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The RPS Verdict: Brink

Brink is here, and we've been playing it. We've even got some servers up. But what do Alec, Jim, and Quintin actually think about it? Let's find out.

Jim: Brink then, the long-awaited multiplayer shooter from British devs Splash Damage. Everyone had a bit of a play?

Quintin: I have shot so many men.

Alec: But were they men? Or were they computer-men? (I have also shot so many men.)

Quintin: Perversely, I've also brought so many back to their feet! And then watched them get shot again. I've been focusing on the Medic class. How about you two?

Alec: I've been medic too, for the most part. I think a reasonable number of players feel the same way.

Jim: I have alternated pretty evenly between all the classes, not least because no one seems to go engineer or covert dude when you actually need them for objectives. I feel like even though the game goes to great length to explain its objective-based stuff, you really have to have played each map a couple of times to actually know what's going on.

Quintin: Especially so in single player, where your allied bots aren't the brightest.

Jim: Okay let's explain what single player means. Brink's single player is not REALLY single player. Instead the game has set up each of the levels as missions within an over-arching campaign, each with its own little story and interstitial cutscenes. That means you play multiplayer maps with bots. If it were being judged as a single player game, we'd say "lovely setting" but er what.

Alec: Yes, this whole 'mingleplayer' thing isn't really true.

Quintin: Right. I expect we've spent more time with those bots than most players ever will, what with us getting the game prior to the servers going live.

Alec: I'd really hoped that all the talk about the narrative and it flowing like a singleplayer game was going to lead to something meaty and surprising, but while the cutscenes and the voicework is strong, the nature of the game - winwinwin - means the temptation to simply skip 'em to get straight into things is almost overwhelming. Which means you do end up treating it as, basically, TF2.

Quintin: Yeah. It's an odd one. I enjoyed those brief 30 second cutscenes so, so much. I adore the effort they've put into amassing voice actors with different accents, to drive home the Ark's nature as a global safehouse.

Jim: Yes, which feels like a waste of fantastic world. The script and world design is really very strong. I'd like to play a Guns & Conversation game in that world.

Alec: And everyone's so morally confused, there's no right answer and all that, but of course once you've seen every cutscene once you'll just skip 'em from thereon in.

Quintin: That said, have you seen how many audio logs you can unlock? And then you have to listen to them while staring at the main menu?

Alec: There's a lot of menu stuff I think has gone a bit wrong, especially on pc

Jim: Menu stuff?

Alec: I keep getting chucked all over the place in character customisation; press the wrong Back and it takes you out of the whole thing rather than back to the paper doll so you can change from fiddling with trousers rather than fiddling with beards.

Quintin: I didn't have too much of a problem with the menu.

Jim: Ah yes, that failure to navigate the beard selection bit is crappy. Also I don't understand if the filter is just broken in the server browser.

Quintin: The servers- yes.

Alec: It's got so much going on in terms of UI and menu, but I don't feel it's got that ease and slickness it needs despite looking as though it does.

Jim: The character design and customisation is totally fucking brill though, best ever for battle-men.

Alec: Indeed, I can get lost in that.

Quintin: It is. And annoyingly, I peaked very early. I made a topless man covered in bandages and plasters that I really, really liked, and then was happy. I don't want to cover him in fetish gear and skater jackets and tattoos.

Alec: I do have the serious reservation that you don't really notice what anyone looks like in game, because it's a flood of UI elements and tiny people running away. Actually, that bothers me a bit - there's a bit too much clothing dedicated towards a certain kind of punkery. I'd hope it would be a bit broader in its aesthetic.

Jim: They do appear in cutscenes, actually.

Quintin: And now we're getting back to this idea of Brink wasting a fantastic world.

Jim: And yes, the world is fantastic. That doesn't translate to the level design, for some reason.

Alec: Yes, the level design. It's bewildering corridors with epic backdrops, isn't it? And there's a strong, strong need to learn the maps.

Jim: I barely notice the epic backdrops, to be honest. It's tunnel city.

