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Brink (Xbox 360) Review

A Brutalgamer.com review.

OK, disclaimer right off the bat. I’ve championed Brink since I first heard/saw it back in 2009. I did the previews, attended the screenings, held interviews with developer Splash Damage’s staff. Basically this was going to be my game of 2010. Oh and I played the game for the first three hours wearing my Brink tee shirt.

So with all that said, was my opinion of Brink altered by these things? Well, yes, but not in the way you might think. You see, like so many others, Brink turned out to not be the game I thought it was. I was expecting something akin to Borderlands. Brink seemed to be a story driven narrative with a unique online squad-based twist. Instead what I was served up was a revised version of classics like Valve’s Team Fortress series and Splash Damage’s own Enemy Territory : Quake Wars & Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory.

Brink sees you in the character generated shoes of an inhabitant of “The Ark”. The Ark was a floating safe haven as the tides slowly rose. People flocked to it’s harbours in search of refuge when the rest of the world was going to the wall. Trouble is as time moved on troubled brewed and now the Ark has been split in to two areas. Order is maintained in one area by the Ark security force and the other falls to the rebels striving to leave the Ark before if all goes to hell.

What seemed to be implied by the earlier previews and scant information on the substance, rather than features, of Brink was that of a narrative struggle using a new style of online play and dynamic objectives to push the game along. Unfortunately at it’s heart Brink’s premise is as old as they come – Cowboys Vs Indians. You see for all it’s pontification and post cataclysmic stylings Brink is still about squad A against squad B.

There are several modes of play in the game, Campaign, single custom map or challenge. Uniquely the game does not differentiate between online, offline, single player, co-op or VS. When you start a game of Brink you effectively start up a map with either human or CPU controlled players (aka bots) using the rules unique to your game type eg co-op. You are then dealt a series of objectives dependant on your squad (Rebel or Security) that you must complete to win the round and progress o the next map.

For example as a rebel you must first locate a safe room that houses a Ark Security informant. You must stop the security forces breaking him out of the room by defending the door and defusing any charges placed on the door. If you manage to do this and the timer drops to zero you win. If not the guy is broken out and the next objective roles on – this being to stop the informant reaching the escape craft before the timer hit zero. These sort of objectives are then mirrored for the security force players who must break out the informant and then protect him until he gets to the escape point.

There are multiple classes available for play that previous players of Splash Damage’s titles will be more than familiar with. The classes are Soldier, Medic, Operative (a spy class) and Engineer. All of these classes are more than self explanatory so I won’t waste our time reiterating them here.

The unique feature here is that you can switch these classes during play by going to a captured command post. Holding down X and selecting from the command wheel allows you to alter your class to whatever is lacking from your team that will help fulfil the objective – or at least that’s what people should do… more on that later. This allows for quite dynamic approaches to objectives and stops you getting in to the situation where you have no Engineers in the team when the objective suddenly calls for one.

Classes can each operate a unique ability. For example to Medic can heal and revive squad mates with a simple long press of the X button. Similarly you can hold down the left stick and administer to yourself. You can also use this same method to “buff” your teams abilities. Soldiers can give you ammo for example or the Medic will increase your health bar by a small block for a limited time. The “buffing” element is a strategic implement that can be very effective and often mean the difference between success and failure – which makes it a shame that so many people ignore it.

OK, I’ve eluded to it so let’s get this out in the open – people are dicks! Not all of them of course. I happen to know you’re awesome just for reading this… Anyways, what I mean is that people really don’t get the premise of the game a lot of the time. Players seem to pick a class then just go balls out, gens blazing and forget the objectives and squad tactics that the game was designed for. Splash Damage have done their best to reinforce the need to tactical squad play. They even go so far as to give you videos and tips on the stuff. It just seems to pass seventy percent of players by.

This is a real shame because, as a out and out blaster, Brink sorta feels average and sparse at best. If you take the time to actually play the game as intended though then there are a world of possibilities to the action. When you hit the right combination on a server then the game becomes an intense struggle with team members all undertaking their roles and working as a cohesive unit. These are the times Brink really shines.

Not a problem you say, just play offline. OK, that’s an option… or at least it would be if the bots in the game had not been lobotomised at an early age. Several games get this wrong, very wrong, but only a few get it right (Timesplitters 2 & Left 4 Dead 2 are the ones that spring to mind at the moment). Unfortunately the AI is inadequate here – heck human players seem to struggle with the concept so how can we expect the AI to compete! You can plough several rounds in to one from a few feet away and it doesn’t even retaliate or realise you’re there sometimes. If that was not enough then having them try and be your backup when taking on objectives is also woefully lacking. This effectively means that Brink as an offline prospect is half the game it is online. Splash Damage and Bethesda must realise this in some respect as all advice and recommendations for the game stipulate playing it online for the best all round experience. I’d have to agree there.

What about the parkour stuff you (hopefully) say? Well that is there and in the most part it works very well. It really adds a whole new dynamic being able to mantle obstacles, leap up and over areas and approach enemy positions from unique angles. It occasionally just acts as a glorified jump, but there really is nothing like chasing down an enemy, vaulting a fence, sailing over their head as you rain down a viscous hale of gunfire, leaving them stone dead and demused.

