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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Video Game Review: Brink; A Few Bullets Short Of a Clip

 When Bethesda and Splash Damage Studios announced they were working on a multi-platform shooter that was to feature fast paced squad on squad battles, multiple objective types, a parkour-influenced movement system, and robust character customization featuring a large amount of unlockable outfits, skills, and weapons, I admit I was both excited and skeptical.  Considering Splash Damage gave gamers the insanely popular Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory after its success in crafting custom maps for the original Return to Castle Wolfenstein and that Bethesda, best known for the Elder Scrolls series of action rpgs, was backing the project, it seemed as if gamers had quite a treat to look forward to.
Unfortunately, my first ten minutes spent with Brink ended up being far more frustrating then I had assumed it would be, which was a really big red flag already because said frustration was caused in the middle of one of the levels that was meant to be Brink’s equivalent to a tutorial; uh oh.  I will admit my frustration was off-set by the character-creation elements at the start of the game.  After picking between one of two sides fighting over control of a large isolated colony known as the “Ark”, security forces or rebels, players can tweak their character’s face and voice and choose from a multitude of hairstyle and clothing options and, once unlocked, can even substitute the standard medium body-type for heavy and light variants, each offering their own advantages.

 Players can also choose between various armaments and attachments that can alter a given gun’s stats and features.  While there isn’t much diversity between the weapon types (assault rifles, shotguns, a few heavy weapons, and pistols are pretty much it), the various attachments such as scopes, barrels, clip-modifications, and other augments allow the weapon selector to retain the same sort of personalized charm as the character-creator does.
It’s with the game’s class system that I hit my second snag.  Choosing from either soldier, medic, engineer, or operative, players can utilize the different skills and abilities of each class to help their teammates and complete objectives.  Soldiers can refill your ammo and plant bombs, engineers can deploy mines and turrets as well as buff your damage, medics can buff health and revive teammates, and operatives can disguise themselves as enemy players and hack enemy turrets and computers.
While this may all sound well and good, the problem I had with the system is that the game’s missions always pigeon-holed me into playing certain classes and thus made me feel like I had wasted my time investing skill points into one class only to have to spend half a mission playing as another.  To be fair however, this was largely in part to the third and biggest problem I had with Brink: The A.I.  The reason I always felt forced to complete objectives on my own (and thus be forced to switch to the appropriate class) was because the A.I. in Brink reduces computer controlled combatants to the equivalent of chickens running around with their heads cut off, and boy do I wish I was joking.
A.I. allies in missions will almost always completely ignore the mission’s main objective and will instead repeatedly seek out command posts (small computers that provide bonuses for your team and allow you to switch classes), stop to engage enemy forces, or sometimes just stand still entirely.  What’s worse, there is absolutely no way to guide or give orders to your A.I. teammates thus furthering the frustration.  Admittedly however, the A.I. isn’t totally useless; A.I. medics are actually surprisingly good at reviving you if they happen to be nearby and will also make a beeline for you if you become incapacitated no matter where they are on the map.  This one spark of teamwork is again crushed however because since you have no control over what class your A.I. teammates pick, you might have three medics on your team or you might have none, it’s all luck of the draw.
Other noticeable disappointments include short and uninspired story-mode campaigns for both sides, in each mission you’re either trying to defend a person or location from the other team or vice-versa, and once you beat both campaigns there’s really nothing else to do other then grind out the same missions for experience points or try and beat the game’s challenge levels (the tutorials I mentioned earlier). There is a “freeplay” mode that claims to allow for “custom-tailored” games but really all it does is allow you to pick the difficulty, number of people on a team, and whether or not other people can join over Xbox live before randomly choosing a mission for you to play (the missions play out exactly as they do in story mode).
Overall, I really really wanted to like Brink. It had a story that, given more time and development, could have been engaging and moving instead of the shallow and flat mess it actually is.  I also wish Splash Damage had included more gameplay options considering once you spend the hour or so it takes to beat story mode the game just becomes a mission-grind.  I do however praise both the character-customization and the game’s smaller nuances like level-design, music, and voice-acting.  If you’re still itching to give Brink a try, I’d suggest renting it for a weekend or going for a cheaper used copy since buying it at full price carries a big risk of making you feel like you wasted your money.

General Gameplay Tips:
  • Armor and clothing are purely cosmetic, so don’t worry if you run into an opponent wearing full riot-gear and a helmet, they’re just as vulnerable to your bullets as if they were wearing a t-shirt and shorts.
  • Gun modifications can offer some pretty cool benefits, but they can also negatively impact the gun’s stats.  If you care particularly about a given weapon’s reload speed, rate of fire, or other stats, be sure to keep a close eye on which mods you attach to it.
  • Keep in mind there is no respec option for assigning skill-points to skills.  Fortunately you can view each class’s full skill-trees, even skills you haven’t unlocked yet, allowing you to “plan ahead” when it comes to spending points.

Useful Links:
Guides, Walkthroughs, etc: http://xbox360.ign.com/objects/143/14349125.html

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