Quintin: It absolutely is. While the levels all have plenty of paths through them, almost all of those paths are incredibly enclosed.

Jim: And yes, it's Quake-like in its demands on spatial learning.

Quintin: That has massive repercussions.

Jim: I noticed in the game before last we basically chokepointed the map across two corridors for the last 10 minutes.

Alec: And in its combat. I mean, it's spawn point hell at times, spawn camp hell, I mean. Totally rewards the hardcore and merciless at the expense of the funtimes player.

Quintin: What? I haven't encountered spawn camping at all. Unless you mean the enemies blockading the corridor outside of your spawn. Which is really no different to them or you blockading any other corridor.

Alec: The first of the two games we played this morning, my team could not get more than about 10 metres from the spawn. There were two very short corridors pointing into that area, and the other team had them totally locked down. It was just carnage for about 10 minutes.

Quintin: Right. And this is the point I really want to make. We're finally emerging from that old school shooter design wherein the game is no fun if you're outclassed. Brink feels like a return to it.

Alec: Clearly a coordinated team could find ways around that, but that sort of thing means it's just going to feel punishing for the more mainstream player Brink wants.

Jim: Yes, the game feels "hardcore" in its structure, even if the dakka-dakka guns and general combat dynamics are Call-Of-Duty-accessible. As in, I think it will reward very tight teamplay, and probably be less interesting as a public game. (I mean that's almost ALWAYS true, but specifically here.)

Alec: Yeah, it doesn't feel like it could break out like TF2. If you're not in the club already, you probably won't want to join it.

Jim: I am enjoying the combat though, i have to say. It feels resonable tight when you are chucking around ammo and health between a small group of you. That stuff really works.

Alec: Tell you what, I like the Challenges a lot, and they're the closest to it being a singleplayer game . It pushes the more interesting systems front and centre. Reminds me a little of Mirror's Edge, the way the campaign was all kinds of gone-wrong, but the race challenges made it make sense. This, of course, may mean it's a long-term success. There's a desire for that, especially what with TF2 becoming so hatty.

Jim: Agreed, the challenges are a neat addition.

Quintin: You know, I was watching TV with the girl last night, and an advert for Brink came on. It looked incredible- people parkour-ing over rusty containers, scrambling all over this beautiful playground. And that's the game I want to play. I don't want to be pushed down into gulleys and killzones.

Alec: I was looking at the screenshots I've taken vs the screenshots we were sent for previews and things. And it's just heartbreaking. A mess of text and cramped spaces, not these fantastic looking, exaggerated muscleguys in apple-crisp locales.

Jim: Ah yes, the SMART? How do people feel about that?

Quintin: Very, very happy. It's great.

Jim: Sliding to dodge gunfire works a treat.

Alec: yeah, I'm good with SMART. I pretty much have it held down all the time.

Quintin: Sliding is great. Learning to use the Agile body type is great. Clambering up obstacles to get to a vantage point is great. My only problem with it is that you can only ever clamber up about six feet.

Jim: And in the game?

Quintin: Shit, are we still talking about Brink?

Alec: Yeah, it feels a bit mathematical, learning which areas you can climb and which are just a bit too high.

Jim: I think the thing that disappoints me most, and it's a bit of an odd gripe, is that all the weapons (grenades aside) are basically dakka-dakka machinguns. There's no big thumping plasma weapon, no flamethrower to mix it up.

Alec: there are some shotguns, which I guess come to the fore if you're defending something.

Jim: It feels oddly like the multiplayer of Kingpin, too, and the flamethrower was what made that sing. And yes, true, there ARE shotguns.

Alec: It's got that problem of wanting to offer all the unlocks and upgrades in the world, but also fearing that anyone gets too much of an advantage. I wonder if that's why the weapons are so of a kind.

Quintin: On the subject, the grenades are pathetic. You can be staring at one from seven feet away when it goes off. Unless it's a flashbang. In which case, yeah, staring is unwise.

Jim: But it despite the diversity of weapons there doesn't seem to be any diversity.

