Bethesda Softworks, who is generally known for hits like the Elder Scrolls series and Fallout 3, has decided to dive into an area they aren’t exactly familiar with, which would be the first-person shooter genre. Led by the Killzone, Call of Duty, Halo and Medal of Honor’s of the world, getting into the FPS genre isn’t exactly the easiest of feats. Need an example? Just ask the folks at Zipper how MAG worked out for them.
Sometimes just bringing the goods doesn’t guarantee the audience will buy the goods.
Brink is a title that has been widely publicized since last year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo. Half campaign and half online, Brink promised to deliver a rich first-person shooting experience that would excite and entice gamers. The question is, did they do it or did it end up another MAG?
Set in a futuristic city called the Ark, Brink traps players on this suffering island and forces them to choose between two factions. Each faction carries their own intention regarding the Ark’s well-being. The Security faction wishes to protect the Ark and preserve law and order. The Resistance wishes to cause trouble for the Security folk anyway they can. The story, while shallow on the surface, is incredibly deep underneath. Today we received the guide for the game and the entire backstory is at the front. The good folks at Splash Damage did a phenomenal job of creating a solid backstory to explain the events of the game and what brought the two factions to this point in their lives. As I’ve said with movies, it’s important to have a solid story; something that graphics or CG can’t make up for when it comes down to it. While I won’t go into the story too much, spend some time learning the game’s backdrop, as it does make the game deeper.
Anyway, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of the game. How does the sucker handle? If I had to compare the game to any other title out there I would probably compare it most to a role-playing game. I know it sounds completely insane, but bear with me. While there are FPS games out there that include complete/reward methods of leveling up, there’s something different about Brink. While you do earn XP in other games to gain ranks, in Brink you earn XP to level up. With every new level you unlock new weapons and character customizations. I know what you’re saying right now, “Yes, we’ve seen that before.” You’re right, you’ve seen that before, but you haven’t seen many games that have a plethora of ‘abilities’ to unlock. Much like Zipper’s MAG, where you were rewarded with calling in airstrikes and such, Brink allows for you to gain new abilities such as things like adding more ammunition to your gun, carrying different types of secondary weapons, having the ability to build a turret and a slew of other 50+ things to choose from. Each mission you complete, or massive amounts of XP that you obtain help in the collection of these abilities. MAG seemed to focus on such abilities, but Brink takes the idea to an entirely new level. Getting to mix and match these abilities to your liking makes this title unique; it also encourages you to keep playing. When you’re knee-deep in online missions you’ll fully understand how important a small turret can be in the heat of battle. You’ll understand why these abilities are so vital for your team and the game of Brink as a whole. Having this depth of upgrading to make your character more powerful and unique is why I choose to lean towards the RPG side of things for this FPS.
Bash me if you want, but it’s what I’m thinking about when I’m playing the game.
Keeping with the RPG theme, Brink requires you to get good before you jump in; what that generally equals out to be is frustration. Unlike games such as Call of Duty and Medal of Honor where a newbie can pretty much jump right in and start a killing streak, Brink is not that easy. For the first two-days of my reviewing of this title I was frustrated as hell. I would go into a match and be overpowered by the NPC almost immediately. Because I’m hardheaded and I simply hate giving up, I kept playing. What I soon found out by the end of my second day with the title is that you’re going to have to build your character up before you can properly use them (again, much like an RPG). Once you break that first barrier and begin to level up more consistently you’ll find the game gets a lot easier (easier as in you don’t die every time out). Gaining abilities, weapons (just a massive amount of weapons with customizable parts) and more character adjustments is vital for your survival. When you hit level 3 in the game you’ll find the game opens up a bit and you’ll start getting use to how things work. When you hit level 6 you’re going to be in absolute heaven with what you unlock/earn; at that time the game should be more than slightly addictive.
To add to all the abilities you can gain/purchase, you also get a slew of character and weapon adjustments to play with in the game. Starting with character customization, you have the opportunity to unlock different outfits, face tattoos, body tattoos, hats, gear and pants. For example, at this particular moment (as you read this) I’m currently at level 12 wearing a nice beret and I’m sporting some swank face paint. Added to this is a bro-hawk and a large body size. While the clothes matter to an extent, the body size is vital in the game. Starting out, your character sports a regular/medium body size. This middle of the road body type allows for nothing special to go on in your Brink life. Once you hit a certain level the game unlocks a ginormous body size and a thin body size. The big body allows you to take more damage during combat, which makes it harder for you to die. The only caveat is that you move like a pregnant yak. The smaller/thin body size allows you to be quicker, jump around better (and higher) and elude enemies a lot easier. The only caveat to that is you’re weaker when you’re hit by bullets. These are perfect examples to the breakdown of character customization. You’re going to be wowed by the amount of unique options the game gives you… if you can get beyond the initiation period of big-time difficulty.
