Bodycount hands-on preview [360/PS3/PC]
Codemasters’ old-school FPS BODYCOUNT is gearing up for its release, and we’ve been playing it. Is this the game to rekindle the spirit of the classics? The answer’s a little unclear…
Codemasters’ back-to-basics FPS unapologetically opts for a gun-for-fun approach, favouring over-the-top arcade action over convoluted storytelling. This means that any narrative that does exist is largely inconsequential as long as your trigger finger is constantly busy.
You’re a good guy, an asset to a group dubbed The Network. You see those shady characters? They’re troopers working for a nefarious (we assume) party, the Target. Your aim? Kill them in ever more violent and elaborate ways. No nonsense.
The three pillars
The tagline that Codemasters is running with here is “Guns, Bullets, World”. Powerful, meaty guns, near infinite amounts of ammunition and highly “shreddable” (read: destructible) surroundings are the defining components of the Bodycount experience. You’ll be graded at the end of each stage depending on the proficiency of your performance – this emphasis on score-attack play further cementing the game’s arcade feel.
So let’s start with the bread and butter of such shooters: the weaponry. Rather than offering a vast roster of guns, Bodycount’s arsenal is limited but highly focused. A lot of work has been put into tweaking each weapon to make all feel contrastingly weighty, powerful and nuanced. There’ll be no gradual ascension from measly pea-shooter upwards, as every gun packs a hefty punch. From the outset, Bodycount wants you to feel like a one-man death machine: pick up, play and pepper everything that moves with bullets.
Meanwhile, explosions rip through barricades and masonry, shattered glass flies overhead, grenades decimate your cover as a tirade of bullets rains in. It’s all impressively hectic, if at times slightly overwhelming.
Codemasters are attempting to distance Bodycount from the Call of Duty
-esque pop-up-and-shoot mechanic by constantly keeping us on our toes. Practically nowhere is safe here. I don’t have a problem with this – relentless action should by all means be encouraged – but unfortunately player movement feels a little too sluggish to effectively respond to the unfolding carnage. The emphasis placed on fast-paced, intense combat feels at odds with our character’s slight unwieldiness.
Whipping up a storm
Grayson Hunt’s knee slide in Bulletstorm was the perfect mechanic in this respect. It allowed you to manoeuvre about quickly during the surrounding chaos. You’re actively encouraged to dart around and get stuck-in with Bodycount, but I found myself playing more conservatively. It’s certainly not the way that the game wants you to play, but I felt as though I was being forced into doing so and then being slapped with a rubbish rank at the end of the stage.
I’m confident that if I was to spend more time with Bodycount, get to grips with its pace, and subsequently experiment further with its combat that I’d embrace it more. As it stands, I left my brief hands-on with mixed feelings. I was impressed with the game’s visceral visual qualities – yet I still felt I hadn’t truly seen the real Bodycount.
This is in part due to the implementation of a non-sticky cover system. It’s an intriguing concept, yet one that forces you to scrap what you have learned from previous first-person shooters. While normally holding the left trigger will look down the sights and you can still slowly move, here it roots you to the spot. The left analogue stick then allows you to duck and weave, while the right stick aims. It feels rather alien at first, and takes some getting used to, as you bob your head around to avoid gunfire and simultaneously attempt to aim at enemies as your cover gets blown to bits.
Again, I found myself trying to avoid death on numerous occasions as opposed to bringing it to the opposition as the game wanted me to do. It isn’t necessarily a criticism, but Bodycount does ask players to quickly adapt to a new, unfamiliar method of cover-based play.
Sense of style
And again much like Bulletstorm, Bodycount wants you to dispatch of your enemies in as stylish a manner as possible. This means that points are awarded for skill kills on Target troopers; the more elaborate the takedown the greater the short-term (combat upgrades) and long-term (end-of-level ranking) reward.
Colourful orbs scatter from fallen foes – blue for normal or yellow for skill kills, for example. The most gainful result of collecting these is to fill up a four-tiered meter that will offer you specific combat perks. Wait and fill it up to the maximum and unleash a devastating air strike, or empty it earlier for a handy adrenaline boost in a sticky situation? It’s fairly basic stuff, but Bodycount certainly doesn’t want you to become overburdened with a glut of unnecessary options.
Effectively, the more skilfully you play, the more powerful you’ll become. Bodycount encourages you to dominate ruthlessly and will reward you for doing so. But it all comes back to the lead character’s unweildy controls again: in my time with the game, I never felt truly empowered. I’m sure that more practice and preparation for each stage would yield far more impressive results.
Out of the two levels showcased, the second – set in a vibrant, outdoor African location – was far superior to the linear hallways of Target HQ and showcased the environmental ‘shredding’ to much greater effect than the first. It’s here when Bodycount is at its best – so let’s hope that in the final version there’s a greater emphasis on open settings, as opposed to hours of corridor-crawling.
Bodycount will be released by Codemasters for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on 30th August in the US, 2nd September in the UK.