BRINK – Review

Title   Brink
Developer  Splash Damage
Publisher  Bethesda
Platform  PC, PS3, Xbox360
Genre  FPS
Release Date  20th May, 2011

Parkour... with guns

It’s fair to say that out of all the different genres of game currently available on consoles, first person shooters are among the most common. The likes of Call of Duty, Halo, Left 4 Dead and their numerous imitations fill the shelves, but it’s very rare that a shooter comes along and brings something radically different to the table. Back in 2010 I had the opportunity to speak to Paul Wedgwood, CEO of Splash Damage about Brink – a game that seemed set to bring some freshness back to the FPS genre. But has it succeeded?

When starting the game for the first time, you’ll be greeted by a patch to fix various problems with the online play, which may be an indication as to its quality, but we’ll get to that later. After downloading the patch and starting the game proper, you are presented with a stop motion style video showing ‘The Ark’, Brink’s battleground/parkour enthusiast’s playground, being built up on a map. You are also introduced to the leaders of the two factions – The Resistance and The Security – and the motives behind each one. This introductory video, along with a collection of audio logs – unlocked by playing through the game – and some very short cutscenes which bookend each of the game’s missions, makes up the bulk of Brink’s story, which is a shame, considering that the game’s lead writer, Ed Stern, had created an entire forty year backstory for Brink and the creation of The Ark.

Once the video is over you are asked to pick which faction you wish to fight for, and are then taken to the character customisation screen.  One of Brink’s biggest selling points for me was the customisation of your character. The idea of a persistent character that you could upgrade and continue to tailor as you levelled up sounded fantastic. The amount of customisation options that Brink supposedly boasted sounded almost too good to be true, and you know what they say about things that sound too good to be true – they usually are. While there are still a fair amount of customisation options in Brink, there are nowhere near as many as other games that claim to feature extensive character tailoring. Even the early Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games provided more character options than Brink.

The main disappointment was the lack of different faces available.  You are only provided with a handful of pre-built facial feature sets to choose from, all male, and none of which have any additional scaling options for individual features, which means that you quite regularly see the same faces in battle, just with slightly different facial hair or maybe a spot of paint. The next flaw with the character building is rather an odd one and something that I can’t quite work out: there are individual options for headgear, masks, shirts, jackets and pants (despite the game being developed in Europe they still couldn’t say trousers), but there is no option for shoes. Seriously. The shoes your character wears come in a set with the trousers you chose.

Now, I know it seems petty, but it just seems odd that they didn’t include customisable shoes.  However, before you think I’m hating on the character customisation, I will say this: the clothing provided does look good and each side has a definite style to it. The Security styles range from the ‘good cop’ police shirt, to the much more unusual choices such as the ‘bug’ – a mask which looks like some sort of futuristic spec-ops helmet; the Resistance’s outfits, in contrast, are a range of tattered clothes and gas masks. The two sides also have very distinct colour palettes which is both a blessing and a curse.

On one hand, the characters will always look good, with the colour patterns being tailor-made to suit each faction, but on the other hand, there aren’t a great deal of colour options to choose from, which lessens any feel of the “near infinite customisation options” that Brink promised. I can see why there are set colour schemes though because Brink is a team game, so it makes sense to colour code both sides for easy reference in a hectic fire-fight.  As previously mentioned, the colours do work well, with Security being a mix of military blues, greens and camo patterns, while the Resistance feature a lot of reds and oranges with plenty of bright greens and yellows thrown in, giving them a strong Caribbean or South African feel. In fact, there is a very strong pan-global feel to the game, from the factions’ standard colours, to the voice acting and even the music.

One of the interesting things with Brink is that, depending on which faction you chose to play as, you will have a different version of the menu music; the Security’s version features a full orchestra and a much more regimental feel to it, whereas the Resistance offering has a softer, oriental theme, which further accents the game’s international feel. Other than the menus, however, Brink features very little music, relying more on the gritty sounds of gun battles and radio chatter, with just the occasional light motif to accent key moments – something that works well. The guns all sound suitably loud, and the occasional chatter from team mates detailing mission objectives make the game feel far more realistic than if there had been an epic score that kicks in every time an objective is met. As the old saying goes, less is more and this is definitely the case with Brink’s score.

The voice acting, on the other hand, does leave a little to be desired. Mid-battle, dialogue is limited to the odd “capturing command post” or “MEDIC!”, but, during the short cutscenes and audio logs it is extremely hard to become enthused. The voice acting isn’t terrible, it just lacks any emotion or depth, meaning that the little amount of story that was actually put into the finished game never really seems to have any feeling, or inspire emotion.

