Multiplayer-focused games are an already difficult prospect for reviewers at the best of time, but Bethesda's Brink appears to be more so than most. Despite being released today in North America and on Friday in Europe at least two publications have refused to review the game, citing concerns over the impact of a forthcoming patch and the general inability to test the game in the wild.
Developed by UK studio Splash Damage, Brink is similar in concept to earlier first person shooters Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. The objective and team-based action is multiplayer focused by nature, but due to the problems on PlayStation Network reviewers have only had access to the Xbox 360 version prior to launch - with Bethesda not sending out copies of the PC version until today.
One of the highest profile sites to refuse to review the game is Game Informer, which claims that due to the multiplayer focus, "it's hard to accurately critique the play experience without spending a considerable amount of time with the maps and the community. The game is also due to receive a significant patch this week, and we're not comfortable handing down a verdict or talking about the technical performance until we experience the game as a consumer would if they purchased the game."
Website Ars Technica came to a similar conclusion, although went further by suggesting that in its pre-release state the game "is a mess, and not worth your money".
Reviewer Ben Kuchera suggested, that "It's going to be a good long time before I can download the PC version of the game and tell you what I think. In my opinion, that's a good thing. Let's give the game some time to breathe, to get some patches, and then we'll revisit it and see what has happened. There are hints of a good, and maybe great, game here. Nothing would be better than to have the technical issues melt away to expose the fun underneath."
Of those sites which have reviewed the game, Eurogamer has been one of the most positive, with an 8/10 score from Simon Parkin.
"Brink doesn't distinguish between single-player and multiplayer, or co-op and competitive play; it's all part of this campaign. You join seven others (players, bots or a mixture, depending on your preference) working to complete a set of linear objectives (breaching doors, stealing data and escorting valuable cargo) while the opposing team attempts to thwart your plans. You can choose whether your opponents are human or AI, too."
Despite his enjoyment of the game Parkin highlights issues raised by almost all reviews: "There's some concern that Brink will fail to provide ongoing incentives over the long haul. It's telling that the achievement for developing a character to Rank 5 is titled "Time to start a new character". It won't take too long to max out one character's abilities, leaving you with the sense that you've 'won' everything the game has to offer."
"Nonetheless, Brink is an exceptional team shooter, smart, supremely well balanced and with a unique, exciting art style," he concludes.
I love this game, I truly do, but I have a list of agitated questions for the developers as long as my arm
Jim Sterling, Destructoid
Destructoid's Jim Sterling also gave the game a mostly positive score of 75, although he noted a number of instances of unbalanced maps and considerable problems with online reliability.
"While some of the levels have a more even chance of success for either side, I have a feeling there are certain stages that players are going to eventually refuse to play, rage-quitting should they find themselves on the wrong side," he claims.
His enthusiasm for the underlying gameplay is obvious though: "The true tragedy of this is that Brink is, by and large, utterly brilliant fun. The combat is tight, with impressive balance applied to the game's many weapons and cool first-person parkour elements, which allow players to run frantically around some beautiful environments. The game's objective system, with multiple missions that players can select at will, makes for a game that offers more choice than the average FPS. More importantly, Brink features incredibly fulfilling class-based gameplay that is a pleasure to sink one's teeth into, with every class feeling important, effective, and perfectly tuned to fulfill its role on the battlefield."
"My frustration with this game lies within this very brilliance and how it's juxtaposed with bizarre ideas such as grossly imbalanced multiplayer and the imparting of almost all content within the first few hours of play," he concludes. "I love this game, I truly do, but I have a list of agitated questions for the developers as long as my arm."
Although IGN's Peter Eykemans gave the game a score of 6.0 his review was largely negative, suggesting in his opening statement that "Brink borders on fun, but its repetition, lack of depth, and graphical problems keep it from being a real contender."
As with most reviewers he praised the game's art style, but criticised some of the technical elements of the game: "During play, Brink suffers from pixelated lines and a murky look, making for a downright ugly game at times. Textures often fail to load properly, and with colored outlines on your teammates and the enemy, the detail in everyone's dress is obscured most of the time."
"An online shooter needs variety, depth, and addictiveness to succeed over the long term. Brink might find a niche with some hardcore fans, but it isn't for everyone. I'd love to see more of the parkour gameplay, but one mechanic isn't enough to carry an entire game. Brink has heart, but the overall package is lacking," he said in his summary.
Joystiq reviewer Griffin McElroy was one of the most scathing so far, giving the game only 2 out of 5 stars, with his opening description insisting that, "any innovation Brink brings to the table is mired in its habitually imbalanced nature, as well as its sometimes stupefyingly flawed gameplay design."
"Perhaps Brink's greatest sin is its omission of a traditional party-based matchmaking system, using instead a system designed to automatically populate single-player matches with real-life players," says McElory. "It achieves this goal well, but with one caveat: The single-player experience is absolutely abysmal, and should be avoided at all costs."
"But an update to address Brink's connectivity issues would only fix the most superficial of its flaws. There's something inherently topsy-turvy with its core game design: Despite its focus on rapidly-changing objectives, it rewards mindless dog-piling on the primary goal," he concludes.
"It punishes players who invest in a single class that resonates with them. Its moments of triumph are unsatisfying, and far outnumbered by its moments of crushing frustration. At every turn, it doesn't just settle for mediocrity - it runs towards it with ramming speed."
Brink is published by Bethesda and on sale now in the U.S. and this Friday in the UK.