Developer Splash Damage
Released May 2011
Available for PC (version reviewed) Xbox 360 and PS3
Time Played “Finished” campaign mode and all challenges up to ***. Rank 15 (20+ hours).
The finest team-shooter since Team Fortress 2. Need I say more?
Brink hasn’t had the best of starts. Sound disappearing, vanishing text, lag and frame rate issues so bad many simply cannot play are just some of its many faults. In spite of all this, I absolutely love it. I have been fortunate in not experiencing the vast majority of problems people are reporting. The primary one I did experience, though, was probably the worst. Trying to achieve a stable 30 frames per second in Brink was quite the challenge, and despite what I consider a good ‘rig,’ at times it was exhausting to achieve. Fresh driver installations, driver rollbacks, overclocking my CPU, my GPU, my RAM. I’ve done it all. My PC is certainly better for it (60% more oomph!) and thankfully, after the latest driver release from ATI, Brink now runs at over 60fps consistently.
It’s frustrating for many. Not that I’ve doubted my computer’s capabilities (Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and Crysis 2 both run at 60fps on maximum detail) but because there are those with computers worse than mine (and better) who have abandoned the game entirely due to the inability to achieve playable frame rates. In many respects I can completely understand why; I spent more time trying to achieve consistent frame rates than playing the actual game. Something, somewhere, went wrong in that scenario.
Whilst I wouldn’t want to point fingers, Brink clearly wasn’t ready to be launched when it did. I’d estimate it’s three patches away from where it should be, and this is unacceptable. To make matters worse, Splash Damage and Bethesda actually brought the release forward. I’ll repeat that. They brought the release date forward!
Thankfully the companies are communicating well with the Brink community through the Bethesda Blog , and are hard at work attempting to rectify any outstanding issues as quickly as possible, whilst working closely with Nvidia and ATI to continually improve frame rates.
But if you are fortunate enough like me to persevere, you will be rewarded with a stunning team experience.
In Brink, two factions, Resistance and Security, battle in a once-utopian city called The Ark, a floating city above the waters of a flooded Earth. When you begin the game you are presented with a choice. To defend the ark or to leave it, each determining which faction your character fights for. After deciding, you’ll be greeted with an ingame cutscene specific to your faction (which I might add are visually fantastic and voice acted brilliantly) but also a video tutorial which, if you choose to watch, will earn you 1,000 experience points. It is surprising that Splash Damage chose to use a video as a tutorial, but the game does inform you that this is aimed towards console users (lord knows why). Whether you decide to watch it or not is up to you, as it’s really not as painful as reviewers have made out, but afterwards comes the fun part; customising your appearance.
As Resistance your appearance is rough and ready, with torn clothes and makeshift outfits. As Security you’re quite the opposite: clean, well armoured and well equipped. Both display the sheer effort Splash Damage have gone to in not only creating stunning character models, but polished and solid outfits, hair styles, faces and colour schemes. As someone who has played many MMOGs over the years and toyed with countless character creators, Brink has to be one of my all time favourites, even without the ability to manually change my character’s physical proportions.
After deciding your appearance it’s time to get in game. Brink is split into three elements: Campaign (single player, but with A.I. bots); Freeplay (online, with human and bot players); and Challenges (various scenarios to teach and test you on mechanics of the game). I really can’t stress enough how you should complete all the challenge modes first. Not only will they teach you the basics of Brink first hand, as well as the classes, but they are also a great deal of fun and difficult, allowing you to unlock weapon attachments and earn a good quantity of experience. Having weapon scopes and different magazine types makes a huge difference when fighting against human players, so make it your first port of call and get adjusting those guns.
The single player follows either Resistance or Security, played from either perspective, across 8 maps. Each map is narrated whilst it loads, followed by an in game cutscene. It’s a strange choice by Splash Damage, as the cutscenes are acted and animated beautifully, yet the single player campaign is little more than the multiplayer maps strung together. This doesn’t mean the single player isn’t enjoyable, as the maps are fantastic (we’ll get to those later) and the cutscenes highly enjoyable, but it does make you wonder why they didn’t choose to develop a full campaign. Although, that would be like suggesting people purchased Battlefield: Bad Company 2 for the single player. With the quality of the script, acting and animations, it is a little sad to see Splash Damage not develop this side of the game more. The Ark has so many possibilities that a sequel has to be made.
As far as guns are concerned, there are a huge array, all varying in statistical goodness such as range, damage, equip speed and rate of fire. These can all be customised through unlocked weapon attachments. What is surprising is that I’ve found all the weapons to be usable and balanced. Although at first it might seem that pistols have no place when you can carry a second submachine gun, they are the only secondary weapon light body types can use. To balance this out, a pistol user also carries a knife, making for a deadly melee attack in replace of other body types’ extra firepower. It’s a neat touch. Brink has drawn criticism from some for the fact it only has bullet-based weapons (rifles, pistols, automatic pistols and shotguns) yet there are around 17 to choose from, from the very start, dependent on body type and with 24 in total.