Quintin: You mentioned Call of Duty before- even CoD has crossbows, rocket launchers, knives.

Alec: Let's talk about the unlocks and upgrades. I'm quite into that stuff.

Jim: Ah yes, progression. That seems to work really well!

Alec: I'm often a bit sniffy about it, but there's a good sense of creating my Build rather than simply getting better stuff.

Jim: Although I was annoyed I had to unlock the body types.

Jim: Not sure how quickly I'll max out levels though. It doesn't seem like it will take long.

Quintin: I like the progression a lot. I'm also a touch annoyed that you're not rewarded for specialising quite so much.

Alec: there's broadly a choice between tactical nitty-gritty and being simply a more robust fighter, which I think works well, me being me, I go for the easy option of more health, more ability supplies.

Quintin: You can happily max out one of the four classes, and if you want to play that class and that class alone, you end up buying stuff you don't necessarily want.

Alec: It doesn't want you to specialise, is the thing. If there's an engineer shortage, it wants you to swallow your medic pride and switch to engineer. I can see why they did it; whether it feels right for the players is a different matter

Quintin: Mm.

Jim: That's kind of true of all class-based games though, you've got to be able to do more than one thing.

Quintin: In terms of closing thoughts, well, we are being negative. It's a solid shooter. We expected too much, perhaps?

Alec: Yeah, we talked ourselves/were talked into thinking it would be something far beyond a decent team shooter

Quintin: Tell you what is spectacular. The audio.

Alec: It really is a decent team shooter, and in time I reckon we'll be happier about that. It's the ever-present problem of hype and expectation, but I think this was critically, critically miss-described to the outside world at important points in its development

Jim: It's a disappointing game, but not a BAD game, bugs aside, and those will be fixed. I'm enjoying plenty. That said, I am only enjoying it about as much as Section 8 Prejudice, which has a lot more crazy crap going on in it. Brink is JUST men with guns. There's no vehicles, no getting into a fight with a giant ape bot, and no falling out of the sky. Given that Section 8 is the underdog this month, it's also $15 and has coherent single player.

Alec: I will happily play it lots, but I will be sighing sadly whenever I remember that the game I thought it would be doesn't exist Is it Splash Damage's best game? I know Wolf ET had more impact, but I feel like this is a greater accomplishment in many ways.

Quintin: I don't know about that, but I like it a lot for it's intensity.

Jim: Quake Wars was a more interesting game, but this is better designed. What I've enjoyed most is in those moments when a team coheres, and you're charging out together, people leaping over barricades, hurling buffs back and forth, laying down fire. That stuff is magic.

Alec: they've made a team shooter that doesn't feel like a mod, doesn't feel like COD, that includes a bunch of very complicated elements without being overwhelming. They may not have lived up to all the originally talked of, but that they actually made all this stuff work is pretty impressive.

Jim: It's not the sum of its promises, no. But also most of the criticisms that surfaced in the initial barrage of 360 reviews are tosh. One was even criticising it for rewarding teamplay, which made little sense. This game cannot be judged on its single-player, because it's a demanding multiplayer game, and utterly focused on that. Also, I was reading somewhere that RPS would be an apologist for this game, and I'm sorry to have to confirm that dude's opinions of us, but the point is that Brink is simply a bit disappointing, it is by no means a bad game as some people have attempted to argue. That's just nonsense. (And if they're making that judgement based on the 360 version, well, you can imagine my feelings on that.) The bugs are atrocious, the pace of the game is odd, the overall sense is one of it being less than we'd hoped. But it's still quite something.

Quintin: It does have it's moments. I was carrying the objective on a map this morning, hunkered down behind some cover with the enemy closing in from one side and my freshly-respawned team-mates sprinting and leaping and clambering towards me from the other direction. It was a perfect race, and in the end they showed up first and we pushed on.

Alec: I'm going to immediately play it again once we've finished this chat, I must say. It successfully tunnels you into its purpose, you're totally involved in your objectives rather than in the scoreboard.

Jim: Yeah, I'll be on the RPS server, if anyone needs me.

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