Latchkey Games is a (sometimes) weekly article that takes a look at games that perhaps didn’t quite get the amount of love they deserved: whether it was a game that was panned on it’s initial release only to become a cult classic, one that stirred the ire of series fans, or simply a game that fell through the cracks and was forgotten by time or overshadowed by a more popular release. This week, I’ll take a look at Brink, Bethesda and Splash Damage Ltd.’s poorly reviewed and quickly forgotten team-based shooter.I didn’t play Brink when it first came out last year. I was scared off by the mountains of negative reviews, both from the professional press and regular gamers alike, that panned the game because of a host of technical problems and a lack of content. Of course, I wasn’t particularly hyped on Brink in the first place; while the original pre-rendered trailer looked cool, previous experience with Bethesda published action titles like the mediocre “Wet” and the absolutely dreadful “Rogue Warrior” had taught me to avoid anything with the Bethesda logo that didn’t have the words “Fallout” or “Elder Scrolls” in the title.
The negative press may have scared me off, but apparently it didn’t stop a lot of you from picking up the game: according to figures released by the Brink’s developers, the game sold over two and a half million copies, which is a pretty impressive number by most standards, and its an especially great performance for a new IP. Still, despite its initial success, Brink’s servers are comparatively unpopulated compared to other shooters also released at the time (or even earlier,) and I can’t understand why nobody’s stuck around — as far as I can tell, the game has only gotten better since it came out. In fact, after spending a dozen or so hours playing it this week, I think Brink has managed to overcome its initial shortcomings and has evolved into a genuinely good game.
Of course, that statement comes with some caveats: Brink was savaged by reviewers who felt that the game didn’t offer enough content for $60, and that’s honestly a fair statement. The game’s campaign is extremely short (and the single-player missions themselves are nothing more than extended matches against bots,) and there’s only 8 multiplayer maps on the disc. If I had paid $60 for Brink, I’d probably be just as disappointed as the legions of people who have left overwhelmingly negative user reviews on various gaming sites throughout the internet.
But I didn’t pay $60 for Brink. I paid $5 for a new copy of this game (you can probably get it for even less if you shop around,) and at that price, Brink is an amazing value.
Brink has a number of elements that set it apart from the usual hyper-realistic, dude-bro shooters that are so popular nowadays. Set in the near future, Brink takes place entirely on the Ark, a sleek floating city that becomes the last bastion of human civilization after rising ocean levels seemingly drown out the rest of the world. This unique setting instantly makes Brink look unique: the stylishly minimal design of the city’s rich areas are a far cry from the usual “gritty” FPS settings. Instead of the usual war-torn Middle-Eastern streets or bombed out buildings, Brink’s levels more closely resemble an Ikea or an Apple store. Imagine the environments from Mirror’s Edge, except this time it’s actually fun to have a shoot-out in them.
Speaking of Mirror’s Edge, Brink borrows some of that game’s parkour elements in order to give the game an increased feeling of mobility over other shooters. Now, Brink is a straight-up FPS instead of a platformer like Mirror’s Edge, so the running and climbing mechanics aren’t quite as developed, but Brink’s free-running, however shallow, still makes enough of a difference to alter your usual shooter strategies. Chasing after a target becomes a lot more involved when you’re both capable of running up walls and vaulting under hanging obstacles, and the game’s CTF-style matches become a lot more fun when the flag carrier platforms his way up to a shortcut that you didn’t even think of.
Like most modern shooters, Brink offers some light RPG elements to keep you playing. Leveling up often unlocks new customization options, ranging from new weapons, new skills, to new cosmetic upgrades like clothes or masks. Weapons can be individually customized with extended barrels, larger clips, and modified scopes and iron sights. The customization options are pretty extensive by genre standards: by the time you unlock everything, you’ll have enough options at your fingertips to ensure that your character will probably look completely distinct. Let’s face it, no matter how many armor options they give you, a Spartan in Halo will always generally look like all the other Spartans, and your army dude from CoD or Battlefield will always look like everybody else’s army dudes, but Brink’s cosmetic options ensure that you’ll always look unique.
The customization options also ensure that your character plays uniquely as well: how you allocate your skill points greatly determines your worth on the battlefield. The game is a class based shooter, but the customizable skillsets mean that two people of the same class can still be wildly different from each other: depending on what skills you purchase, a “Soldier” class character can either be a slow moving tank that soaks up damage and deals it back with heavy weapons, or a skillful vector who stuns enemies with flashbangs and blows up groups at a time with satchel charges. The game’s four classes — Soldier, Medic, Operative, and Engineer — are all archetypes that you’ve probably seen in shooters before, but Brink manages to put a few unique spins on each class that make them feel new while at the same time making sure everything feels balanced.
Of course, it’ll be hard to appreciate a lot of these nuances because… well, nobody plays Brink anymore. The game’s console servers are more or less deserted, and I had to convince a few of my friends to buy the game themselves just so I’d have people to test the multiplayer with. It was worth it though: Brink is definitely a lot of fun, and I had a blast playing both competitive multiplayer and co-op’ing my way through some of the game’s single player content. The game isn’t terrible either if you’re solo: the bot AI is competent enough to provide a good challenge while at the same time providing you with believable, helpful teammates.
It’s a shame that more people aren’t playing Brink online. I understand that the game had some pretty substantial problems when it launched, but the game’s technical kinks seem to have been ironed out via patches. I had a lot of fun with Brink, but I still get why the game got such a negative reception when it came out; this is a game that should’ve been released as a $15 or $20 download, but there’s just not enough content here to justify a fully priced, $60 retail release. Still, like I said earlier, you can pick up Brink nowadays for a few dollars, and at that price, its definitely worth it, especially if you can convince a few friends to buy copies of their own. It’s not going to make you forget Halo or CoD or Team Fortress, but for less than the price of a combo meal at a fast food joint, it’ll give you a week or two’s worth of solid fun.