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Brink Review

Digital Trends Brink ReviewHave you ever had that one friend that you knew was full of potential and could go on to do great things, but for whatever reason — maybe they are just lazy, or chose to embrace a deep fryer over all vegetables as a lifestyle choice — their potential is just never realized? You may see flashes of it now and then, and they may still be fun to hang out with, but it is impossible to get over that nagging feeling that there is so much more that could have been tapped. That friend, in a nutshell, is Brink.

Brink is a game designed to be played online. Everything you can do online can also be done solo, but you after an hour or so, you’ll wonder why bother. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The game is designed as a multiplayer experience, with missions that pit live teams against each other, and a challenge mode that offers co-op gameplay for up to four people, and that is Brink‘s focus.

When the game works, it works well. Unfortunately, that is rare. Lag sucks the fun out of this game like a sparkly vampire sucking the blood of a tween, and even when it works, there are flaws. Hopefully the lag can be corrected in the future, and maybe while they are at it they can fix the tedium-inducing problems that are also a fairly major issue.

The brink of civil war

In the near future, the planet will succumb to global warming and the ice caps will melt, thus flooding the world. One city, the Ark, remains as humanity’s last known shelter, but the self-sustaining eco-system designed to perpetually support 5,000 has been pushed far beyond the point of sustainability as 50,000 people vie for control of the remaining resources.

The tensions are running high, and two sides — the security forces and the rebels — stand on the brink of a civil war, hence the name. The security forces want to control everyone for the greater good, while the resistance believes that the answer lies outside the Ark, and resources should be used to search the planet for dry land.

When you first fire Brink up, it asks you to choose between these two sides. After you almost inevitably choose the resistance (because it is way cooler), you can then tailor your character.

The choice of factions really isn’t an issue though. The story of Brink is almost an afterthought, which is a shame, because it is a cool idea. The story, what there is of it, is told through a series of brief voice overs heard during the loading screens, which are then followed by a cut scene with a few characters talking about the upcoming missions. Sometimes they will throw in things like their concern for their kids or puppy or something, but it is soon forgotten as you are ushered into missions which you then undertake with some seriously brain-damaged AI.

If the AI represent the future of humanity, we are all doomed

Once the games begin, the emphasis is entirely on the gameplay. Depending on the side you are playing (and you can choose any mission and either side right from the start of the game), you typically attack or defend a location, escort or try to kill a specific enemy, or try to recover or protect an object. There are a few additional sub-missions based on your class, but the missions are fairly straight forward and almost always come down to killing more enemies than the other team.

You can play the campaign either online or off, but offline it is almost too frustrating to make it worth your time. It is a good way to earn some fast experience points, but the AI throughout the game is painfully dumb. Even if the story were so engrossing that a tear streaks down your face when “that guy” bites it, the AI would seriously hamper the experience.

Where in some games your AI teammates are timid and won’t do much, that isn’t the problem here. It is the exact opposite, as they gleefully run out into the open and catch bullets with their teeth. This wouldn’t be a major issue except for two consequences: When your teammates recreate the WWI charge of soldiers against machine guns, you will suddenly find yourself left utterly alone and surrounded. That is annoying, and you will die, cursing their stupidity. The bigger issue arises when you are meant to escort people or defend locations. And the enemy AI isn’t much better.

The challenge modes are a bit better as they are in a contained area with a single objective. There are only four of them as well, each with three levels of difficulty, but hopefully more will soon be available through online. The missions vary from defending a tower to a parkour race, but the AI is still an issue, and as you increase the level of difficulty it goes from dumb, to easy, to cheap. Online with your friends, these challenges are fun; offline they are something you will do to unlock weapons and then move on.

The single player is something you will do to build levels quickly for online play, and that is about it. If you are considering buying Brink for the single-player, you will be disappointed. If you are determined to purchase this game for the PlayStation 3, at least save your money until the PSN is back up and running.

Levels, Classes and Appearances, Oh My!

Whether you play online or off, you gain experience and points to unlock more appearance options, new weapons and abilities. The game has a cartoon-like look to it, so the options can range from funny, to cool, to absurd. The appearance stuff is entirely cosmetic, but there are a lot of options, which make it fun to experiment with. There is one exception to this—the character body types. You can choose from three options: Heavy, which offers the most weapons but slower movement; medium, which is a balanced choice; or light, which is the weakest and offers limited weapons, but is by far the most agile and can go areas others can’t.