With that said, you must jump over that first hurdle of leveling up and dying constantly. Brink isn’t for the weak-willed or the easily frustrated. The reward you get from it will surpass the pain you ingested to get there. In other words, stick with it because (and I quote The Girl Next Door’s Timothy Olyphant) “The juice is worth the squeeze”. Now, what about the infamous character classes? Well, there are four basic character classes that you start out with. They are as follows:
- The Soldier: This is your basic grunt. Armed with grenades, bombs and ammo packs this is certainly the type of character you want to be if you want to shoot the hell out of someone. Nothing special, but definitely the glue that keeps the team together and safe.
- Medic: If you’re looking for a nice comparison then you could compare the medic to a mage out of any typical MMORPG. This character is for the people who want to keep their team alive. Armed with supplies, health syringes (so vital during battle) and a grenade, there’s not much to hate about the medic. People who give a damn about their team will adopt this character class.
- Engineer: Much like real engineers in the world, this one keeps machines going and lays down some nasty hardware to dispose of enemies. Packing mines and turrets (one of the best surprises during a game), the engineer is my favorite class. It’s rewarding when it comes to winning missions and rewarding in terms of XP. It depresses me when the game occasionally asks me to change from an engineer, as they’re a blast to play.
- Operative: NERDS UNITE! If you ever dreamed of hacking, breaking into things or just generally taking stolen items from the ‘other’ side then look no further than the operatives. Armed with a grenade and a PDA, this character has some real potential to be dangerous during missions. Did you notice the PDA thing? You can use the PDA to steal the other side’s identity during a firefight. It’s incredibly cool, despite it wearing off when you pull a gun (which needs to be corrected). Still, it’s neat to sneak onto the enemy’s grounds in disguise.
Each class brings a certain flavor to the game, as each class is called upon during different campaigns/missions. You can change classes during gameplay by visiting stations that your team captures. These stations are also good for replenishing ammo and for changing out weapons.
Moving on, let’s discuss campaigns and missions...
The game is divided up into different modes. There is a campaign mode, freeplay mode and challenges. The campaign mode will be the first you want to dive into, and in traditional recently released FPS fashion, it’s not as fun as online. That’s not a knock against the campaign mode; rather that’s just the sign of the FPS times. Broken up into various missions, you can choose which sides to play in the campaign. The campaign mode follows a strict storyline that relates directly to the first thing I mentioned in the review; the story of the Ark. Each level in the campaign mode is broken into certain missions for either faction to participate in. You can choose your faction and play the same campaign mode from the other side of the tracks. For example, if you play the security team and your goal is to retrieve a datakey from a safe and copy it before it erases itself then you can play the resistance in that same mission and try to prevent the security team from doing that. The campaign mode is broken up into a good amount of days for each side and is tough as nails to get through. I spent four days trying to get through ‘Day 3’ in the campaign mode (which I did six hours ago before I began this review). Why, might you ask, is the campaign mode so tough? Well, the NPC s in the game are a huge pain in the ass and are extremely unreliable. I can’t tell you how many times I took the datakey in the game only to have my NPC teammates stand around and not protect me as I raced back with the goods. That sort of non-help with the NPC happened countless amounts of times in campaign mode, which resigned me to designate the campaign mode as a way to upgrade/level up my character. It was an absolute fluke that I completed the mission I had spent four days going through; no thanks given to my NPC brethren either. If you can work your way through the NPC folks then you’re going to be thrilled with the end results. For me, the lack of good AI with the NPCs was unbearable and made me want to play more challenges and freeplay.
Now, let’s talk about the fun that is freeplay. While I didn’t get a chance to play too much of the private games, I played a lot of public games. Freeplay is the online mode for Brink and is a fun way to kill an entire day without even noticing. The missions in freeplay reflect those found in the campaign. Depending on your team, you’ll find that freeplay is an absolute amazing experience. Win or lose, you’ll bond with your teammates to complete tasks. For example, when Will Johnson and I was playing against some developers (and with other websites) we were consumed with the mission at hand. Needing to protect a barrier in a hotel-esque part of the Ark, we had to prevent the resistance from hacking a barrier control. What came out of that was a multi-faceted firefight that lasted nearly a half-hour. The first part was to prevent the resistance from moving their unmanned machine in position to go beyond our barrier and destroy our helicopter. If we couldn’t prevent the from doing that in a timely manner then we had to shift our attention to stopping their operatives from hacking our barrier system to let the unmanned machine through. Each time we failed a goal in the mission time would be added to the resistance’s clock, so they had a better chance to win. As we didn’t stop their unmanned machine from reaching our barrier, we had to hold off their constant attempts/attacks at hacking the barrier’s mainframe. Combining turrets and toughness, we managed to embarrass the developers and send them back to coding. (haha, how’d that feel, code monkeys?) Another aspect of freeplay that you cant imagine, rather you’ll have to experience is the need for a good team. If there was a game that made you choosy with who you wanted to have your back it would be Brink. Your teammates are vital to survival, as they’ll need to be quick-witted and supportive to help your team accomplish its goal. NPCs and 10-year old idiots need not apply for this game. Freeplay is as serious as a heart attack and your team will need to reflect that as well. Call of Duty and Medal of Honor Rambos need not apply. Brink is about completing tasks and whooping ass as a team; I cannot stress this enough.
