The campaign is, interestingly, not a campaign at all. Instead, the entire game experience is structured around the tale of the ARK, a self-sustaining, aquatic city that’s become the last refuge for the remnants of humanity in a world defiled by war and global warming. Inequalities have spiralled, and so the ARK is a city of opposites – luxurious resorts and dilapidated slums, wondrous clinics and abandoned airports. As the resistance, you’re struggling to escape the ARK, while security battles to stop you, fearing discovery by the now savage remnants of the outside world. Each map is a small part of that tale, each framed with beautifully animated cutscenes and backstory.
The framework for that tale is wondrous. In a multiplayer focused game, where the only context I’m used to having is the cries of sex-depraved prepubescent teenagers in my headphones, I’m instead treated to professionally acted cutscenes, pared with some top-notch voice work. The cutscenes don’t change, but the voice acting is so fantastic, the art style so striking, that even now, 30 hours into Brink, I’m still taking two minutes at the start of every match to watch the opening. These fragments of a greater story lend some real context to Brink’s otherwise unimportant multiplayer, helping to add a sense of purpose to what might otherwise become nauseous repetition. These cinematics don’t use stock models, but your customised characters, really giving Brink a sense of place and purpose.
Those characters aren’t just generic soldier-action-hero-marine-men – they’re your characters, infinitely customisable and instantly recognisable. Where every generic Call-of-Duty-athon now lets you add a silly hat or two onto your generic-manliest-marine, Brink’s character editor is a fully fledged do-it-yourself Rambo kit. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of jackets, shirts, crazy hats, scarecrow masks and wondrously exotic accents. That also extends to your arsenal. Each rifle, pistol and machine-gun can be modified, extended and improved by adding a silencer, extra mag, or whatever else you can fit. I’ve spent hours fine tuning my nimble runners dress sense, and the more you progress, the more bizarre items of clothing you’ll unlock, so you’ll be sure to have your very own super-trooper before you throw him – and yes, sadly for the time being, there are no female models – into battle for the ARK.
The battles are wondrous. Splash Damage have made a ridiculous fuss about the free-running system, and while its great fun to play with, at the core of Brink is still a very solid objective-based shooter in the vein of SD’s previous master-peace, Enemy Territory. There are no kill-to-death ratios here. Instead, you’re given experience for helping your team in any way you can – discharging lead into your opponents is just what you do when they get in the way. Each class – medic, soldier, engineer and operative – has a well thought out, clearly defined roll, and even when the battle is hopelessly stuck around a choke-point, which sadly, happens more often than I’d like, all you’ll have to do is open your objective menu to see a selection of different goals for you to pursue. For a medic, it might suggest buffing your team-mates or resurrecting a fallen friend, while operatives will be encouraged to disguise as an enemy and report intelligence from behind their lines – and each completed goal will be rewarded with a healthy chunk of experience.
The resulting experience means that even while you’re not paying attention to your team, you’ll always be more focused on your team’s progression than on your own glory – or more accurately, the two are one-and the same. Instead of being compared by how many opponents you’ve brutally murdered, players are instead only ranked by experience. So if you want to show up on top of that leaderboard, you’d better be ready to help your friends.
How you go about helping your friends is entirely dependant on your class, which you can change whenever you’re bored, or if half your team is suddenly swamped by over-excited medics. Brink does have somebasic character progression – accumulated experience lets you unlock an ability per level, until you hit cap at level 20 – but this never really stops you playing a class. A specialised operative will be able to hack turrets and kamikaze his brain like an overripe, explodeymelon when things get ugly, but anybody can hack an objective if you don’t happen to have a dedicated sneakyman on your team.
The only thing you can’t change is your body size, which you’ll pick at the character creation screen: light, medium or heavy. As you’d expect, lights are nimble acrobats, restricted to SMGs and pistols, while heavies are angry, mobile walls who happen to be totting mini-guns. It’s the only long term, meaningful choice you’ll make when you customise your character, and interestingly, vastly changes your tactical options – while heavies can happily wander into the open firing wildly and soaking up bullets like a freakish lead-sponge, lights will have to really make the most of the maps if they don’t want to end up in bloody shreds.
It’s such a shame then, that so many of the maps just don’t seem to be designed around multiple possibilities – while every map has at least one alternate route, in a full server, two routes will quickly become completely chokepointed, especially in objective-based modes where you’re expected to escort a prisoner or a robot. Brink’s otherwise pristine tactical gameplay takes a severe hit whenever you get to these sections, which is a damn shame when it’s so perfect everywhere else.
That is, unless Brink crashes, or bugs, or just explodes, which it’s sadly still doing quite often. Surprisingly, for a game delayed by more than half a year, Brink is undeniably bug-ridden – my game seems to crash for no apparent reason every three or so hours, and two of the maps have no sound at all. Oh, and a few people are reporting their characters disappearing completely – quite an important issue, when you’ve poured hours of time into it.
It’s really a shame, because when it works, Brink is terrifyingly good fun – for objective based gameplay, it’s all but unparalleled, and has a more sense of place to it than any other multiplayer experience today. The real question is whether that’s enough to make you overlook some of the rare, but genuinely game-breaking bugs. I don’t know about you, but me? I’m off to play some more Brink. Level 19, coming up!
DISCLAIMER: The version reviewed here is the PC VERSION OF BRINK. Reportedly, the PS3/Xbox 360 version are far, far more broken, even to the point of being unplayable online for some people. Please do not take this review as any sign of the quality of Brink on those platforms.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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