Brink is a brand new franchise, and inherently brand new franchises are always a gamble in the current game industry. Brink also happens to be a first person shooter, a genre that's become so over saturated that they're a dime a dozen. So how do you make something like this stand out? How do you gain a community, a following, and how can a new IP become the next big thing? Brink, developed by Splash Damage, is a labor of love, and you can tell right off the bat. Time will tell if it's a hit, but it has the makings of doing so. While the game is much more complicated than the mega hit Call of Duty, it's also a bit more user friendly than something along the lines of Team Fortress 2. Being somewhere inbetween, Brink may have a hard time finding its place. It has plenty to offer though, and in some regards more so than any of the other shooters.
The absolute biggest facet of what makes Brink its own beast, is the amount of customization. There are the purely cosmetic choices, where you can change facial features, tattoos and clothing. The clothing is completely different for the 2 factions in the game, and when you create a character you can freely select between them. You can change what your character wears, and you unlock more the higher you level. The only aspects you cannot change, are your characters face, voice, tattoos and scars. Once you select those, you have them for the long run. You can however create up to 10 characters, and level them all separately. This only seems necessary if you really want to change a tattoo or face, or don't want to re-spec any skill points you’ve distributed. You can always drop a level in order to redistribute skill points, and recouping those lost experience points doesn't take long. There are skill upgrades for 5 different categories which include the 4 distinct classes. There are 20 levels to gain during your characters growth, and 5 ranks to obtain. Every 5th level you reach, you gain another rank. These rankings allow you to access more skills for each class, and while there is only one rank 5 skill in each class, they are basically the most powerful skills to acquire. The rankings keep players separated from each other. For example, you cannot create a game as a rank 2 character and get your rank 4 friends with their more powerful skill sets to come and help out. You can however, join a higher rank game as a lower rank character. Just bare in mind you'll be up against all the AI bots/opponents and their rank 4 skills.
There's also a wide selection of guns that have various attachments in the form of magazines, scopes, sights, and barrels. You don't unlock these attachments through leveling or use, but by playing 4 different challenge maps. These challenge maps have 3 ranks of difficulty, and by completing rank 2 of each, you will have unlocked every gun attachment in the game. This is quick and fairly easy to do, and I highly recommend you do these early on, if not right at the start of your Brink experience. The challenge maps not only teach you the games basics, but give you access to the loads of weapon customization, along with a couple of unlockable weapons. There is also a light, medium, and heavy body build you can choose, which will directly affect what guns you can wield in both the primary and secondary weapon slots. The body types also affect how much health your character has. The light body type has about two thirds of the heavy types’ health. Most importantly, the body types also change the speed and jumping ability of the character. The maps are designed in such a way where the light class can really get around the environment quickly. The trade off of having very little health seems fair though, as they die quickly under fire. Being speedier, your ability to slide is also enhanced, thus making it easier to get into cover or knock enemies down through sliding into them. The body types cannot be selected while already in a match unlike the classes, which you can switch to by computer screens throughout the games maps. You also only start with the medium body type, and unlock the heavy at level 5 then light at level 7.
The 4 classes, medic, soldier, engineer, and operative, all have their own skill sets and missions to accomplish while in a match. Although you can switch to them depending on the situation, what skill points you distribute really effect their usefulness. Because you only gain one skill point per level, you may want to focus on one or two classes, and pump all your available skill points into your favorites. Brink is an extremely team based shooter. A combination of classes and even body types, are key to success. The game itself really feels like it's multiplayer only. Even the single player campaign missions, are just the multiplayer maps filled with bots. The bots get the job done, and will heal, give ammo, and capture points on their own, but there are many instances where they'll just stand around or shoot at each other civil war style not using cover or stupidly running into the battle. You can tell they're bots, and because of this if you're a single player only gamer, Brink may not be the best choice for you. The campaign mode is short, and the story is weak. It consists of very typical military banter, and the cut scenes are fairly pointless. As you play, you unlock a multitude of audio tapes that tell a story that's much more in depth than what the cut scenes lead you to believe. This is a pretty weak way to convey a story in a videogame, and another reason single player only gamers may look elsewhere. For you trophy/achievement hunters out there, Brink makes for an easy 100% to obtain.
All of the customization really makes your character your own, and all of the choices in body, weapon, and skill/class types lead to thousands of possibilities. But even with all of the options, is the game fun enough to play? Yes, it is. The maps are well thought out with multiple pathways, choke points, capture points, and missions to complete during normal play. There is no standard death match, so gamers who just want to frag are playing half the game. It’s all about having various missions to undertake while shooting everyone, and thanks to an intuitive mission wheel you’ll always be able to see what needs to be accomplished, or what class is needed to complete an objective. You can also see how many teammates are using each class in case not enough people are, for example, playing the soldier class needed to bomb a wall. Another nice addition to the gameplay, is the SMART (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain) system. While sprinting, you can vault over or slide under obstacles. As the light body type, you can even wall run for a few steps. You can do so by tapping the SMART/sprint button and looking in the direction you want your character to go, or by using your crouch and jump buttons to do the same actions. Either way, your character moves around the environments with ease, and is a great change of pace from other shooters where you get stuck on tiny fences or a crate you can’t seem to climb over. The animations however look odd at times when you try to get up to certain areas. You may end up continuously hitting the jump button to reach higher ground, and while it gets the job done, it won’t look pretty.
Speaking of pretty, while the main menus and customization menus look very neat and sharp, the in game graphics aren’t as polished as they could be. There are poor looking textures, pop in, and weak looking explosion effects. The character models have a cool style and look, but their death and skill animations are very basic. The environments are also bland and lack atmosphere. The entire game looks decent, but it certainly won’t win any beauty contests. The sound however is fantastic. Guns are loud, character voices are well done, and although there isn’t much music, what’s there is nice. Brink isn’t the complete package, in fact, I’d go as far to say it’s only worth a purchase if you have friends to play with. On xbox360 and ps3, the game supports 8v8. Bots fill any gap in player base, but you can have a ton of fun playing co-op against the AI if you choose. Because this is an early review, I have not had the chance to play full 8v8 online matches. At most I've experienced an online 4 player match, and it ran very well. Out of the 20 or so matches, only a couple had any sort of lag. Time will tell if the netcode holds up when the masses are online. Brink is a multiplayer game at its heart, it’s balanced, fun, and different enough from the rest of the pack to try it out. It can be a great precursor to a new franchise, and I truly hope it’s played enough to warrant a sequel. This is definitely the best online shooter of summer 2011, but when the other juggernauts come into town this fall, we’ll see if Brink has legs.