One of the most important things in any shooter is the guns. If the guns don’t feel right then no amount of gimmicks can save the game, so it’s a good thing that the majority of the Brink’s weapons handle very well. There is also a relatively large array of weapons featured in Brink, however there’s not really anything unusual, just the typical shotguns, pistols, grenade launchers, rifles and machine guns that you’d expect in any FPS. There are, however, several downsides that, while not game breaking, do seem quite odd, the first one being that there are about five or six different types of automatic rifle (likewise with pistols and machine pistols), but none of them seem to handle that differently from the next, despite the different stats given for each. The only real difference is that some guns can’t use certain add-ons, which raises the question of why Brink included so many different weapons in the first place. Why not include just one of each type that could then make use of all of the various upgrades?

Speaking of add-ons, to unlock things such as silencers, bigger magazines, red dot laser sights and scopes, as well as some of the more powerful guns, the player has to complete a series of separate challenges. There are four such challenges in all, each having three difficulty levels. The first two levels unlock add-ons, and the third level is only there as a leaderboard challenge to compete against your friends.  While this may not sound particularly unusual, it is quite odd that when you unlock the weapon upgrades they unlock for all arms at once, lessening the feeling of progressively improving your skill with a certain gun, and also adding to the feeling of pointlessness surrounding the inclusion of so many similar weapons. Call of Duty style weapon challenges, completed through normal play, would’ve been much more in keeping with the feeling of levelling up.

On top of character customisation and gun upgrades, Brink also provides the player with four different classes to choose between, with a host of unlockable abilities for each. These are all standard fare for a class-based shooter, offering engineer, medic, operative, and soldier options, with the usual skills available for each: demo charges for the soldier, turrets and mines for the engineer, hacking devices for the operative, and healing abilities for the medic. As well as class abilities there are also general skills that can be unlocked, from standard health upgrades to the ability to shoot grenades in mid-air. On the whole, Brink’s abilities don’t tread any new ground, but they’re solid, work well and, when on a team with different classes, really compliment each other.

As well as the ‘near infinite customisation’ hook that Brink’s developers have been touting, there is also a new movement system known as SMART (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain) which, as the name suggests, allows for easier movement around maps and adds an interesting parkour aspect to the game. The way SMART works is simple: hold down the left bumper to sprint, then simply approach a waist-height ledge to automatically climb over it. Holding down the B button while sprinting allows for a quick slide across the floor, and pressing A near higher ledges hoists you up. However, your character’s body type (which you choose between small, medium, and heavy) will affect how high you can climb, how fast you can run, and how far you can slide. Overall, the SMART system is enjoyable to use and surprisingly subtle, adding a different dynamic to often hectic gun battles. Although the animations aren’t always as smooth as they could be, SMART is a great system that will, hopefully, be worked upon and implemented in more shooters in the future.

SMART wouldn’t work anything like as well if it weren’t for the design of the maps, however. While there are only a very limited number of them, which may end up with Brink suffering the same longevity issues as the original Left 4 Dead, what maps there are have been carefully planned out with objective based gameplay and SMART in mind. Rather than the usual multiplayer format of having maps that can accommodate multiple game modes, Brink has dedicated maps for specific missions which, as mentioned, has left the game’s longevity in question, but also means that they have all been tailor-made to suit the current objectives. From defending a bomb disposal robot as it travels through a dock filled with containers, to attacking and hacking an airport safe, Brink’s missions seem quite varied at first. You realise very quickly though that they boil down to simple attack and defence, albeit with different classes being needed for the finer details of each assault, and, for the most part, it basically ends with the defending team winning.

The main reason for this is due to the number of bottlenecks found on each map; while they themselves aren’t the problem – there are plenty of shortcuts to be unlocked and, with the parkour element of SMART, there is almost always an alternative route – the problem is that someone seems to have neglected to tell the AI that these paths exist.  This means that unless you fancy trying out your ninja skills by sneaking around the enemy on your own, you’ll almost always be forced into a firefight that ends in wave upon wave of allies being killed. Speaking of the AI, it’s absolutely terrible. Granted the game is mainly aimed at multiplayer, but the AI is too sporadic. Even playing single player on easy mode is an absolute challenge because of the wildly unpredictable (and usually quite stupid) AI.

The whole idea behind the AI players is to make it feel just like you’re playing online (which might explain the idiocy). If the AI was really made to emulate that aspect of online play though, surely they would all be team killing and shouting obscenities at each other, but no.  Instead, they just blindly charge at one another and constantly change their mind about which secondary objective they want to carry out.  It actually makes you wish you were playing online with real people… but maybe on another game.

