Brink Review (on Xbox 360, also for PC, PS3)

“Best played with an open mind and lots of friends.”

Brink is an objective-based shooter which pits two teams against each other in assault/defensive-type missions, much like games like Team Fortress 2. Unlike Team Fortress 2 though, Brink also has a single player campaign which the multiplayer is based-upon. Or, should I say, the difference between single player and multiplayer is simply the players — whether they’re bots or humans — and it is also the key difference in this game.

Campaign

The game is set in The Ark, a fictional utopian city floating on some place on Earth. Two factions battle for their cause — the Resistance, who want to escape from The Ark; and the Security, who are The Ark’s peacekeeping and views the Resistance as terrorists. After all that is said, the story is merely a backdrop to the events in Brink, and is as uninspiring as they come. Each mission starts with a loading screen where the factions’ narrator dramatically briefs you on the level. Although not excruciatingly bad (or funny) like Just Cause 2, it’s not good either. After the loading screen there will be a cutscene with the characters. At least the voice acting here is better, i.e. normal. Unfortunately if you’re playing the level in campaign mode by yourself, you’ll have to sit through the whole thing. Which is kind of a drag since the story is, as mentioned, inconsequential. Team Fortress 2 had the right approach by ignoring the story altogether and focusing on pure multiplayer action.

Screenshot

The Ark... such a wonderful place.

The game has a campaign mode for both factions with 8 core levels/maps. It’s basically just playing as one side or the other, but there are also faction-specific (and did I mention unskippable?) cutscenes. You can play the campaign solo, with friends or with the public. Games can be set to be co-op (humans vs. bots on easy/normal/hard) or versus (players can join the opposing team too), and you can choose whether other players have to be at the same rank as you or higher. You can also choose Freeplay public/private matches which allow you to customize the game rules — map, minimum and maximum number of human players, friendly fire on/off etc.

Character Customization

First off, you create a character to play as (you can create up to 10 characters). You can use the same character for both factions, either online or offline. Your character retains his level, abilities and weapons, although you will have separate appearances for each faction. Notice I said “his”, because there are no female characters in this game (makes you wonder why humanity hasn’t died out…). Unfortunately, the customization options here are restricted to clothing and weapons only. There is no facial/body customization here, unlike games such as Oblivion or Saints Row 2. You choose from a set of preset faces (or “archetypes” as the game calls it) and voices to start off. From there, you select from a range of headgear, shirts, jackets, pants etc. which come in various colors/patterns (which are also fixed, so you can’t dress yourself from top to toe in pink or something). There are various sets of clothes or styles, but you can mix them up as you see fit. Resistance characters will have more rebel-like, street punk-ish clothes such as hoodies, hockey masks. Security characters will have, well, enforcement agency-type clothes like police vests and shirts, and weird alien masks. As mentioned, you will have to choose 2 different sets of appearances for your Resistance/Security model.

Screenshot

Crazy masks, check.

You start off with a few options and unlock more as you level up and complete challenges. Unfortunately if you’re playing on the 360 like me, it takes a few seconds to load each piece of clothing. This might put you off from really exploring the different customization options, as it did to me. Based on some videos the PC version doesn’t seem to have this problem, so the same might apply if you install the game on the console. You can also choose between Light, Medium and Heavy builds (although only Medium is unlocked from the start), which not only affects your character’s look, but his agility and health as well. This also affects the weapons available for usage. For example, only Heavy characters can use miniguns, whereas Light characters can only carry pistols as secondary weapons. Most weapons can be customized, some which are superficial while others affect the weapons’ stats. The customization options here are pretty much standard across all weapons. You get the same under-barrels, magazine attachments, scopes and such but it’s still a nice feature to have. How often do you get to choose between a four-/six-vent muzzle brake?

