Brink may be one of my favorite class-based first-person shooters. I know, that probably sounds like insane rhetoric, but as I sat down to write this review, my mind kept circling back to that eventuality. It’s the structure of Brink that does it; the game is so intuitively crafted that you can’t help but marvel at the grace and fluidity with which it presents its gameplay. It also helps that Brink gives players near limitless potential for customization, as well as gameplay that actually ensures every class type matters during matches. Oh, and did I mention how graphically slick it looks?
If you’ve ever played a class-based FPS before, then you’re familiar with the general structure of Brink. Players choose to play as either a soldier, medic, engineer or operative. The soldier is the gun-man, bringing plenty of bullets to firefights, which can be shared with his teammates. The medic is the team’s healer, able boost health and revive fallen comrades. The engineer is the gear-head, able to craft turrets, lay down mines and repair broken equipment. And finally, the operative is Brink’s version of a spy, able to sneak around with a concealed identity and hack devices.
Honestly, these classes are the archetypes that almost every team-based FPS is built upon. However, Brink’s objective-based gameplay forces teams to have every class represented in any given match. There are certain objectives that can’t be completed without an engineer or operative, for example. Brink makes class types more than just unique perks on the battlefield. And in the rare occurrence that you don’t have a specific class represented to complete a certain task, you’re freely able to switch classes during the middle of a match at your team’s Command Post.
Brink is a game constructed around teamwork. If you don’t have it, your team will fail miserably. I often play online multiplayer games without my headset to go “lone wolf” (as long as I’m not playing with friends). That strategy does not work here, which I learned the hard way. But once I strapped on my headset and started communicating with my teammates, everyone’s performance was elevated. One of the things I love most about Brink is its incredibly handy and intuitive heads-up display. The HUD is your one stop shop for every objective and secondary objective during a match. By simply holding “Up” on the d-pad, you’re presented with a radial wheel of potential objectives to complete. They are all labeled effectively and the camera view even snaps around to point you in the right direction of your currently highlighted objective. Furthermore, once you select an objective to pursue, your character will relay that intention to your entire team. The best way to communicate in Brink is still verbally through a headset, but if you’re short one, this works well enough.
Because Brink is such a teamwork-oriented title, playing single player is kind of a drag. The game does feature a campaign that lets you play both sides of the conflict on the Ark -- Security Force versus Resistance -- but it’s not nearly as exciting when you’re playing with dim-witted AI-controlled bots. Furthermore, there isn’t much of a story stringing things together. Each level is more or less a standalone scenario -- protect this door, detonate that bomb, escort this guy. There are brief cutscenes that set up the action of each level, as well as cutscenes to end them, but there's no connective issue from mission to mission. If I had to categorize them, they’re more reminiscent of mini war vignettes than pieces of a larger picture.
While it’s disappointing that Brink doesn’t deliver a stellar narrative experience, luckily, the game does allow you to play the campaign cooperatively or against other players online. In fact, the objective-based multiplayer portion of Brink is essentially the various single player scenarios with loads of real people. You even get the cutscene lead-ins to each match to give context to the conflict. Your best bet is to skip the single player portion of Brink entirely and head straight into multiplayer, it’s the real bread and butter of the experience anyway.
Brink further differentiates itself from the FPS pack by incorporating some light parkour elements into the gameplay. Depending which body type you choose when creating your character (light, medium or heavy), you’ll be able to race around the various maps using the SMART controls. SMART (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain) is more than just a witty acronym. It makes movement incredibly easy and fluid. All you have to do is hold down a single button and you’ll bound over any obstacle in your path, parkour style. If you’ve played any of the Assassin’s Creed titles, you’ll be familiar with how this works. While SMART doesn’t do the heavy class much good, the light class benefits tremendously, as they’re able to reach areas of maps that no one else can get to. Honestly, if it wasn’t for SMART, Brink wouldn’t be all that impressive from a purely gameplay standpoint. Thankfully, we don’t have to live in that world.
However, there are a few gameplay elements that need some finessing. For starters, grenades feel weak. When they go off it feels like a joke, like there should be a bigger, secondary explosive following shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, that secondary explosion never happens. Also, melee combat is pretty much useless. Close-quarter firefights rarely happen in Brink because most of the weaponry found in the game is long-range equipment like rifles and launchers. But when you do get up-close and personal, there’s very little you can do that’s truly effective. Those types of tussles look like two spastics trying to slap one another. This goes on until someone else notices the slapping match from afar and puts an end to it with a gun.
One aspect of Brink I’ve yet to really detail is the game’s insane customization options. As soon as you fire up Brink you have to choose which side of the war you’d like to join. Depending what you choose, you’re given plenty of customization options to cosmetically tailor your character around your personal style. The breathe of options will be daunting, I promise you that. And as you continue to earn experience points and level up, you’ll unlock more gear, from hats, to beards (yes!), to glasses, to shirts, jackets and pants. Truthfully, I spent a lot of hours, yes hours, in Brink’s character appearance menu, mixing and matching different items to get a look that screams “me!” Then I realized I had to do the whole thing over again for the opposing team, with all new items specific to that faction. Head explosion, but in a good way.
But customization doesn’t end with the cosmetic. Weapons are completely upgradeable, too. This gives purpose to Brink’s Challenge Mode. By completing Challenges you unlock new scopes, muzzles, grips and magazine types for your arsenal. The better you do at Challenges the more advanced attachments you unlock. There may only be four types of Challenges, but getting three stars on each is no easy task. If you’re anything like me, you’ll replay them over and over again until you perfect each to unlock everything there is to get.
The last thing I want to go over are the unfortunate technical issues that drag Brink down occasionally. At the time of writing this review, Brink suffers from some severe lag, audio cutouts and graphical pop-in when playing online. Bethesda and developer Splash Damage have assured us these issues will be ironed out with a day-one patch (so you might not have a problem at all); but if they aren’t, Brink may lose its audience quickly. As I said before, online multiplayer is this game’s core, if it doesn’t run smoothly people will abandon it.
But technical issues aside, Brink is one solid class-based first-person shooter. If you’re a fan of multiplayer games where teamwork is everything, Brink is definitely worth a look. To put the giant red bow on the matter: this game oozes style in a package that is brilliantly assembled.