While Brink is a fun, albeit very short, single player game (in spite of it’s dodgy AI), taking Brink online is one of the most frustrating experiences ever.  Joining games takes a fucking age and there are no lobbies, so instead you are confronted with a boring “finding game” message, before being dumped into the middle of a battle that’s already in progress. While this could be a blessing for someone wanting spontaneous multiplayer with random opponents and no waiting or gathering in a lobby before a match begins, it could also mean getting into a session with a large group of friends (the game supports up to 16 players online, after all) becomes a bigger challenge than the game itself. I wish I could say that was the worst part about Brink’s multiplayer, but sadly not. Games have more rubber banding going on than an office supply room scrap, and there are constant breaks for host migration; on more than one occasion I was kicked from the game for no apparent reason at all. What makes it worse is that Splash Damage released a patch to fix the lagging problems and then cut team sizes down to eight players as standard, but neither of these things worked; online play still stutters more than Gareth Gates telling a story. It is a real shame, because in the (very) few lag-free games I managed to play, Brink was a hell of a lot of fun.

  • SMART movement works very well.
  • Character customisation is very varied, although maybe not as much as Splash Damage advertised.
  • Music and battle sounds are top notch.
  • Maps look great and are custom designed for specific objectives.
  • Horrendous lag makes online games almost unplayable.
  • Stupid AI.
  • Weapons all feel quite samey.
  • Objectives all boil down to simple ‘attack and defend’.
  • Lack of maps leaves the longevity of Brink in question.

Brink is a flawed gem. A very flawed gem. The controls are superb, the pan-global feel of the visuals and music works well, the sounds in battle make you feel like you are in the middle of a guerrilla street fight, and the feeling of freedom while vaulting all over the map is empowering. However, the lack of maps and the lack of foresight to create dedicated servers has meant Brink gets dull quickly offline and hair-pullingly frustrating to play online. As much as I hope Splash Damage fix the online issues, they are already one patch and one in-game tweak down the line and connection issues are still dodgy at best, which is a real shame because the rest of the game is simply fantastic.

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  1. Edward Edward says:

    Fantastic review, Iain. I remember playing it at Eurogamer and finding it incredible fun with all the other people and there being no lag whatsoever and being almost as excited as you were. That’s why I was so sad when it was delayed for months to be “fine-tuned”, and then that delay did bugger-all to help the game from what it sounds like. It’s such a shame and something as simple as dedicated servers could probably help it.
    I’d love to give the game more support, but I can’t afford it, can’t get online with my Xbox at the moment due to Tiscali being a bunch of incompetents, and by the time I probably got around to this there’d be no-one else around. Still, I hope it does well considering its pros and hopefully the flaws can be patched out and it’ll kick some serious butt :D

  2. Samuel Samuel says:

    Interesting review, Pix. It sounds a lot like Shadowrun (the FPS remake and not the original, of course) to me, and that didn’t do much for me without having so many problems. The whole point of these kinds of mass team shooter is multiplayer, the single player is always crap, and when the online seems to be so broken there’s just no point. I won’t be picking this one up.

  3. Chris Toffer says:

    Great review Pix. I was really in two minds about this and never really could decide about getting it. It sounds like it maybe worth the coin for some people, but from the sounds of it not for me! May have been a poor choice to release the game within a week or so of L.A. Noire

  4. MoltenRog says:

    I liked the overall review, but i feel you’ve based this game on 1 Version out 3 of the game, Your overall cons are wrong I’d say.

    I mean I’m a PC Player for this game and 3/5 of those cons are wrong. There isn’t any lag in the PC version you just have to play on a local server, infact even a American server goes well for me. I find it incredibly tough to beat the AI when they Buckle down into one area because they camp in different zones so that if you go in you won’t get in unless you work like a swat team.

    The weapons oh my god there so many customizations.. Have you used each and everyone fully to its extent with different upgrades/downgrades.

    You know I’m not even gonna bother, I’d love to see a review done on the PC Version which doesn’t make the game look like a pile of steaming bolts.

  5. Kat says:

    Agree with everything you say. I do really like the game but I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. If I go online there’s an 80% chance it’ll be a total lagfest and almost unplayable. But if I go solo and rely on AI it’s massively frustrating. The rare game I’ve had with other people which hasn’t lagged to death has been fantastic. There’s a real sense of teamwork and watching each other’s backs. In one I had the package to be delivered and my team surrounded me, helping take out enemies to keep me protected and there was such a sense of satisfaction once we completed that part of the mission. I’m truly gutted lag is still such an issue as they are killing off a great game.

