Brink – Two Left Feet [PC]

From day one, I’ve loved Brink‘s premise and the promise throughout its march towards release, continuing to advertise its vision of a new style of shooter – one of teamwork, of fast-paced action, and one where traversing its environment was as important as shooting guys within it.

In an industry usually pre-occupied with the formulaic and repetitious, Splash Damage were heralding the game as one ready to take some risks, compiling a range of interesting elements in the melting pot of game design in an attempt to reach its lofty promises. Whether this range of mechanics could result in the graceful ballet performance I was hoping for – an elegant display of artistic combat and light-footed traversal – was my most pressing question.

The game’s campaign will likely be the first port of call for many players looking to find their feet and learn the ropes in an unfamiliar setting. As soon as the curtains are raised on Brink‘s opening night, however, the cracks begin to show. This single player portion is structured around eight missions for each of Brink‘s two playable factions, with a few bonus “What If?” scenarios thrown in for good measure. Though you wouldn’t know it from the outside, these missions are actually nothing more than multiplayer maps, leaving you to battle it out with the most mindless of AI bots.

Individually, these AI partners can usually handle themselves pretty well, though it’s obvious to see they never made group rehearsal. As a team, they fumble around and feel blind to any task at hand, leaving you feeling helpless when going it alone.

[img_big]center,915,2010-11-17/mantle.jpg, Sadly there’s not enough of this…[/img_big]

The Ark is the stage for which this action unfolds – a once Utopian city built upon the flooded oceans of the earth, though (as all Utopias seem destined to), this one falls apart. Before and after every mission you’ll be treated to the game’s attempt to weave this narrative through its campaign, though in Brink‘s case this is nothing more than short, thirty second cut scenes of your squad mates having heated discussions.

These small snippets of narrative honestly don’t convey anything all that interesting, in what equates to the most bare bones of set-ups. The Resistance is attempting to flee the Ark, and the Security is trying to keep hold of it and stop this from happening. The context for these actions are never fully explained or explored, leaving you in the dark as to why you should care, though it’s through the game’s interesting setting and style where you’ll really lament the lack of a proper campaign.

The world itself is one that is dripping with style, an exaggerated yet realistic character design fitting well within Brink‘s artistic impression of a run-down, futuristic haven. Bold architecture litters the environment, with an inspiringly strong use of colour that flies in the face of the drab, grey cityscapes most games feel so preoccupied with.

[img_big]center,915,2010-11-17/founders_tower.jpg, The under-utilisation of Brink’s stunning world is arguably its biggest disappointment[/img_big]

Once you’ve made the jump to the game’s multiplayer modes, the AI related kinks begin to iron themselves out as players begin to more readily assume their roles. For all of the game’s calls for innovation, it is this already well-established class system that it manages to execute with the greatest success. You’ll be capturing command posts and completing objectives as always, with a strong focus on team play over individual players – Medics, Operatives (Spies), Soldiers and Engineers all present.

These classes all offer some enjoyable variety, and when each one is working in tandem, the battle can turn from a hectic mess into a wonderfully flowing single entity. Throwing down turrets or reviving players is still just as fun as it ever has been, and a successful team will require an even mix of skilled classes if they want to taste success.

Success, at least in these early days, is something hard to come by, and Brink doesn’t do the greatest job of filtering the wealth of information you’ll be inundated with during a match. The UI is overly bulky, and the game’s unique objective wheel – offering class-specific dynamic objectives – feels ineffectual in offering worthwhile information.

You’ll be constantly lead on a merry goose chase to find the objective you’ve been assigned, and when you’ve finally made it things aren’t made much clearer either, as the game provides little feedback as to how each side-objective is affecting the overall team goal.

More often than not, the enemy could be capturing the main objective, yet players would still be running off to guard an insignificant side-door or defend a command post, none of which would amount to much if the major objective wasn’t being completed.

[img_big]center,915,2010-11-17/robot_escort.jpg, As big a feature as traversal may be, Brink feels surprisingly static[/img_big]

As a self-confessed Mirror’s Edge tragic, how you chose to arrive at these objectives was one of Brink‘s biggest draws – plastered on every poster and early screening as the show’s most engrossing element.

This style of first-person platforming is always at its best when you’re given a sense of speed and agility, though alongside the game’s bulky UI it couldn’t feel much further from that goal. Figuring out just what you’re able to traverse over or climb on to becomes as much of a puzzle in and of itself, leaving you fumbling around in an attempt to find the few objects Brink actually wants you to interact with, all the while being picked-off by enemies taking advantage of your awkward predicament.

Body type will be the biggest factor in how light-footed you’ll ultimately feel, amongst the wealth of customisation options the game offers you being the one that has the most noticeable effect. Ranging from Heavy, Medium and Light, each step up offers increased health, and with it decreased mobility.

The light body-type is the one you’ll be gravitating towards the majority of the time, as it offers a light-footedness I had expected of the game all along, and a greater level of precision. After a prolonged time with this type though, the game’s balance issues begin to become more and more apparent – with unbalanced weaponry and a lack of platforms and ledges to manoeuvre around a symptom in almost all of Brink‘s ten maps.

[img_big]center,915,2010-11-17/supressingfire.jpg, …and far too much of this[/img_big]

For all of the innovation Brink was touting, its range of mechanics couldn’t feel more disconnected, and the fluid combat encounters I’d imagined in reality are surprisingly stock-standard. Of the small weapon variety, each one offers a limited sense of impact only exemplified by weak, mechanical sound effects that left what should have been an impressive arsenal of weaponry feeling more “pew pew” than “bang bang”, as encounters devolved into choke-point shoot-outs and corridor crawls.

There’s no doubt the game’s balance issues will be addressed in the months to come, and as can already be seen from the main menu’s Downloadable Content tag – the game is set to receive future support and an expansion of content. Whether the bumbling elephant that Brink ultimately became can be moulded in to that light-footed dancer I’d hoped it would have been I’m less sure about, given the underlying mechanical issues no amount of patches are likely to address.

Brink attempted to infuse a generally stale genre with some new ideas, though its myriad of mechanics never works together long enough to offer much more than a fleeting glimpse of the game it could have been. As someone now left to await the next risk-taker, my hopes would be that developers should see Brink as a chance and an opportunity, as they’ve seen we’re all hungry for new ideas – though I fear with the game’s apparent failure we’ll all be back to our predictable Call of Duty or Battlefield templates far too soon.

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