Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Review: Brink

Set in the not too distant future, Brink takes us to a vast utopian city known as The Ark, a floating man-made island built to show we can all live sustainably. Sadly, it was only a matter of time before this perfect land was tainted by corruption and crime, violence and vindication. The result was a burgeoning population that faced civil war, with two rival factions fighting for supremacy. You get to play as the “Resistance" or "Security" forces as they strive to gain the upper hand and gain control of the island.

Brink has been on Megabits' wishlist for some time and we were frankly quite excited by the prospect of this new IP. So it came as some surprise that its launch was greeted with a mixture of indifference and criticism. Sure, it was yet another first person shooter but this one claimed to boast some of the most advanced customization options ever seen, great sounding co-operative play and an inventive plot... and it looked pretty nice aesthetically too.

Sure, it does contain all of these elements but after a thorough playthrough, you can't help but feel like this is a bit of a missed opportunity by Bethesda and Splash Damage.

Both looks and gameplay-wise, it’s more than a little reminiscent of Team Fortress 2, with a hint of Borderlands thrown in for good measure - cartoony, cel-shaded, bold and brightly-coloured. And that's certainly a good thing, don't get us wrong. But perhaps it could look a little sharper and be a little prettier in places.

Nevertheless, it's the unique character models that steal the show, and the multitude of customisation options meaning there are literally millions of variations - everything from tattoos and facial hair to build, skin colouring and clothing. Even more clobber can be unlocked as you progress thanks to the XP you accrue along the way. Chances are you'll spend just as much time making your character your own as you will actually playing the game.
There are plenty of new abilities and upgrades to earn, as well as numerous guns to choose from - although there appears to be little difference between them, apart from the appearance and size of the clip. Enemies can take a fair bit of punishment no matter how many bullets you unload or which weapon you use too, which takes some getting used to and can prove a little frustrating.

Once your protagonist is suited and booted, you can opt for online play or the campaign - which are both fairly similar at the end of the day. Missions and maps can be played in pretty much any order, your allegiance to either side can be swapped midgame, along with your class - be it a soldier armed to the teeth or a medic patching up those caught in the crossfire. What this basically means is that after only a short period of play, you've actually seen all there is to see except for some of the unlockable abilities. A shame, as it detracts a little from the game's longevity. Nonetheless, the drop in/drop out element is cool with up to seven friends able to jump in to the game while you’re playing to offer some much needed support.

It’s a steep learning curve too and you’re dropped in the deep end from the start, with little explanation about what you’ve got to do or how to go about it. Anyone with any FPS experience though, will soon get to grips with it and quickly get into the game. Sub missions can be selected while playing, which adds a bit of variety and tension to the proceedings.
Clearly, this is a game with a strong focus on online play and is best attempted with a few friends. This is largely due to the stupidity of the AI bots who fill the vacant player slots, and who display ineptitude when having to carry out the simplest of tasks. As a result, the AI is sometimes more of a hindrance than a help. Chuck a few friends into the equation, however, and tactics can be employed and much fun can be had. During our gametime, we noticed no lag and the whole experience of matchmaking and so on was seamless.

Each mission is punctuated by a brief intro video putting across the plight of your chosen side. After that though there's little mention of the overall plot that holds the entire game together. Still, the cut scenes are lovely looking and capture the essence of the rival sides.

Besides the character customisation, the most innovative aspect of the game is the inclusion of the rather unique SMART system – aka Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain - that uses a context-sensitive button press to send your character seamlessly skipping over obstacles, climbing onto ledges and generally bounding about the place with aplomb. It’s parkour made simple, and is actually pretty effective - and would be a welcome addition to future titles. It certainly takes some of the complexity out of a new game as you don't have to fathom a load of button presses.

Overall, we really liked Brink - but it kind of falls a little short of our high expectations. Initially, you'll have no idea what's going on or how best to play, but when it all falls into place it proves to be great fun. Give it a few weeks and some solid play, however, and you'll probably get distracted and turn to something else for your FPS action. The concept is solid, the team play can be great fun and the controls and customisation deserve praise... other than that, it's a bit of a run of the mill shooter with some questionable AI and limited replayability. We'd recommend a rental.

*Reviewed on PS3