Brink – the PS3 Attitude review
There are two things I found remarkable about my last online outing in Brink: one was the number of fetishistic gas masks on show, which surely says something about Brink’s “expressive” community, and two, I didn’t kill anyone, which most definitely says a lot about my playing style.
But try to avoid rushing to obvious nasty conclusions; I wasn’t horrendously bad, and I even finished top of the leaderboard ahead of 15 not-too-shabby players. So, how did I get there then? Well, I got there through playing the way Splash Damage wanted me to play: I gave up being a lone wolf and learned to be more objective.
I was a Security medic, playing on the aptly titled Container City map, and my team’s objective was to escort our maintenance bot through hostile territory. Keeping this bot moving wasn’t easy, due to an opposition who were keen to shower us with bullets. Nevertheless, we stood up to their attacks and made them think twice about getting close.
But we had to think carefully about our approach. Had we allowed ourselves to get caught in a firefight, we would’ve died time after time, and this wouldn’t have helped our cause. The Resistance would’ve gleefully vandalised our bot as we undertook long, arduous treks back from our spawn point.
We’d have lost too much precious time, not to mention any sort of organisation, making it impossible to protect our engineer. He needed half-a-minute to repair the bot, which was about 20 seconds longer than the Resistance were willing to let him live. He needed constant protection, so it’s a good thing we had a plan, albeit a simple one: stay alive and near the objective and ignore those inner Rambo urges.
It’s a plan that works more often than not in Brink, but it requires a medic. That was me. I was tasked with keeping our engineer alive, so he could spend all of his time doing the objective instead of repeatedly running half-a-mile back from the spawn point. I could’ve joined in with the firing, but it’s a full-time job this healing business, and I knew my role was better suited to helping my team stay within the objective zone.
This is the sort of behaviour Splash Damage values, and it’s why I finished top of the leaderboard and why I walked away with a shedload of XP. The studio truly loves teamwork (it is team-based multiplayer after all) and they constantly bribe you with XP until you become the ultimate team player.
Every class can contribute to the team: the soldier can distribute ammo, the mechanic can buff an ally’s weapon and the operative can spot mines. You are rewarded handsomely for everyone of the above actions, but the most XP is reserved for those performing the primary objectives. This ensures that everyone’s focus is on the task at hand.
The bribery works and we doubt you’ll find another game in which players are as focused on the objective as these ones are in Brink. It’s Splash Damage’s greatest triumph and it makes Brink unique from its competition.
It’s not perfect, though; players still find ways to be glory hunters. Everyone wants to be the guy who completes the objective so it’s not uncommon to see your entire team run to the command post to change their class to the one who has the talents to complete the primary objective.
If the job requires blowing a wall down, everyone becomes a soldier; if a crane needs repairing, everyone changes to the engineer; if the job is to hack into a safe, everyone wants to be the operative. Sure, they’re being objective too, but they’re hardly helping the team’s balance.
Thankfully, it’s only every other match that we get locked in this kind of situation, so we’re confident things will improve once players learn how to play more effectively. But hopefully you’ll find a group of friends with whom you can form a fireteam, because Brink is ten times better in a good squad.
We can hardly blame Splash Damage for Brink’s few lone wolves because the developer has done more than any other to educate their community on how to be a great team player. The main menu is full of training videos and tips, and the objective wheel is brilliant at letting you know what you should be doing.
Press ‘up’ on the d-pad to open the objective wheel. It shows the primary objectives (coloured in yellow), secondary objectives (coloured in blue) and all other objectives (in grey). The most important objective is always at the top, and when you select a task, the screen will spin towards it. You can even see how many people are working on each task, which makes managing responsibilities much easier.
To keep this balance and objective-focus going, there has to be some sacrifices, some which will be hard to take for your average FPS fan, and the big one that will likely hit many COD and Battlefield fans is just how weak the weapons feel.
