Aftershock: Why Brink is a Failure (and Why I’m Starting to Like It Anyway)
“Aftershock” is a recurring feature column on Game Front. We take games we’ve already reviewed, and give them a sober second look once the post-launch dust has settled.
Brink was supposed to be the second coming of Xbox Live for me.
I haven’t really loved a multiplayer game in years, and it has been a while since I spent a significant amount of time with one. For a while I was hot and heavy with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, all the way through hitting Prestige. But the relationship grew stale as something a little more attractive, Black Ops, came along. But I stopped calling Black Ops after a while and started seeing new games as they became available, while my free time diminished in pursuit of what I somewhat laughably refer to as my career.
Long before that, Gears of War 2 was loyally by my side. Gears wasn’t the prettiest of multiplayer experiences, but it was dirty and edgy, and liked to do things other more “respectable” games didn’t. There was a spat of Achievement-hunting in Team Fortress 2 when I was on my Orange Box kick, but that really was more casual than anything. Before that, I put up with a couple years of domestic abuse surrounding the original Gears of War, coordinating with one friend in private chat and another on the phone as we struggled to hang out together, since Gears was testy and easily offended. I finally worked up the courage to break it off after I realized I deserved better.
But really, there hasn’t been an online multiplayer experience I was dying to play since the early days of Xbox Live and the original Xbox. That was the class-based, superbly awesome Return to Castle Wolfenstein. It married perfection in its classes, its gameplay, its maps, and its community — it’s the only game in which I’ve made Xbox Live friends that I’ve actually interacted with In Real Life, with whom I wasn’t roommates. I’d still be with Return to Castle Wolfenstein today, if it hadn’t eventually aged and withered. I still mourn its passing and hold all other contenders to its standard.
Then came Brink. The more I heard about it, the more attracted I was. After a hands-on preview with some other games journos a few months back, I became convinced the game would be my triumphant return to Xbox Live, the game my friends would love and would congratulate me on finding, the game that would return to my former days of mad-medic glory. I’m a first-person shooter player who delights in a supportive role — I’ve never been the highest kill-getter (although I hold my own), but as a tireless reviver and healer, I’ve found a niche I really enjoy. With games like Black Ops and Gears having no problem handing that role out to anyone who bought it a drink (and Team Fortress 2 basically making the medic a symbiotic organism for the heavy), I haven’t really found a game I’ve loved to play online in many years.
Okay, that’s not fair — Brink isn’t a total disaster. But it has been stupendously disappointing in this first week since it launched, providing me with equal parts frustration and apathy as it forces me to struggle through its pitifully lag-laden online play, or beat my head against the unbreakable wall of an idiotic teammate AI and the respawning masses of enemies.
It has been something of a soul-crushing few days.
There are some serious problems with Brink on Xbox 360, and they generally boil down to one singular, irritating conceit — it needs work. And it’s extremely frustrating to stump for a game as it runs up to launch only to have it make a fool out of you by coming to the party unshowered, under-dressed and a little drunk.
The game lags. It lags like crazy, and for no apparent reason. That’s not such a big deal for most games, but Brink is basically multiplayer-only. It’s idiotic that it hasn’t been substantially tested on Xbox Live. This game should absolutely sing online, and yet here we are, bouncing around maps and losing matches because we’re unable to quickly react to enemies.
Brink works by putting two competing teams against one another on a map, one stopping the other from completing objectives. Human players can drop in and out of teams on the fly, and when they’re not filled with players, they’re filled with bots. Playing with these bots ranges from passable to completely insane — bots love to get harangued into unnecessary fights or run off from a failing primary objective to capture a needless command post for a stats boost. Yes, that’s fine, but we’re over here losing the game because 10 AI enemy players are standing on the objective. Meanwhile, you keep trading command posts back and forth. Seriously?
Then there’s the class system, which, while fun, doesn’t really require a player to be especially good with one class over another. In fact, the classes themselves aren’t really all that different — they amount to being able to complete separate objectives, sure, but what makes a soldier vastly different from an operative? Primarily and in most cases, it’s access to a different kind of grenade. Sure, ops can spot mines and sometimes they can call out the locations of enemies, and soldiers can get spiffed-up ammo and armor, but those things take a lot of time to earn. It’s only after playing Brink for a long time — which is hard to do right now, believe me — that it actually starts to develop into a fun game.
And for all its hyping about customization, there’s really not a lot about Brink that’s rewarding. Almost all weapons become available if you play through its four challenge modes, which are basically in-game tutorials. That would have been great to know 1.) Before I spent an hour getting annihilated in the second mission of the Security campaign, and 2.) Before I watched that enormous, stupid tutorial video that was actually made up of the much easier to swallow Get SMART trailers that hit the ‘net before launch. Unlocking all the weapons and mods by playing alone against bots, and not even in the primary campaign, but in small-scale peripheral levels, is a weak way to roll out player rewards. I want Call of Duty: Black Ops’ system of constantly making me feel like I’m progressing, not a side tangent that requires me to work through a tutorial in order to be a contender online.
Okay, okay, I’m getting off-target. I don’t even disagree with Ron Whitaker’s take on Brink, either — but for everything the game could be, it’s woefully disappointing.
But the potential is there. And the more I play it, the more I like it, hypocritically enough.
I’m trying not to drop into the same trap twice in a row, having first over-romanticized Brink during the long-distance relationship we shared after our short blind date. Now, after my initial revulsion at Brink’s boring stories about its cat and its tendency to collapse into a crying mess at having its order messed up at a restaurant, it’s beginning to grow on me again.
It’s my own dumb fault. Running and jumping over stuff to save teammates and complete objectives, sliding under gunfire to kick an enemy in the balls and put three rounds in his forehead as he struggles to stand back up, it’s addicting. And even for all its warts, its hunchback, its dumbass cat stories that go on for 20 damn minutes as your team crashes into a brick wall of heavy characters with chainguns (okay, that metaphor’s getting weird) — it can still be fun.
I keep hearing that there’s a Brink out there that’s great. It’s fun, it handles well, and it doesn’t lag online. It’s called the “PC version,” and though its quality is but a recurring rumor to me right now, this might be one of the few times that I’d be willing to convince myself to pay for a game twice for a chance at the experience I envisioned.
I’m just looking for the multiplayer love of my life. Is that really so much to ask?