Are we to celebrate originality and courage, happily soaking up the cheesy, hammy atmosphere and ballistic glorification, or show derision in the face of iffy lighting, ropey design decisions and some tired mechanics? Bodycount, if nothing else, is going to divide gamers like no other first person shooter – it’s clearly not technically on par with the giants of the genre (the recent demo outing representative of the final game) but seems either content enough to simply run around playing to its considerable strengths, or unable to do anything else.
Those strengths? Booming, almost deafening audio, each ejected shell, each grenade bounce, each explosion ringing around you with crystal clear dynamics – headphones are a must – and an almost ridiculously camp 80’s approach to gunplay. Watch! as enemies dive forward off buildings like an overpaid footballer! Gasp! as a single grenade takes out a whole squad! Laugh! as your bullets tear through a wooden fence into an all-too-red barrel carefully left behind by an otherwise bullet sponge of a mid-level boss.[drop]Ah, shredding. That’s what Codemasters dubbed their destructive tech, as selective as it is impressive – when it works you can’t help but smile, but when your shotgun shells deflect lifelessly off thin sheets of metal, it makes the whole thing a little bit redundant. It’s real-time, that’s for sure, but it’s not consistent and it’s not indicated or signposted enough to make experimenting with the notion that there’s no longer any permanent cover anything more than just that – a test, a plaything: it won’t change the genre, but it’s a neat idea.
But strengths, even when they’re as gloriously over the top as Bodycount’s, are still strengths. Bullet points in a crowded marketplace where only the mighty (read: Activision and EA) can bombard a helpless, baying public with enough hype to cover over the cracks. Bodycount’s foundations, then – its brilliantly pitched weapons, superb sound design and lovable backhanders to bygone action films – aren’t nearly enough to stand up against the juggernauts, and that’s without considering the game’s negatives.
It’s not a long list, but it’s worth discussing. Firstly, the graphics: they’re wildly different from level to level, and sometimes within each level too. Some (like the glossy, techno interiors of the Target bases you’re sent into) are delicately constructed from angular but precise building blocks and look great when filled with enemies and raining with shattered glass, designed smartly enough to encourage the player to keep moving under fire whilst keeping the paths tightly knit. Some, though, like a rain-soaked fishing village further into the game, struggle to look like they belong on the a console of this generation, with flat lighting, muddy visuals and poor directional references.
The characters too, barring a few exceptions, are generic bordering on stereotypical, as are most of the missions you’ll be tasked with as you find yourself batted from one area to the next without any particular reason or flow. The paper-thin plot picks up considerably at around the half way point, but never really moves beyond a couple of key characters and the odd occasion to challenge the player at anything more than A to B via C missions, with lots of bullets in-between. When it does take a diversion, like battling for your life atop a narrow crane as time ticks slowly down to your rescue, the game briefly springs into life, but all too often it relies on old, tired staples that we’ve seen, better, a dozen times before.[drop2]But, beyond all this, there’s a quirky likeability to Bodycount. The arcade gameplay is bolstered by a few tactical elements like the temporary (and stackable) boosters you can apply by picking up intel from downed enemies, the musical notes that accompany the collecting of the circular trinkets also ringing out when ammo is low – a clever cue that means your attention can be focused on the middle distance rather than the HUD. The lean function too, which replaces any kind of cover snap, is neat, although why it’s mapped to the same button as zoom is a bizarre thing indeed.
And on that note, some may find that the triggers (rather than the L1 and R1 bumpers) are used to fire and zoom, with grenades (and the interesting but under-used mines) in their place. And whilst the guns themselves are powerful, individual and specific to certain missions, why are we limited to two per level and forced to find weapon caches just to change arsenal? And why is the shotgun, a firm favourite of shooters – especially close up – so disappointingly weak?
Bodycount seems haunted by odd decisions that battle against smart ones, then, like the introduction of medics that keep the battlefield fresh; aggressive AI that – assuming you’re close enough for them to care – hunts you out and keeps you moving; decent check-pointing that removes a lot of the repetition and a few timed sections that really get the pulse racing.
A game of swings and roundabouts, clever ideas and familiar old ground. There is courage here, the developers clearly eschewing the current trends and going all out to make their own mark on the singularly most fiercely fought pigeonhole in the industry. First person shooters come and go – and whilst Bodycount isn’t likely to leave that deep an impression on the world after it’s all over, it does leave a bloody wound accompanied by a ridiculously brash round of machine gun fire. A brave attempt, then, but one seemingly too hampered by its faults to really shine.
- Great sound design
- The guns, apart from the terrible shotgun, are well balanced
- The boss battles are interesting
- The concept is a strong one, a pure arcade shooter
- Reward and ranking system might draw repeated play
- The story is difficult to connect with
- There’s a fair bit of level reuse
- Multiplayer is rather bare bones
- It’s almost impossible to know how much damage you’re taking
- There’s massive lag on the close quarter knife move
Bodycount’s main draw – the weapons – is an attractive, brave quality. They work – they sound great and are presumably as close to what squeezing a trigger feels like as we’ll get this generation – but there’s still a fair amount that doesn’t work nearly as well. The visuals are too varied in quality, the storyline’s a confusing array of locations and bit characters and there are only a handful of stand out moments. It’s not a bad game, but it’s not a terribly good one either – FPS diehards should give this a shot, but the rest of us will find the whole a little bit average.