for stabby action, which won’t knock people down, but does a bit more damage.
The smartly backronymed S.M.A.R.T. movement system is several flavours of brilliant. It’s essentially a sprint button that does a lot more than sprinting. There’s a bit of a learning curve to it, but once you have got to grips with it, it gives you a lot of options for movement, and you’ll be able to get from A to B in style. It’s no autopilot, that’s for sure, you still have to think about how to best move around, and combining well timed jumps with the smart button is absolutely faster than just relying on smart. It’s not as elegant as Mirror’s Edge: the animation for your bloke climbing up things is not as good as it could be, but it makes up for it in ease of use and enhancing, rather than getting in the way of the shooting.
I’d be very happy if waves of future developers outright steal the smart system and stick it in their games. It seems ripe for plagiarism, and aside from the level design challenges posed by enhanced freedom of movement, I can’t really see any downside to it.
Brink is a melting pot of good ideas and well implemented systems that, if you’re good enough, can let you be the hero that wins the game for your team, and if not you can still do your bit to help win. Not every match is going to be spectacular, but the more abilities you unlock the more interesting it gets, and if you are willing to experiment and take a few risks, it will produce plenty of incredible moments. The selection of just 8 maps (Update: Although there is a free update out next month, which will include, among other things, 2 new maps), and no real single player campaign, is a little content light for my tastes, especially for a full price game. But in the time it’s taken me to formulate my opinion on it, it’s received a decent price drop, and for under £15 I have no trouble heartily recommending Brink to anyone looking for a online shooter that offers something a bit different.
Brink, PC – £14.85 delivered
Registers on Steam.
Note: There was a few bugs at release, but almost everything that affected me has been sorted out now. I still get odd text glitches where some characters are just grids of random pixels, seemingly at random.