There are also a whole lot of guns. Most are available at the start, but some require you to unlock them by beating challenges, or reach certain experience levels. As you progress, you also unlock attachments for the weapons, and once you can access something like a red dot, it is available for all weapons. That is nice in theory, but it kills the thrill of building up new weapons.

At first glance the weapon choices are robust, but the variety you see is actually misleading. There are ton of options, but in practice most of the guns have very similar stats. There are a few exceptions like the bolt action rifle, but it takes multiple shots to kill an opponent regardless of weapon, and a slow rate of fire is tough to justify. So while there are myriad weapons, most players will likely end up using the same (or at least a very similar) loadout with an assault rifle and an SMG as a secondary.

The lack of variety makes the guns unimpressive. It isn’t much fun to try them all out, because they are all essentially the same. Having a FPS with almost no variety in the guns in just plain bizarre.

The controls are not bad, but the aiming is almost always going to be easier without using the red dot, which is weird. Throwing grenades can be tricky too, as they are a bit unpredictable. The freerunning element is fun, but it really isn’t all that important to the game. You can run and slide, but the firing mechanics take some getting used to. Abilities help though.

The abilities you unlock and purchase do offer some good perks and are tied into the four classes you can choose from: Soldier, engineer, medic and operative. While all classes use the same weapons, each have their own attributes and special features that can be upgraded. The soldier can refill ammo, the medic heals, the engineer repairs mechanical equipment, and operatives can disguise themselves as an enemy player.

There are some universal abilities, but some of the best perks are unique to each class. Engineers can create turrets once that option has been unlocked, while soldiers can throw grenades faster, for example.

The first three classes are pretty much what you expect, but the operative is an interesting twist. Once you find an enemy, you can take their appearance and blend in with the enemies. Being able to walk behind enemy lines and open fire (which breaks the disguise), and mowing down your opponents before they can react while you are laughing manically is kinda awesome.

Each class is needed in a game, as there are objectives that only a particular class can accomplish. That keeps the teams varied, but really doesn’t add much more.

The curse of the fatal lag

Brink is a game meant to be played online. There really isn’t much point to the single player campaign. It is there, but goofy AI and a lack of story make it somewhat dull and repetitive to work through. But online, Brink shines. Or at least it might, if it wasn’t for all the damn lag.

Lag is something that can be fixed. Patches help, and work on the servers behind the scenes can make it little more than an occasional annoyance. With Brink, while playing through during pre-arranged multiplayer sessions, the lag was so bad that it made the game nearly unplayable. This is something that will be corrected eventually, but it is, and will continue to be an issue for awhile. It is almost tragic how bad the lag is, and if it isn’t corrected, and soon, it will be the end of this game. For a title with such an emphasis on the online, to not have the bugs worked out before launch is a major issue.

But when it works, the online games are actually a lot of fun. Playing as a team will make a major difference in winning and losing, and those who can coordinate are going to dominate those who just like to shoot stuff. There are a few options on game types, but mainly, you will play through a level of the campaign as either an attacking team or a defending team. There is also a mode where you will switch sides during the game, but you will always be playing a map from the campaign—there are eight in total.

When you are playing online, assuming lag is not an issue, the games will either be amazing, or they will be tedious. If you have a good team, the game is fun. If not, it can be dull and repetitive. There isn’t much middle ground.

Conclusion

Brink is a great game that got sidetracked along the way and ended up being a fairly average one at best. The single-player campaign is almost pointless, which means an imaginative setting goes to waste. But that is alright, the game is meant to be played online. And the multiplayer is fun. When it works. Which is rare.

The game can also be repetitive. That is true for all multiplayer games, but Brink is especially susceptible to tedium. Unlocking guns is not really much of a treat, since you get so many guns to start with that you never really need to work towards anything. The challenges unlock all the attachments you might need, so the leveling is mostly used to open up the appearance options. When the online plays like it should, the controlled chaos of the games is interesting, even more so when you work with others. If two teams are working together against each other, each objective can be a tense firefight. If not though, it can be a mess and dull.

Overall, Brink is a flawed game that can be fun, almost despite itself. But there are just so many issues that the promise of the game is buried under it. Lag is a multiplayer killer that should eventually be corrected, but tedium can be a recurring problem. There is still some fun to be had though, but you have to work for it.

Score: 6.5 out of 10

 (This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 on a copy provided by Bethesda Softworks)

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