Freeplay is an absolute blast and you will play 80% of the time in this mode. To quote Will Johnson, “This is a game I could play for hours and hours without even knowing the day has passed me by.” That’s saying a lot for a Halo fanboy.
As for the challenge mode, this is a great mode to hone your skills and gain some XP. I haven’t tried much of it, only the first challenge, but what I did see impressed me. You have a series of task you must perform in a small amount of time in a small confined space. During these tasks you’ll be forced to go back and forth between classes. The amount of XP depends on how well you complete the tasks and how quickly you complete them. Each challenge also keeps track of how you’re doing overall in comparison to other folks who have completed the challenges.
Shifting away from modes, how does the game feel? Bethesda and Splash Damage have made sure not to complicate it too much at the beginning. There’s nothing particularly special about the firing, aiming or moving methods. You’ll pick it up quickly if you’ve played an FPS before. One thing that the devs and publisher are particularly proud of is how characters can jump and climb across their levels. Calling them SMART (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain) moves, you’ll be able to run, jump and grab ahold of ledges to make for a quick sprint around levels. Not quite as addictive as the jumping and grabbing in a game like Assassin’s Creed, but still damn fun when it comes to evading enemies (or suprising them). Overall, the way the game feels is simple and easy to pick up by anyone.
Now, let’s talk presentation. The big plus for Brink is the massive amount of space each level contains. Most, if not all, levels in the game are multi-leveled meaning you can go upstairs and downstairs. For example, the airport level in the campaign mode (the damn Day 3, as I like to call it) allows for players to travel upstairs or downstairs when retrieving the datakey. What’s impressive about this sort of massive layout is that you can easily get lost in it and end up in the wrong place. Again, going back to today’s final push to complete Day 3, I found myself on a sprint to the end of the level with the datakey I retrieved. Along the way, going from the bottom portion of the airport, I took a left turn at Albuquerque and somehow ended up in the enemies’ side of the board staring down a medium turret, which was not staring, rather it was shooting back. It’s very possible to lose your barring on where you are in the area you’re playing in; that’s how massive each map is in the game. Keep in mind that I had been playing this map for four days. I should have memorized it, but it’s too big. I still don’t know how to get from point A to B on the map from memory. That’s a decent size area, folks. Each map in the game is this big and each map will certainly give you plenty of options to choose from when it comes to planning your route of escape or attack.
On the flipside of that coin the graphics aren’t the greatest in the world. Not as detailed as a Medal of Honor or the upcoming Battlefield 3, Brink simply depends more on size and fun to make up for its lack of graphical details. I would rather play a game that brought the fun rather than the visuals, and Brink is that game. The character models are neat, as you get to customize their horse-like faces to your God-like will. The levels are big, but bland at times. The best looking map I encountered in my week-long Brink-fest was the Container City map. Built completely from giant, rectangular containers, the city has a lot of neon personality to it to keep the visuals interesting. Other than that, I have yet to run into a map that makes me say ‘WOW’. Again, regardless of the details the maps are still a blast to run through.
So is the game fun and worth your time? For me I would definitely pay $60 for this game. I’m a huge fan of the FPS genre and have seen the best and worse of its kind. Brink is a deep FPS game that is packed with so much customization that you simply can’t compare it to other titles of its kind. Am I going to say that it’s better than Call of Duty? Probably not because CoD had a solid campaign mode and somewhat smarter NPCs. In comparison to CoD’s online component I would have to give it up to Brink. While most CoD fans will certainly hate/disagree with me over that comment, I can definitely assure gamers out there that Brink brings a different, more mature experience to the genre than anything else can offer at this time. Most of all, the game forces players to be good teammates, which Call of Duty or Medal of Honor simply can’t boast right now. If you don’t play as a team then you will fail in Brink. When I play online I want more of a team-oriented experience than an individual one. Why would you not want that from an ‘online’ FPS title? Having fun and accomplishing something with friends was the main goal for Splash Damage and Bethesda Softworks when it came to Brink.
Two words: mission accomplished.