Brink‘s been getting lots of mixed reviews lately, and I think I understand why. The game is a heady mix of the good and the bad, with little opportunity to resolve the contradictions. When it works, it’s as great as any of the old school class-based, objective-focused shooters that inspired it. When it doesn’t work, it’s kind of a confusing mess. Whether or not you come down on the “love it” or “hate it” side of the fence depends on how much the game’s strengths are able to compensate for its weaknesses. In my case, it compensates quite a bit. Despite its flaws, Brink is one of the more enjoyable and unique shooters I’ve played in a long while.

The premise is simple enough to support the action of the missions, but not so overwrought that it becomes distracting. In a dark future, humanity retreats from the ruin of the world and takes refuge in a floating city. As more and more refugees pour in, the city becomes overcrowded and the “haves” find themselves at war with the “have nots.” The player takes a role on either side of this conflict, fighting through a short campaign to either save the city, or escape it altogether.

You’ll pick one of four classes in the game, although you can switch freely back and forth using special stations within each level. The soldiers are the heavy hitters, the operatives are the sneaks, and the engineers and medics are the support players. Each class has unique abilities that will be called into play as certain objectives come up, but the good news is that all the classes are great at fighting and can use all the weapons, so no one will feel like he or she is left out of the main attraction just because of their chosen class.

Each level comes with a variety of scripted objectives, from unlocking a safe, to blowing a barricade, to downloading information, to escorting high value targets. It’s a zero-sum game, so the enemy team’s main objective will be to keep you from achieving yours. The objectives are staged nicely, so you’ll have a tense timed fight over one goal, and depending on the outcome of that, progress to an entirely new goal. Figuring out what you need to do is a mix of convenience and frustration. It’s convenient because new missions are generated dynamically based on the context of the match. When teammates are incapacitated, medics are automatically given a mission to go heal them. When enemy soldiers place an explosive charge on an important barricade, friendly engineers are automatically given a mission to disarm it.

The frustration is that the game requires so much information that the interface can quickly become cluttered. Even selecting and identifying missions can be tricky at time. This is especially true of the medics, who can sometimes have a hard time seeing the actual game because of all the crap on their HUD. At least once per mission, I’ll find myself in a firefight where the player and object names, objective outlines and XP counters get so crammed into the middle of the screen that I have a hard time telling friend from foe. Luckily there’s no team damage, but I still feel like an idiot wasting a grenade on my allies.

Like Gears of War and Assassin’s Creed, Brink uses one button for a few different movement abilities. In the case of Brink, the system is known as SMART, or Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain. You simply hold down the button and the game automatically uses the SMART system to have you jump, climb, crouch, slide and otherwise sprint from location to location in the game. When it works the way you expect, it’s amazingly fun and versatile. Using one button to negotiate a range of obstacles goes a long way towards reducing some of the game’s complexity, but the trouble is that it sometimes doesn’t work and you even up overshooting your goal or climbing on something you didn’t mean to climb. In those cases, SMART might as well stand for Slip, Moron, And Respawn Tomorrow.

The combat itself is quite enjoyable. The range of weapons and character upgrades accommodates a wide range of play styles, from machine gun toting tanks to silencer-equipped saboteurs and everything in between. Whether you’re laying down turrets and mines along key passages, or lobbing Molotov cocktails at clumps of enemies, there are lots of options in Brink. There’s even a robust weapon upgrade system that allows you to customize each individual weapon to you own needs. Hit detection on the weapons is generally very good with lots of solid feedback when you’re hitting your opponents. That’s assuming that you’re not hitting the odd spots of lag that still seem to crop up when playing online.

With all these pieces in place, whether you enjoy the game or not depends on who you’re playing with. The AI has its moments of incompetence now and then, like not healing downed soldiers, or not making the most of certain objectives, but it does well enough that you can play through the campaigns solo. The game really heats up when you add human players to the mix, either in coop or adversarial campaign play. The dynamic mission system ensures a high level of cooperation without requiring the players to actually communicate with each other, which is a nice change of pace.

Visually, Brink departs from the more realistic styles of most current shooters. Opinions are bound to be mixed on the stylized visuals, but I really like them. The slightly cartoony characters work while the familiar-meets-future aesthetic of the environments sucked me right in. Again, it’s not for everyone, but it makes a nice change of pace after SOCOM, Crysis 2 and Homefront. Unfortunately, the textures are really inconsistent, which mars an otherwise enjoyable visual presentation.

Bottom Line: I like Brink quite a bit, but it’s definitely not for everyone. The cumbersome interface is the antithesis of the modern streamlined shooter. If you can get past all the obstacles the game puts in your way, there’s a lot of fun to be had here.

Recommendation: Fans of old school multiplayer shooters like Return to Castle Wolfenstein will enjoy what Brink offers. Someone looking for the next Team Fortress 2 should just keep looking.

[rating=4]

This review is based on the Xbox360 version of the game.

What our review scores mean.

Steve Butts is still trying to unlock the horseshoe mustache.

Game: Brink
Genre: Shooter
Developer: Splash Damage
Publisher: Bethesda
Platform(s): Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Available from: Amazon(US), GameStop(US), Amazon(UK)

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