  6. Stu Stu says:

    Nice review Iain, it wasn’t really one I had planned on picking up, but when a game is talked up you can’t help but feel as if you are maybe missing out. Gladly I get the impression I’m not really missing out on too much!

    It sounds as though with a bit of AI tweaking and an expanded map-pack it might have been something a little more appealing with some staying power. Maybe some DLC will rectify the situation, but then if its completion only takes a weekend then will it already have been traded in and people moved on by then?

  7. Iain says:

    @Ed – Thanks dude, yeah it’s a shame about the lag because it’s awesome when it plays properly. Apparently Splash Damage are working on patch number 2 at the moment though so hopefully it’ll fix it.

    @Preacher – Yeah, it is a little like Shadowrun, although there’s a much bigger sense of team work in Brink. Plus I found Shadowrun quite dull. Brink feels a lot more fast paced and interesting.

    @Toffer – Yeah, releasing so close to such a big name game game may have been a bad choice, especially when it was released with so many problems.

    @MoltenRog – As you can see at the top of the review, the box art is the Xbox version, so you’re right. it is based on one version. I’m not quite sure how you’d even expect one person to write a full review on three versions of one game in less than a week of the game being released, because to me it sounds very impractical and borderline impossible unless your sole occupation is as a gaming journalist, which mine is not.
    Also, you may feel my overall cons are wrong, but seeing as you are basing your opinion solely on the PC version, it’s a little hypocritical to tell me I’m wrong for basing the cons entirely on the 360 version – On the 360 version the lag is horrendous, on the 360 version the AI are stupid (I never said the enemy AI are stupid, like you are implying either, I said that the AI of your team mates is far too sporadic and that is a massive problem) and yes I have tried almost every single gun on the 360 version using the limited amount of upgrade options available from completing the challenges and the various types of gun – eg. automatic rifle, machine gun, shotgun – all feel the same as every other gun in that category.
    Finally, I didn’t actually make the game sound like a pile of bolts at all, I merely pointed out that lag was a massive issue in a game that’s been designed almost elusively for multiplayer. If the lag was fixed, the game would be one of the best shooters around, but as it happens, the lag is practically game breaking. On the 360 version of course.

    @Kat – We’ll have to give it a shot online when Splash Damage release the next patch :) You’re right about the feeling of team work in games that do work. it’s one of the few games where I’ve actually seen randoms working well together online

  8. Iain says:

    @Ste- Splash Damage have announced that they’ll be releasing some free DLC soon, so hopefully it’ll include new maps :) I don’t think it will be traded in that quickly to be honest. I mean look at CoD online. They have relatively limited multiplayer maps before DLC but people still play them for months on end. I guess time will tell though

  9. MoltenRog says:

    @Iain, Yeah i’m sorry for going off at you over the 360, My concerns were mainly the cons, and as they’ve been answered I’ll just stumble back into my corner :-(

  10. Adam Adam says:

    Glad I’ve got a good honest opinion on this one from you Pix, been waiting to hear a balanced view on it.

    I think it’s a massive shame this one didn’t pan out like I’m sure many of us hoped. The little details that make a modern online FPS just seem completely absent and that seems strange to me. Whilst I wish Splash Damage every success with the continuing development and deployment of content for Brink, I’d hope that their next project is better planned and better realised. It amazes me to think that a console shooter like this has launched without SOLID multiplayer action and even if it were working, it lacks the sort of lobby functionality a game like this NEEDS. There’s still hope and maybe in six months it could be worth a second look but its still a miss for the time being.


    PC Games benefit from easier to deploy patches and dedicated server support so the game was always going to work better in that respect. Pix has only criticised flaws in the games mechanics that people would want to know about before purchasing which is his role as a reviewer. He’s not saying it’s a bad game, just letting us know that it has it’s problems. When you also consider that the dominant market share is spread across the PS3/360, those are the sort of things you absolutely have to get across. I’m sure you didn’t mean ill to criticise any of that and when you’re getting a great deal of enjoyment out of something, it can suck a little to read otherwise but nobody wants to read a review where the person who is signing their name to it is overlooking flaws in a promised premise.

  11. Mark R MarkuzR says:


  12. Lee says:

    @Markuz – What like the chicken?

    @Iain – great review man, really enjoyed it, it’s a shame it’s suffered with all these little bugs and even though I know there’s a good chance it won’t work as it should I really wanna pick up this game.

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