I didn’t hear people complaining that Call of Duty had only bullet-based weapons or Team Fortress 2 only having 3 weapons per class when it first launched. It’s entirely irrelevant. Splash Damage have made great efforts in the number of guns available and they all look and sound exceptional.
In terms of classes, there are four to choose from: Soldier, Engineer, Spy and Medic, which all fill a specific role to not only overcome your opponents, but to complete maps and objectives. I’ll pre-warn now – a balanced team is a must. More so than any other team-oriented shooter I’ve ever played, but on the flip side (lord knows why people choose to see this as a negative element of the game) it encourages teamwork, a spread of class types and gives focus to your role at various points throughout a map. Thankfully if you are ever short of a class you or teammates can switch instantly at control stations, though I’ve yet to encounter a need to change.
As an Engineer in many team shooters I play, I’ve really been enjoying Brink’s version. The ability to directly support my team by boosting their weapon damage, as well as my own, combined with turrets, mines and Kevlar vest hand-outs gives a real sense of purpose, that I am actually making a difference to my team. The fact that experience is instantly awarded based on supporting others is also great touch. Nothing annoyed me more in Team Fortress 2 where you’d receive no points for your dispenser helping others, yet in many cases they were pivotal to a team’s success. That I’m also actively involved in objectives, whether primary or secondary, and that I am as component with weapons as a Soldier, makes for an even but different kind of playing field, depending on the class you choose.
Objectives, like in Quake Wars, earn you experience but are also pivotal to the success of your team. A map will always have a primary objective which can be selected at any time through the objective wheel (you hold down the middle mouse button; which is another fabulous thing that DICE dropped from Battlefield: Bad Company 2). When you use the objective wheel, your character automatically faces in the right direction you want to be heading in. It keeps play straight forward and doesn’t leave you needing to scour a mini map or the horizon to see what it is you’re actually aiming for, although you can turn this option off. What I also appreciate (and contrary again to many reviews) is that secondary objectives are purposeful and entirely class dependent; they are all part of the bigger picture. Escorting a computer-controlled character, defending an area, repairing or constructing submachine guns or capturing command points. Without doing them, you can still win. By doing them, it makes life that much easier for you and your team.
Which brings me nicely onto three elements of Brink I adore. SMART, experience points and map design.
The SMART bit.
I really love SMART (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain). Games feel boring without it. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is officially dull as a result of not having SMART and my dream is for games to have destructible scenery and SMART combined, at which point I’d be in heaven. But for the time being, I’m genuinely finding it difficult to revert back to the standard control system other first person shooters offer. SMART is incredibly simple and has arguably been lifted from Mirror’s Edge, but where DICE abandoned the best creative idea they’ve ever had, Splash Damage have ran with it.
In a nutshell, players use SMART while sprinting. When you approach an obstacle, be it a wall, crate or barrier, SMART will assess the type of obstacle and the direction the player is looking and attempt to navigate the obstacle based on this information. For example, a player can either climb over or slide under an obstacle depending on whether they approach looking at the top or bottom of it. It’s fast, slick and incredibly satisfying.
One scenario saw me jump down from a railing, vault over a crate, slide under some piping and kill two players while skidding out the other side on my backside. BOO-YA! is exactly the noise I made whilst waving my arms in the air. It’s just so satisfying and becomes second nature so incredibly quickly that if I don’t see it in other games, I’ll be very upset indeed.
Unlike other team based shooters which reward players based on points per kill, Brink rewards players with experience points based on how many times they hit an opponent, or completing objectives/supporting teammates. Each bullet that contacts an enemy results in scrolling ‘XP’ text on your screen. If you unload an entire clip into someone, you might earn 40xp. If you hit them with only two bullets, you might earn 4xp. What this results in is an proportional share of experience, rather than an absolute figure. Those who do the most work are rewarded and those who sneak in at the last minute earn just the scraps. Not only does this allow you to earn experience points rapidly, but highlights on the score board those undertaking the most objectives, supporting team mates and dealing the most damage to opponents. The leader board as a result is very different to say, Call of Duty, which is based entirely on kill counts alone.
For anyone who accidentally team kills or damages team mates, you’ll lose significant quantities of experience, making for careful play at times but also making the Operative’s disguises actually useful. Unlike in Team Fortress 2 where everyone ‘spy-checks’ with no repercussions, it’s simply not worth being constantly paranoid and shooting teammates in Brink.