Classes

There are 4 classes in Brink – Soldier, Medic, Engineer and Operative. There are abilities for characters in general, as well as specific class-based ones. By levelling up you gain credits which can be spent on abilities. Abilities are restricted based on ranks; at the every fifth level you will gain one rank (up to a maximum of 20 levels, or 5 ranks). Each class (other than the Operative) also has a starting buff which can be placed on themselves or on teammates — Soldiers can resupply ammunition (and increase the maximum capacity); Engineers can buff weapon damage; and Medics can heal (and add to the maximum health). The use of active abilities requires Supply, which is indicated by the Supply Meter. There are also other abilities such as Flashbangs for Soldiers, Self Resurrection for Medics, Turrets for Engineers and Caltrops for Operatives. Up to 3 active abilities can be mapped onto the directional pad, with the top button being reserved for the objective wheel (more on that later). Besides these there are also passive ones which increase your Health or Supply and boost your buff effects. Due the class-based objectives in the game, if you specialize in one class, you will either have to change to another class which you are less-developed in, or hope your teammates are specialized in those classes. Or, you can also reset your abilities at the cost of one level.

Screenshot

Mass healing... grenades? Hell yes.

Some objectives require you to demolish a structure as a Solider by placing a HE charge, and defending it for 40 seconds until it goes off. Some will require Operatives to hack the objective, which requires the player to plant the hackbox through the initial animation, and stay in the area until the hacking reaches 100%. During this time the player can only move/crouch, and straying from the objective will decrease the signal strength and reduce the hacking speed. Multiple players can hack the objective to increase the speed. Engineers have the most objectives in this game. Besides their own objectives of fixing bots (a vehicle you have escort in some maps) and repairing/constructing, they are also the only class which can dismantle HE charges and hackboxes. Lastly, the only mission objective which requires the Medic is when you have to revive the hostage (similar to the bot, except that you’re escorting a human target… well, human as in non-mechanical).

Besides the class-based objectives, there are also general objectives such as capturing Command Posts and carrying objectives. The latter involves bringing an item from one location to another. Think of it as capturing the flag — attackers who die drop the item, at which point it can be picked up by other attackers or returned to its original location by defenders. Command Posts will let you change classes and weapons, and capturing them will provide additional health or supply to your team.

General Gameplay

To help you sort out the various objectives in the game, you can call up the objective wheel and select various objectives to focus on. Primary objectives are highlighted in yellow, with the main objective at the top. Optional objectives such as capturing command posts are highlighted in blue. This helps you locate the various objectives in the different levels, especially for new players. The game also features a SMART (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain) free-running system where you hold down a button to run and also to climb over/up and slide under obstacles. To the game’s credit, this doesn’t translate into a gimmicky feature in-game, but instead helps to make movement across the map more smooth. It’s one of the game’s features that doesn’t fall short.

Screenshot

The objective wheel at work.

Besides the campaign levels, there are 4 challenge maps with 1 to 3 star difficulty ratings to complete. Completing the challenges will unlock extra customization options. 2 of them can be done fairly easily, while the parkour one might take you a few tries to figure out the best route to take. There is also one which involves various class-based objective, and it’s also the most frustrating of all. Your teammates are programmed not to assist you in completing the objectives, so you’ll have to handle everything by yourself (although you’ll find yourself doing that a lot when playing with the AI…). They will still attack enemies, but they don’t seem to engage them as much as they would in a normal game. You will need a ton of patience and/or luck to complete this on the 3 star level.

Concept Art

The SMART system in theory...

Combat is decent, although most of the time you’ll find that having more firepower (in terms of number of teammates and weapons) is a sure-win. The AI will sometimes bunch up together when on defense, and simply hose you down with bullets (more on the AI below). Every character can use the standard frag grenades, but you will have to wait for the grenade meter (which is separate from the Supply Meter for abilities) to recharge each time you throw one. When it goes off, it will knockdown enemies, which is helpful in delaying them from completing their objectives. When killed, players will be in a “down but not out” state where they can wait for a medic to revive them, or spawn at the next wave. It takes quite a few bullets to put enemies down for good, but one good melee will do the same.

Screenshot

... and in reality, where it's actually not so different for once.


About the AI

The AI in this game is bad in general, although this becomes apparent (and frustrating) in varying degrees as you play in different levels. Think of it as this: the time required to complete an objective roughly corresponds to the level of frustration/bad AI you will experience. For objectives which can be completed almost instantly, like the Medic reviving the hostage (or other teammates), the AI is up to standard for the most part. Capturing command posts is also their forté — you’ll see your teammates and the enemy capturing/re-capturing them often. For anything else, the AI is bad.