A player must land several hits before an enemy falls, so don’t expect many one-hit kills (if at all). Too much killing means a lot of back-tracking (i.e. not working on the objective) and Splash Damage would rather see you involved in the action. It also means Brink isn’t much good for snipers, not that this is necessarily a bad thing.
The weapons suit the design, but they are underwhelming, and sadly there’s not much differentiation between a lot of them, especially between the many small machine guns. But at least they can all be customised with new scopes, nozzles and clips.
In Brink, you can heavily customise your characters with an almost endless combination of outfits. No matter what you do, your character will look stylish. The “bug” hood is certainly interesting (I’m sure I’ve seen it at, erm, certain nightclubs before). Part of the fun in Brink is simply seeing the many ways a player can style their character, and we’re looking forward to seeing how clans take advantage of the impressive customisation options.
Brink has a unique art-style, which makes it appealing on the eye, even if the graphics aren’t as crisp as, say, Killzone’s. Splash Damage has adopted a hyper-realist approach, which exaggerates features to make a point. It means bruiser guys have huge bulbous noses and skinny guys look stretched. In a generation that values photo-real graphics, Brink looks distinctive and fresh, especially with its extensive customisation options allowing for some crazy styles.
Ultimately, as deep as the customisation is, it’s all cosmetic; it won’t affect how your character actually plays. The one change that does alter their performance though is their weight. There are three weight classes: skinny, normal and heavy.
The skinny class is acrobatic and capable of reaching the highest heights but can’t carry a lot of ammo or take much damage; the heavy class meanwhile can carry a ton of ammo and its health is greater, but the everyday crate is its nemeses (and just about any obstacle on the map actually). Normal body types sit somewhere in the middle.
The light body type, and to a lesser extent the normal, can do some incredible things with Brink’s SMART (smooth movement across random terrain) system. SMART allows the player to do Foucanian-style free running across the map, which takes the battlefield to unseen heights.
Hold down the sprint button (L2) and your character will automatically vault crates, slide under obstacles and climb up ledges. It’s an effortless system that’s very reliable. You can allow the computer to figure out where you want to get to (and it will get you there) or you can use SMART in conjunction with the jump and slide buttons, at the right time, to do all of the above much faster and slicker. You can even use SMART to wall-run.
Just about every other mainstream FPS (with the exception of Crysis 2, possibly) now feels very sluggish and restrictive in comparison. SMART allows you to reach areas you’d never dream of before, proper death from above type situations.
It’s just disappointing that many of the maps don’t feel as though they were designed with SMART in mind. Sure, you can parkour across all of Brink’s eight maps, but some of the maps feel restrictive, mostly because they’re largely set indoors, in corridors.
They’re generally bland looking, too. The art team clearly like their blues and whites. If only all of the maps played and looked as interesting as Container City, the one we saw throughout the preview stages. Container City is an excellent map, full of hidden passages, bright colours and multiple objectives.
The rest of the maps, while not entirely memorable, are still good platforms for multiplayer matches. Often the choke-points can seem unfair but we’ve been on the winning and losing side enough times now to know that if we’re failing, it’s probably our own fault.
I learned a new move
The last way in which you can customise your character is by giving them abilities. New abilities are unlocked using level credits which are acquired through levelling up. The abilities are split into groups, with ones specific to each of the classes and some universal.
The universal abilities tend to be more generic, including the likes of silent running and upgrades to ammo capacity. The class specific abilities are more interesting, though e.g. medics can learn to boost an ally’s speed and engineers can gain the ability to set up turrets. The operative’s caltrop grenades (which scatter spikes) are very useful and devilishly amusing.
The abilities make a big difference to games and add some real excitement. We are however concerned that some are potentially overpowered and will simply prove to be a nuisance. Downfire and the medic’s ability to self resurrect are the ones that we’re most concerned about. The cortex bombs — which are bombs implanted into the head which you can detonate while incapacitated — are also a worry. Nevertheless, at this moment it’s only a foreboding of terror. They may prove to be fine. Plus, if you curb stomp a downed enemy, they can’t hurt you.
