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Brink (Xbox 360) artwork

Brink (Xbox 360) review

"Like Quake Wars, Brink has excellent bot support, which makes it a viable single-player game. Or, even better, a game you can enjoy with a small group of friends playing among bots. It's remarkable how well the AI can handle this relatively complicated game, making use of different weapons, different class abilities, the movement system, and various elements of the maps. In fact, one of the best ways to learn a map is to follow a bot. When it comes to competent bots making multiplayer more than just multiplayer, medium budget games like Brink and Section 8 put to shame AAA franchises like Halo and Call of Duty."

The problem with Brink is that it's not very Call of Duty. Unlike nearly everyone else making multiplayer shooters, developer Splash Damage isn't making a game for Call of Duty players, who already have a game anyway. So as they've done with Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory and Quake Wars, Splash Damage has made a game for people who like a sense of focus in their gunplay, and something more than gunplay in their shooters.

The central fact of Brink is that, for better or worse, you will not be left to your own devices to wander a battlefield in search of action. This is a game that shunts everyone into direct conflict, usually over a very specific thing. You know that mad concentrated scramble when the quarterback fumbles a football, or when a baseball flies into the crowd at a stadium, or when a single bread crust is tossed out to a bunch of geese? That's how pretty much every moment plays out in Brink, but with varying degrees of chaos based on how well you know the game. There's precious little opportunity for occasional players to peel off after secondary objectives. It's mostly two teams at extreme loggerheads.

The beauty of Brink is how closely you're working with the other players. Very few shooters are this carefully calculated to force a team to interact without making it feel forced. Splash Damage has always been good at this, but they've made it an art form here. Your ammo, your health, your damage, and even how well you see the other team are interdependent nuggets of gameplay shared among the team, with rewards doled out accordingly and nary a frag count in sight. You don't even get assists. Points are based on how much damage you do, and not whether you got the kill. Which isn't worth as much as tossing out a damage buff from time to time or making sure you're near the thing you're supposed to be actually guarding. Brink is all about objectives and there's is no K/D in team.

Although it's built from the same engine as Quake Wars, Brink is a much smaller game. It's literally about crawling through or over the level geometry instead of flying above it. It's more intimate and personal. It's almost entirely indoors, fought most of the time in corridors and occasionally larger lobbies. Kills are mostly up close and personal. You'll be seeing the whites of their eyes a lot. Sniping is something you usually do from the other side of the room instead of the other side of the map.

A new movement system is just one of several ways Brink lets players participate by doing more than just shooting well. Characters are all light, medium, or heavy. Lighter character movement recalls Assassin's Creed or Mirror's Edge for how you hold down a button and simply go. Mantle over low surfaces, leap to nearby rails, and monkey around gracefully, reaching places other players can't reach and getting where you're going faster. It's incredibly gratifying once you learn to read the layout of a level. And unlike, say, the scout in Team Fortress 2, any class can take advantage of this movement mode, since it's independent of your class choice.

The trade-off is that lighter characters are limited to fewer weapons, which is a tough choice given how cool these weapons are. Brink's guns have personality, variety, and just enough configurable bits and pieces to make for some sexy fantasy gun porn. I'm not sure I really need the drum magazine on my already amply ammo'ed LMG, but it sure does look cool when I reload. And so what if I'm a fat slow character who has to shuffle down the middle of the map; I can carry a grenade launcher in my secondary slot! Brink also models knockback from certain weapons, which is like suppression, or maybe stunning in a fighting game. This interplay of guns and movement, divorced entirely from class choice and freely swappable, is one of Brink's smartest design decisions.

Special abilities, on the other hand, are limited to each of the four classes and they're locked until you've leveled up by playing. These unlocks come fairly quickly, and you'll max out a class or two in a few nights. At which point you might want to start another character for the other classes. It's not a drawn-out leveling grind, which almost makes the leveling feel pointless. It seems like an odd compromise between Quake Wars, where you maxed out your character in three maps, and Call of Duty, where it'll take at least three weeks. Along the way, Brink throws into the mix some nifty cosmetic options for dressing up your character. Expect plenty of DLC on this front. This is, after all, the publisher that brought you horse armor in Oblivion.

At first, eight maps might seem anemic and maybe another cheap grab for DLC money. But they're densely crafted maps, and some of them are split into sections that only load when you meet a certain objective. They're neatly different in terms of look and feel, from the open crisscrossing across the airport to the long tunnels of the aquarium to the warren of passages in the shantytown. And I have yet to figure out that city mall level. These eight maps feel like a lot more than eight maps. This is, after all, the developer who never gave us a single blessed additional map for Quake Wars, which never felt wanting for cool places to shoot each other.