The look and feel of Brink is something a little more unique and of some contention. The overall look of the game ranges from clean lines and stark spaces (a little like those found in DICE’s Mirror’s Edge) and the more typical grungy look found in shooters in general. The avatars in the game are half Unreal space marine and half caricature with long skeletal faces and wide muscular frames. Overall I enjoyed the look of the game, with the whole thing managing a consistent and smooth frame rate most of the time. I will say that the id Tech 4 engine is starting to show it’s age even with the heavy customisation that has been undertaken here.

The only thing I would mention graphically is that the game uses a very weird filtering technique that can make it look a little “greasy” from afar. Get up closer though and the screen appears to just break up in to weird blocks – I presume it’s some sort of strange mega-texture implementation (introduced as a late plug-in for id Tech 4) but who knows. All I know is that it can make the game look very messy at times if you’re sat closer. Also, a weird glitch with the soft focus sometimes leaves the screen looking out of focus for a few seconds before it snaps back in again.

Sound design is solid enough in Brink. The initial score is very rousing and fits the stylised menus well (truly superb menu UI design as an aside). In game music and sound is a little sparse in places unless you count the constant chatter from your character and team mates. When you create your character in the in-game generator you assign them a voice. This voice will be heard A LOT so make sure you choose one you can live with. Personally I was not bothered about the constant in game character chatter and I felt it added a sense of “being there” but I can see some people becoming frustrated and irritated by it at times.

A major factor of any shooter has to be the sound of it’s weaponry and here Brink stumbles. The weapons, despite relative power, all sound slightly lethargic in use. The only exception might be the shotgun that sounds very throaty. The grenades are truly a joke though with a small flash emanating from the explosion point and a paltry “POP” sound being issued forth.

The voice acting is more than acceptable in the game and if you dredge the menus you will find audio logs that get unlocked from completing missions. These actually contain the best narrative elements of the entire game. They give you an insight in to Ark life, similar in fashion to the audio logs in Bioshock. Unlike Bioshock though you really have to go out of your way to listen to them. This is a real shame as a lot of people will never truly bother.

The in game XP system works well though. You seem to rack up XP quickly and for multiple reasons. Selecting the correct objective for you from the in-game objective dial will net you extras XP too. It’s not uncommon to finish a round (maybe 15 – 20 minutes of play) with around 8000 – 11000 XP. Unlocks happen frequently and a lot of the time bountifully. Sometimes you just get swamped with so many things you unlock. These can range from weapons, to outfits, audio logs, perk like ability increases and many more. The only gripe here is that some are truly underwhelming and make little difference to the state of play – including the weapon upgrades. You can also level a character pretty quickly too if you play the game well.

Brink has had it’s share of launch issues too. Instead of the intended 8 v 8 matches you will find that a recent patch will drop this to 4 v 4 humans plus 4 v 4 bots to make up the full 8 v 8 compliment. This makes the game a little less laggy but means that you can be stuck with the thick-o AI in a tight spot. Talking of the lag issue I have to say that I probably had to quite about ten percent of my matches due to lag. A handful of disconnects and reconnects later you can normally find a match that is stable enough though but it is still an issue Bethesda and Splash Damage need to resolve.

My main issue with Brink is that the game feels so disjointed, so vacuous at times. It is similar in structure to a game like Left4Dead where you simply choose what map you want to play on (including the 12 levels (this excludes to 4 bonus ‘what-if’ levels) campaign mode) you want to play on. Then choose the game type, who can play, difficulty and rank of players and then launch it. Unlike Left4Dead though the game feels very empty, like deeper content was dropped out last minute to make a deadline… a deadline that had already moved once.

Also, the weaponry is a little all over the place in terms of balance. I played the first four or five hours using the stock weapon the Medic is given. I was finishing top of the tables in kills and MVP. I managed to get to rank 7 or 8 without ever needing to go back in to the menus and use anything I had unlocked which is a little strange. Add to that the linearity and sometime monotony of performing the same objectives over and over and you could have cause for some concern over Brink’s longevity.

Final Thoughts

Brink is fun! Don’t let another review outlet tell you otherwise. So many people have shit on it for not being the game they expected – fuck them! They should be reviewing the game it IS, not comparing it to preconceived notions.

Forget the offline mode, at least until Splash Damage get it patched a few times, this game is all about the online play. Similar to Team Fortress 2 or Left4Dead 2 you need a squad that works together and understands the way these squad-based role-specific games work. The maps are varied and some of them are brilliantly designed to maximise the play styles in use in Brink.

When this game works you can forgive the lag and the glitching. What you might not be able to forgive are the shallow story elements, lack of difference in the weapon power, uninspired XP unlocks, the over-powered shotgun and the inability of other plays to grasp the concept of the game.

All of those things can and I hope will be patched – all apart from the poor story and stupid people – there is no patch for stupidity otherwise we’d have upgrade Nick Clegg/Sarah Palin (delete as you see fit!) years ago!

I recommend Brink to anyone who has enjoyed any of Splash Damage’s previous titles and to anyone who enjoyed the likes of M.A.G, Left4Dead or Team Fortress 2 – heck even Counterstrike players would probably enjoy this title.

One word I used a lot during my review was “Unique” and Brink has a lot of ideas that are just that. Perhaps a Brink 2 might live up to expectations a little more but for now Brink is a very solid squad based online shooter that people should give a chance too.

About Zeth

Zeth is our EU Senior Editor and has been writing about video games since he joined BG back in 2008. He's pretty old and has been a gamer since he played Space Invaders as a young boy in the 80's. His genre tastes lean towards platformers, point-and-click adventure, action-adventure and shooters but he'll turn his hand to anything.

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