Xbox 360, PS3, PC Review: Brink's online mode has been significantly worse on PS3 for the past week, but at least that wasn't Splash Damage's fault.
You might have heard people talking about Splash Damage's Brink. Hyped and delayed for several years, the title has amassed a cult following even before its release. Many of those fans have picked up the game at launch, and started dismissing its many issues, claiming that Brink would be amazing if it weren't for a smattering of problems. Everyone seemed to believe that the game was one or two patches away from being one of the best shooters of the generation when it came out. Since launch a number of patches have been released?and none have fixed the issues. These jaded claims are incredibly inflated, and ignore the sad truth of things: Brink isn't a great game with problems; it's a mediocre game that tries to make you think
that it is.
In some ways, Brink harkens back to the olden days of FPS. It used to be commonplace for developers to create a single-player campaign comprised of a handful of multiplayer maps repurposed to support some semblance of a narrative. Brink cops this formula?one that is rarely used in modern shooters?and treats its campaign as a training ground for the competitive scene. It doesn't have a story as much as it has a setting: the Ark. The Ark was once a utopian floating city, but has been consumed by war between the two rival factions (Security and Resistance). Short clips before and after the campaign missions attempt to give some context, but they do little to disguise the incredibly lackluster narrative.
But there's a reason games, in the past, found success with this formula: it can work. If online multiplayer is the focus, and if it's truly
fantastic, the single-player campaign is allowed to be sacrificed to the gaming gods. This classic approach can work. It has worked. In Brink, it doesn't work.
That's not to say it relies too heavily on classic shooters?Brink diverges from older FPS in a number of ways. The gameplay is objective-based, and a good deal more complicated than your average run-and-gun. In fact, before you even pick up a gun, the game recommends watching an extremely long video tutorial, detailing how to succeed in Brink. Watching these clips show how players create a character, outfit him with weapons and clothing, and slowly unlock additional guns, physical customization options, and skills. Generic skills are supplemented by those broken into the game's four classes (Medic, Engineer, Soldier, and Operative), all of which are required to complete different objectives. Brink isn't a giant game of Team Deathmatch, and there's no flag to capture or hill to be the king of. It's a different kind of shooter, more like Killzone or Section 8, where multiple objectives may be happening simultaneously. It's more complex, which could have been a good thing.
That would be true if the shooter Brink was built on the back of was stronger. Enemy players usually take nearly a full clip of ammunition to drop, and since headshots don't appear to do much extra damage (and grenades are more useful for knocking opponents down than out) battles are often won depending less on aim, firepower, or the element of surprise, and more on whichever team had more people in the room at the time of battle. This makes teamwork more important, technically, but not in the way it does in Team Fortress 2 (where players are rewarded for working together) or Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (where working in small squads is key to success). Instead, it forces players to travel in packs and act as turrets, which isn't all that fun. There are parkour elements that help make movement more interesting, and they can help spice things up from time to time, but poor gunplay in a shooter is sort of a deal breaker, no matter how much sliding or leaping is sprinkled around it.
Because everyone acts like a band of roving guns, the responsibility is on the classes to make the difference in large battles. Here, too, Brink falters. While they all have a few different abilities, letting the medics heal and the engineers build turrets, they're not different enough to make it so anyone will necessarily have a favorite. They can all use the same weapons, and they're all just as good at them, so the only real reason to choose to be an Engineer over a Soldier is if the current objective seems to call for it.
However, none of these unique elements are all that important, since the game is often literally unplayable due to lag. The game's servers are an absolute train wreck, prompting the developers to quickly patch the game to allow fewer players in a match, with the remaining spots being filled with AI bots that are about as useful as?well, a multiplayer-focused game with busted servers. The appealing aesthetic is ruined, too, by texture pop-ins are the some of the worst this generation. Every single thing in the environment starts off looking like it's using a texture from a Nintendo 64 game, and then, slowly, phases in to look like an early Xbox 360 title. Nothing ever looks remarkably good in-game, but it takes a while to even get there.
The setting is cool, the parkour is sort of neat, the focus on objectives over Team Deathmatch is admirable, but there's really nothing special about Brink. Sometimes, it seems as though Splash Damage's vision failed to meet fruition. Other times, Brink feels like a tacked-on multiplayer component to a single-player shooter (despite claiming to be the exact opposite). Usually, it hovers in the middle, being neither terrible nor brilliant?just being. A sequel might fix these issues, and bring some of Splash Damage's interesting ideas to fruition, but no one should be realistically expecting a a magical patch to fix what years of development couldn't.