Screenshot

Firefights are one thing the AI is good at...

This is especially so for hacking objectives, since it requires the player to stay in the area long enough for the hack to complete. Your team’s Operative will rarely come to assist you. So far I’ve only seen them do so once or twice. One time I was hacking the objective, and he was just standing down there, not doing anything (which also happens in general). This is made doubly frustrating by the fact that the enemy engineer can undo your efforts fairly quickly, and your own teammates won’t bother to stop him. I’ve seen the AI help out more in Engineer objectives, although at times you’ll have to do it yourself too. At least for Engineer objectives, the repair progress made can’t be undone, so in the worst case scenario you’ll just have to keep trying if the enemy kills you. Part of the reason for this is because the AI tends to care more about capturing the optional Command Posts instead of the mission-required objectives… but the lack of help is probably mostly due to the bad AI.

Soldier objectives are more manageable since planting the charge only takes a few seconds. Defending it before it goes off basically means “play like normal” when it comes to the AI, which is just to kill enemies. If you leave it to the AI they won’t plant the charge straight away, so you’ll be better off changing to Soldier and planting the charge yourself while the AI helps you defend it. The AI is decent at escort objectives, and although not as good when it comes to those involve carrying/fetching, they are still better at it (and in fact anything) then at hacking.

Screenshot

... escorting is another.

Sometimes the enemy AI will ignore you completely when you are completing your objective (although this is more for enclosed areas where you can somewhat hide yourself), and go for your teammates or the Command Posts instead. On the bright side at least this helps to somewhat ease the frustration from the lack of help. Other times you may find the enemy all gathered in the room with the objective, and shoot you on sight, which makes even approaching the objective difficult. The reverse is also true — when playing on defense, your AI teammates won’t focus on enemies who are completing the primary objective and just play as they like. You may also notice that at times the enemy AI seems to be more proficient at Operative/Engineer objectives as compared to the friendly AI.

Multiplayer

This is where the game shines… or at least, it’s supposed to. Public matches are done through match-making, there isn’t a list of servers for you to choose from. If there are no matches available, the game will just start anyway and fill the slots with bots or start with a warmup session, depending on your settings. For some reason I can’t find any public matches online, be it from the campaign, or from the Freeplay section. Maybe the game doesn’t have any servers in my region. After checking the forums I’ve found one other person with the same problem, so we’ll see how it goes… In any case, from what I’ve read, the lag issue still persists for some players even after the patch, so the game is best played on private matches with friends. (2011.05.19 update: Apparently it’s due to the game not being officially out in the region yet, so there aren’t any regional servers. So until then, no public matches for me.)

26/06/2011 update: I tried playing multiplayer again about a week ago, this time there were human players to be found… except that there was only 1 of them. Or sometimes 2. I guess if you’re playing in the Asian region, you’re out of luck.

Graphics/Audio

If you thought the graphics looked nice from the screenshots and trailers, well, you’re not wrong. They do look nice… although the actual game is much different. Textures are blurry and yet they still suffer from what seems like pop-in issues (although instead of going from blur to sharp in other games, in here it’s blur to slightly less blur). Apparently this was improved in an auto-update at launch. Improved, but the problem still exists. Installing the game to the hard disk might help though. Character models fare better, but it still pales in comparison to other games today. The PS3 version is slightly sharper though, and the PC version is definitely better than its console counterparts. As mentioned above, the character customization also appears real-time on the PC. (Check the links at the bottom for more comparison footages)

Screenshot

If only the game looked half as good...

Music and sound effects are decent, but not great. Weapons don’t sound too different from each other and for some reason explosions from grenades don’t really have much sound effect either, which dampens the feel. As mentioned earlier, besides the narrator (who is also the announcer), voice acting is also decent.

Conclusion

Brink is a game which shows a lot of promise, but delivers on few of them. The game’s presentation is plagued with many issues, from the graphical flaws to the less-than-stellar AI and (supposedly) laggy multiplayer. Underneath all that though, there is a game which is still fairly enjoyable (considering I played through both factions’ campaigns with bots)… if you can put up with the faults. As I’ve been saying many times throughout the review, this game is decent, but not great.