Like Quake Wars, Brink has excellent bot support, which makes it a viable single-player game. Or, even better, a game you can enjoy with a small group of friends playing among bots. It's remarkable how well the AI can handle this relatively complicated game, making use of different weapons, different class abilities, the movement system, and various elements of the maps. In fact, one of the best ways to learn a map is to follow a bot. When it comes to competent bots making multiplayer more than just multiplayer, medium budget games like Brink and Section 8 put to shame AAA franchises like Halo and Call of Duty.

One of the worst ways that Brink isn't very Call of Duty is how it doesn't make a good first impression. A learning curve this long and shallow needs to open strong. But that's not really going on here. For starters, there are terrible problems with lag on the Xbox 360 (I haven't seen the game on any other system). The graphics occasionally stutter and the sound cuts out frequently. These seem like launch pains, and given Splash Damage's history with this engine if not this platform, I have every reason to expect they'll be worked out eventually.

But when you couple this with how poorly the game is laid out for new players, a lot of potential Brink players will just as soon stick with their Call of Duty. An exhaustive but non-interactive tutorial video isn't a good opening, even though Brink bribes new players with 1000 free xp before they find out how little 1000xp are actually worth. Then comes a wall of guns, followed by some story-based cutscene nonsense before the seemingly labyrinthine maps with vaguely worded objectives. The best tutorial is actually a "challenge mode" to unlock weapon mods by playing on maps you'll never use. Why isn't this mode used to teach players the maps they'll actually play? Or some of the different weapons? Or various class functions? Splash Damage is good at game design, but they're not very good at teaching their unique skew.

But if there's a game worth powering through that initial confusion to get to something special, it's Brink. Because if you've ever complained about shooters being more of the same, if you've ever lamented all the me-too Call of Duty designs out there, or if you've ever just gotten sick of how lazy some of the biggest shooters are when it comes to good game design, here is your alternative.


tomchick's avatar
Freelance review by Tom Chick (May 12, 2011)

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zippdementia posted May 12, 2011:

I'll have plenty of time to learn the game, it looks like, since PSN is down again (or still). So at least I won't be behind when I finally do get online.

EDIT: I had typed more but apparently it didn't post. It basically said that I enjoyed this review. A lot.
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fleinn posted May 13, 2011:

Specially like the parts with "there's no k/d in team". :)

It.. kind of seems like individual matches set up around various changing objectives. does that work? Do you progress between stages. Or does the goals rotate, or something, in the same "game".. Will some of the stages unlock if one of the sides win too much.. do you conquer the Ark eventually..?
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zippdementia posted May 13, 2011:

I haven't played multiplayer yet, but I believe single player is set up basically the same. The way it works is that there are one or two main objectives that one team is trying to "conquer" and the other "defend," such as Red team blows up wall; Blue team tries to stop wall from being blown up. There is a time limit to complete the objective: when it's completed, the next objective pops up and a new time limit is set.

There are also always command point objectives, which mean capturing a command post. There are two command posts in each stage, one which provides a team health boost, the other a team "special abilities" boost (allowing you to use your specials more throughout the match). Capturing the posts gives EXP and also those boosts, which really are pretty helpful.

The objectives menu also tells you how many team members are currently working on that objective. In general, the gameplay ends up much as Tom describes, where you invevitably bottle neck the two teams at some pinch point on the map (and really the maps are just one pinch point after another). Then all hell breaks loose, kind've equivalent to a Killzone 2 match. One cool thing is that you heal fairly quickly, so if you are really good at using the free-run system, you can drop into a combat zone, really mess some folks up, and escape before being taken down. You can also lie wounded on the ground indefinitely (as long as an enemy doesn't shoot you to death) waiting for a medic to bring you back into the fight. In this way, good use of medics can keep a team on the front lines.
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Halon posted May 13, 2011:

This is pretty much the only positive thing I've ever heard of for this game but it's a good review! I was a huge Wolfenstein ET fan and was really looking forward to this game until just about everyone told me how terrible it is.

Maybe I'll pick it up when it goes on sale, assuming people are still playing it then.
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radicaldreamer posted May 15, 2011:

Really good review. I didn't have any interest in this game before it came out, and then I saw the relatively low scores from gaming websites, but this review has made me interested in this game.
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SamildanachEmrys posted May 16, 2011:

I agree with radicaldreamer, I'd seen only bad scores for Brink, so any interest I had before was release was starting to waver. But this review has actually made me more enthusiastic for it than I was before.

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