I really want to like Brink. Everything from the art style to the world it portrays is fresh and interesting. Brink also incorporates elements of parkour into the shooting genre. Now, there might be one or two of you (I’m not kidding, probably just one or two) who are thinking, “But, what about Mirror’s Edge?” First of all, I love you both. Mirror’s Edge was a phenomenal game, but it wasn’t a shooter. It was a first-person parkour game. Brink is absolutely a shooter, and that’s too bad, because it would have been more interesting the other way.
First, we should discuss the positives of the game. The art style is unbelievably cool. The art is a combination of realism and cartoony that I haven’t seen before. Everybody’s face is stretched out and exaggerated, but the textures are almost hyper-detailed. The result is something awesomely unique.
Another thing I really enjoyed about the game is the setting. Every bit of the environment helps reinforce the story the game is telling. This tiny civil war on the floating city called the Ark is something that really works. Every detail of the environment seems to be there, because of the rebellion on this ship. I won’t get too far into it, but I can tell you that it works.
Now is the part where I get into the things that don’t work. The first thing is less of an issue and more of an odd choice. Brink is a class based shooter, where a player can fill the role of spy, medic, engineer, or soldier. Now, this is hardly a new idea, but there is an interesting twist in Brink. Because the character customization also includes body-type and weapons, it is possible to roll into combat with a gigantic medic with a minigun. This flies in the face of standard video game logic, where the healers are traditionally more frail, and rely on the larger soldier classes to kill the bad guys. This is not such a big concern, but it is weird.
Brink does hit three big stumbling blocks, that, unfortunately, keep it from greatness. The first is the poor level design. There are several very well planned bits in each level with multiple routes and good cover, but there are one or two terrible bottlenecks in each, as well. This leads to a complete breakdown in the game, as good defense at one of these bottlenecks will almost always trump good offense. This unevenness is inexcusable in a game that is entirely devoted to online play.
The parkour, which was such a great idea, is never terribly well executed. The feeling of going anywhere and finding new routes through the sprawling levels just never materializes. There are parkour routes to be sure, but they feel very deliberate. Also, I never felt that freedom of movement. The parkour elements feel clunky, but never as clunky as the combat did.
The guns never feel powerful enough to knock down an enemy. This is partly a result of my lack of skillz, but mostly of the bullet-sponginess of the characters. It takes nearly a clip to down any opponent, and nothing has ever felt more useless than the grenades in Brink. In a brilliant move [note: sarcasm], the grenades in Brink cannot kill a healthy opponent. They knock him down for a moment, but come on.
At one point, I was playing the spy and had cleverly disguised myself as an enemy player. Having successfully infiltrated their base, I threw a grenade at the feet of three guys clustered around the objective. Of course, that removed the disguise, and they all killed me, but the grenade didn’t kill any of them. I watched it explode and nobody died. Now, I will not argue that I am the greatest player and I got robbed, but I will suggest that I did employ a reasonably sneaky strategy and was strongly punished for it. The point I am trying to make is that the combat, which is the most important aspect of an online shooter, is not terribly good.
Ultimately, Brink isn’t a bad game. It has a bunch of great ideas and personality up to here. The problems, which are almost entirely mechanics, hold it back just enough. I enjoyed the time I spent with the game, but in a world so fully populated with great online shooters, Brink doesn’t stand out. In this environment, a game has to be great to survive, and Brink is merely good.