Screenshot

... but reality often falls short. At least, more so for the Xbox 360 (and PS3?) version.

Good points:

  • Great customization options
  • Fun team-based gameplay

Bad points:

  • AI
  • Graphics
  • Execution

Get it if you:

  • Have enough friends with the game to play with and against

Don’t get it if you:

  • Are expecting something with Game of the Year standard

Reviewed for: Xbox 360
Images from official site, Facebook page and GameSpot

2011.05.18 update: Besides the links above, you can check out more screenshots for the Xbox 360 version at Lens of Truth, and more videos showing the difference in the game versions: Comparison video between Xbox 360 and PS3. Although it’s mostly showing the cutscenes there are some in-game portions as well. Note the pop-in issue at 1:04. It’s apparent on both versions but on the PS3 it’s not as blurry. There’s also a post-patch video where the loading is faster by a few seconds. As with the long loading times for customization, the pop-in issue might be less apparent if you install the game to the hard disk since it seems to have to do with the hard disk caching. For other videos, there’s a PS3/PC comparison, a HD Xbox 360 gameplay video where the blurry textures are readily apparent in close-up shots, and a HD PC gameplay video where you can see that it looks better on PC than on consoles.

2011.05.19 update: GameSpot has a graphics comparison feature between all 3 versions up.


Game info:

Developer: Splash Damage
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release date: 10 May 2011 (US)
Related links: Official site

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8 Responses to Brink Review (on Xbox 360, also for PC, PS3)

  1. Mikey says:

    Wow, you do some pretty in-depth reviews. Great job on the layout (headers, screens) and definitely great on describing the game.

    I was initially very interested when I first saw this game due to the huge potential it carried. Looked like a cross between Team Fortress 2 and Mirror’s Edge to me. I’m a bit disappointed to hear it doesn’t live up to its promise. I’ll still eventually get it, but I’ll probably be waiting quite a bit longer.

    • phazer says:

      Thanks for the feedback, that’s the idea. :)

      Yeah, I was pretty hyped up about it too when I was first heard about it. The best version to get would probably be the PC version as mentioned, at least the graphics are better there. It seems to have the same lag problems that’s on the console versions too, but if they get it fixed for good it’s actually worth taking a look. If you can find decent, lag-free multiplayer matches the game should be pretty good. Sent customer support an email about my problem, hopefully it’ll be fixed soon.

      Btw, I’ve also updated the post (at the bottom) with links on comparison videos since there doesn’t seem to be many/any official videos of the console versions.

  2. Spooge says:

    This is a great review, really in-depth.

    I was really excited about this game, like you said it kind of looked like Team Fortress 2 (one of my favorite games.) I kept hearing bad things being said about it but they were mostly by COD fanboys, that don’t play any other games. After seeing this review I kind of understand some of the things they were talking about. I might pick it up later on to try it out for myself, preferably on PC. Anyway, again great review!

    • phazer says:

      Thanks! It’s lacking in many areas but I suppose it’s decent enough as long as you don’t get lag in multiplayer. Still waiting for the DLC, which was supposed to be out 1-2 weeks ago…

  3. Boss says:

    Very nice review.

    I definitely agree with the bad AI. They frustrated me to no end when I was playing through the challenges and single-player. To me, it felt as though my team were compromised of pretty terrible AI while the opposing team functioned like a well oiled machine. Very annoying.

    Look forward to reading your other reviews.

    • phazer says:

      Thanks for the comments! As you can see I haven’t been updating the blog for a long time. :/ In any case my semester’s started so I won’t be playing much anyway, so I’ll only be reviewing old games, if at all.

      The problem would be finding people to play with, especially with games like BF3 and MW3. Another reason why the PC version would be better I suppose.

  4. David says:

    Brink looks very interesting as a multiplayer game so you don’t have as much of the AI involved, but I wonder how many people are playing multiplayer on it for PS3 or Xbox. More people are probably online with PC, so maybe that is the way to go. I’m going to look for a copy for the PC and check it out.

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