Because there is a level cap of 20, there’s a limit to the number of abilities you can unlock, meaning you have to pick and choose between them. We suspect everyone will pick ‘n’ mix randomly with their first character and try and make their later characters more specialised.
The level cap is controversial, but we’re mostly keen on it because it encourages players to experiment with new interesting characters and loadouts. It also makes it easier for newcomers, because experienced players aren’t beyond their reach. The trade-off is that you lose that sense of progress once you stop gaining XP.
I doubt it’ll be shared by many, but I would have actually have preferred more restrictions for the number of abilities I could unlock.. At the moment you can get just about all the worthwhile abilities, so characters tend to become more general rather than specialised. The ability to change weight class at any time also diminishes that sense of individuality.
Brink should be played online with friends or in a competitive environment, but you can still have fun in singleplayer. It works in the same way as it does online but the human players are replaced by bots. The AI bots are a mixed bag though, especially at lower levels where they are designed to stand back and allow you to complete the objectives. We spent a lot of time cursing their inactivity.
They appear to become considerably better as you rank up, especially if you also play on the hardest difficulty. They suddenly become more competitive and begin to attack and defend objectives with gusto. I forced myself to play through the entire Resistance campaign as a soldier, which meant I had to rely on bots to take charge whenever another class was needed to complete the objective, which they did.
To get an AI working in a multiplayer set-up requires complex algorithms and we’ve yet to find an AI that comes close to being smarter than a human player. Brink’s bots at times manage to give that impression that they are human, but they’re still quite a way off.
They don’t have the spontaneity of a human player. In situations where they should be attacking, they’ll hold off and they’ll never cut corners. Basically, they’re not as opportunist as a human player, so it can be frustrating when you’re relying on them to get the mission done. Then again, human players aren’t perfect either (see the ‘glory hunters’ section above).
Tales before the war
Despite Brink being essentially a selection of multiplayer maps, Splash Damage has surprisingly made a solid effort to create a believable world that gives meaning to your fighting. The game is set in the future, on the floating city of Ark. It was once an eco-paradise that could sustain 5,000. The problem came when the rest of the world collapsed and the people of the Ark allowed the immigrants to come into the city and the Ark is creaking now that the population has soared to an unsustainable 50,000.
The Ark is on the Brink of an all out civil war (see what they did?) between the poor, down-trodden and oppressed immigrants and the security forces who are looking to keep them in check. Both have their reasons for fighting, and each can claim to be morally right. It’s not black and white.
It’s an interesting set-up but Brink will never be remembered for its story. The 30 second cutscenes, shown before matches, are simply not long enough to tell a rich story. It’s clear heavy sections have been cut — to get the player involved in the action sooner no doubt — and it shows. It’s often hard to follow exactly what’s happening and why we’re actually doing what we’re doing.
You shouldn’t buy Brink just for its story, but it’s unfair to complain too much about its lack of depth or its occasional incoherence. The logic behind adding a story to a multiplayer game was to entertain the player while the lobby screen is running and to try and give them a reason for fighting. They’ve basically done this, because these scenes are definitely more interesting than watching a lobby screen.
Inevitably, it’s all down to expectations. You can easily walk into Brink and be disappointed if you’re not sure what to expect, but if you’re looking for a rich objective-based multiplayer, you can’t go wrong here, because Brink’s objective-based gameplay is solid (if a bit heavy on the escort missions).
Brink also has excellent customisation, wonderful free running and a distinctive art-style. You’re looking at a truly interesting title that’s not afraid to do its own thing in a genre full of copycats, so good job Splash Damage, and kudos to you for making your first DLC free.
If you’re still undecided on Brink, we recommend spending some time on Brink.tv watching some of the matches.
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