With a little bit of experience under your belt, you’ll also unlock two additional body types: Light and Heavy (Medium is default), which offer differences in terms of speed, agility and health. I settle for the Medium on my Engineer (and Operative) as it’s a fine balance between the three, although I have been tempted to try a Heavy combination for the extra health and back-line support. Light I found a little too flimsy for my play style as they die easily, but in the right hands they can be formidable, the slippery little buggers.
There are abilities which you can invest in based on your rank and experience. Each class has a reasonably large quantity of these that improve their equipment and play style, but they can only be unlocked through experience and by levelling up your character. For example, a heavy sentry gun as the Engineer is not immediately available until you’ve earned your stripes, but in the meantime you can invest in a light or medium versions or ‘universal abilities’, such as ‘Sprinting Reload’ and ‘Battle Hardened’ which provide subtle, worthwhile permanent improvements to your character. My particular favourite, ‘Combat Intuition,’ sees a directional warning appear on your screen if you are being targeted by an opposing player (but not fired upon), giving you a split second to react and hopefully defend yourself.
With experience also comes visual rewards. Costumes, hairstyles and face paint doesn’t cost physical experience, as they are unlocked based on the more experience you earn, but there are hundreds of extra pieces for both Resistance and Security, all of which are modelled to perfection.
What Splash Damage now need to do is open up the floor to the community and allow them to create their own, or follow the lead of Valve and receive community submissions to place in game. They could even charge for them if they really wanted to emulate Valve; they could also do with adding female characters whilst they are at it.
I have a very good memory for routes, but I must admit I am still learning Brink’s maps. They are expansive horizontally (as opposed to vertically) but focused at the same time. Multiple routes and scenery to clamber over does make maps feel busy and at times confusing, whilst there are still certain locations on maps I can’t figure out how to reach. I should point out however, that this shouldn’t be looked on as a form of criticism, as it demonstrates the effort that Splash Damage has made to add an additional layer of depth to the game.
Many are reasonably straight forward and there are some bottlenecks, but these bottlenecks have never stopped me enjoying the game. If my team lost it was through our own failures as a team, not that of the map design. What I have found annoying though is that I don’t see people complaining about Team Fortress 2’s map design, which purposefully contains constant bottlenecks on 99% of maps. Why single Brink out?
Two maps in particular stand out for me (although all are brilliant). The first is Breakout, which sees Resistance attacking a Security fortification to rescue a pilot . As Resistance you have to assault the complex and gain access, before downloading the data key, freeing the pilot and working your way back through the level with him in tow, to exit the way you came in. It’s brilliantly designed, from the multiple routes to the different layers and angles of attack. You genuinely feel penned in and on edge. The entire dynamics of fighting also change considerably on the way out as you are forced to approach the map from an entirely different angle.
My second favourite is Attack On CCity, where Resistance must defend a gate system against Security. Not only does the map look absolutely phenomenal, but the shanty town image, the nooks and crannies and the multiple routes everywhere are so enjoyable I’ve genuinely never encountered a better map in a team-based shooter. It’s an absolute triumph and is so exciting to play through as you desperately defend or attack.
I won’t name and shame other review sites, but I cannot understand where the criticism of Brink stems from. Brink hasn’t had a perfect launch, but to receive the treatment it has is absolutely mystifying. Brink is the finest team based shooter to arrive in years and having sunk hundreds of hours into Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Team Fortress 2 and Call of Duty (amongst countless others) it easily surpasses them all on almost every level. Its learning curve is steep, and team work is entirely pivotal to your success, but at what stage did we approach team-based shooters as solo affairs?
I want to be encouraged to work together, I want to achieve something as a team and Brink does just that and offers me plenty of choices along the way. From the incredible map design, to smaller changes such as rewarding experience points based on the damage you did as opposed to the killing blow, an incredible character customiser and some of the punchiest, satisfying weapons I’ve ever used in a first person shooter, Splash Damage deserve your money.
Both Team Fortress 2 and Battlefield: Bad Company 2 feel stale against Brink (though neither are bad games!). SMART is a triumph, and the fact that playing games without it feels so alien is a testament to the product Splash Damage have produced. Whilst Brink may always remain niche, I’m so glad it has come along and I cannot wait for its first free expansion pack due in June.
Email the author of this post at firstname.lastname@example.org
Website: Brink Official Site
Minimum System Requirements (PC):
- OS: Windows XP SP3, Vista or Windows 7
- CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo @ 2.4 Ghz / AMD Athlon 64 X2 5200+
- RAM: 2 GB
- HDD: 8 GB free disk space
- Graphics: 512 MB Graphics Memory
- Sound Card: DirectX 9 Compatible
- DirectX: Version 9.0c
- OS: Windows 7 Ultimate Edition (64bit)
- CPU: Intel Quad Core Q9450 over-clocked @ 3.6ghz
- RAM: 4GB Corsair Dominator RAM (1033mhz)
- Graphics: ATI 5870 HD (1gb RAM)