The first few hours of playing Brink are a bit of a rollercoaster ride, as the game randomly flits between three modes of operation; innovative excellence, mediocrity and downright frustration. This is an annoyance as, for those who take the time to get to know the game, there is a rewarding and fun online shooter in there.
Brink takes place in the far future, and is set on the Ark - a free floating city originally designed to be a self sustaining utopia. All is not well aboard the good ship Ark, however, as rising sea levels around the world have led to the city becoming overburdened with refugees. Increasingly disenchanted with the squalor in which they live, the refugees have risen up and formed an organised militia that's attempting to leave the Ark. Fighting against this hoard are the Ark security services; a well equipped defence force that's attempting to keep the whereabouts of the Ark secret from the outside world. It’s into this conflict that you’re unceremoniously dumped.
The art style is caricatured without being too cartoony
We say unceremoniously dumped because the game doesn’t go to any pains to ease you into its world at all. There's an insubstantial tutorial video about some of the in-game mechanics, but that’s about it. This isn’t instantly necessarily bad, but it did leave us feeling a little lost on the home screen - are we meant to do a challenge or the main story first? Should we play public or private? What’s the difference between online and offline play? If we join five seconds from the end, does our effort still count as completing the level?
In the end we decided to start off with the safe option of playing the single player challenges, which are akin to the Special Ops challenges found in Modern Warfare 2. This turned out to be a good move, as not only do these challenges allow you to unlock extra weapons, character abilities and outfits for your character, but they also act as a handy introduction to the core game mechanics. We can’t help feeling, in fact, that these challenges would be better placed in an optional tutorial - there are only four of them after all, which is hardly enough to get your teeth into.
This feeling that something is slightly amiss is quite common in the first few hours of play. Why, for example, does the game make you pick an allegiance for your character when you can play either side, and why do characters have both a rank and a level? It’s these niggles that make us feel that Brink has undergone a number of large changes during its development, meaning that some parts of it just don’t add up. Once you get past all these strange inconsistencies, though, the quality of the game beneath starts to show through.
The customisation options available to characters, for example, are very flexible, and even the most random mix of garments still somehow ends up looking good. The game also has a distinctively pleasing art style, which is caricatured but stops short of the cartoony style of TF2. It’s also clear that the abilities you can add to your character as you level-up have been very well thought through, as most manage to tread the fine line between being fun but not overpowered. This said, the game would benefit from offering more hard choices when selecting abilities for your characters. For example, some mutually exclusive abilities could have made the game more interesting.