In 2006, Xbox and PS2 owners were wowed by the explosion-fest that was “Black”. That first person shooter was the original “gun porn” title, and although no one in the marketing departments of Codemasters or Guilford Studios officially labeled it, their latest FPS, Bodycount, was thought by many to be the “spiritual successor” to Black. If you are one of those people, then I hate to be the bearer of bad news. Not only does Bodycount fail to re-ignite the dormant feelings left over from Black, but as a current-gen shooter, it’s terribly mundane. Read on to find out what caused such a misfire.
Bodycount starts off as most games these days do — with a patch update (78 MB). You are then presented with the game’s vacuous plot. You are a faceless, nameless operative for The Network, an organization that finds solutions to problems through the liberal use of firearms. The Network sends you to conflict hotspots in Africa and Asia (clearly the travel budget was limited) to solve the problems there, and it is not long before the real target, aptly named The Target, is identified. The next six to seven hours chronicle the hunt for The Target. Your handler is an equally nameless female voice who initially barks out the orders through your earpiece, but half-way through the game, decides to take a sabbatical and leaves you to complete the mission in solitude. Bodycount does not bother with too much storytelling (there isn’t much to tell) — you’re just an employee who needs to get their job done without question.
The plot is uninspired, and unfortunately, the level design suffers similar issues. While some of the environments use a vibrant palette of colours (like that of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West), they lack any character to them, and seem more like generic multiplayer maps. The levels are large, open areas and there are multiple routes that you can take, which is refreshing considering the typical corridor-run type shooters on the market. On more than a few occasions, fighting turns from African shanty towns and Asian fishing villages to skirmishes in The Target’s Nexus facilities, which seem to be influenced by the aesthetics of TRON. While the earthier tones give way to the coldness of glass and high-tech machinery, the mission design stays horribly repetitive; the staid “get from A to B” formula rarely takes any diversions.
The weaponry in Bodycount is unspectacular. There are 10 guns that you will eventually get access to, but during a mission, you can only carry two of them. You are stuck with these two weapons for the entirety of the level unless you find a weapons cache to change them. The standard fare of guns is available including silenced pistols, shotguns, SMGs, and assault rifles. They’re nicely animated and for the most part, are satisfying to use. They’re well-balanced, apart from the shotgun, which seems to have as much stopping power as a marshmallow. The weapons are not upgradeable, there is no reason to experiment with all of them, so your decision on which pair to use depends on whether you’re inclined to cause a generous amount of mayhem, or are interested in getting “skill shots”.
At the end of each level, you are graded on your performance. This mainly depends on the number of skill shots that you’ve managed to perform. Far removed from a typical skill shot that one would perform in Bulletstorm, the ones in Bodycount are terribly mundane. When you throw a grenade into a group of enemies, you get an “explosive” skill shot, and shooting an unsuspecting enemy from behind nets you a “headshot backstab”. Performing skill shots in Bodycount is as exciting as filling out a tax return. Bodycount’s lean-and-peek cover system lets you lean around corners or poke out from cover when you are aiming. This mechanic works quite well in helping you to line up the head shots, but if you’re not bothered by the grading system, it’s far more satisfying to shred through the cover that enemies are hiding behind, filling them and the walls behind them with a hail of bullets.
The in-game currency in Bodycount is intel and it is dropped whenever you down an enemy. The more skill shots you perform, the more intel that bursts forth from your vanquished foes. Intel is accumulated in your OSB (Operator Support Button) and you can use it to enhance your combat abilities, such as explosive bullets, or temporary invincibility, or calling in an airstrike. These capabilities are upgraded automatically during the course of the game. These abilities can come in handy towards the later stages of the game, but to a seasoned FPS player, the game can be won without these incidental bonuses.
The roster of enemies is small but they make up for it in aggression. If you happen to shoot at them from afar and miss, they will doggedly track you down, no matter how hard you try to break the line of sight. They’re not all that bright though, aside from making a bee-line to your location once they’ve spotted you, they never try to flank you, and often leave themselves exposed for several seconds. All the baddies are marked as blips on your radar and only a on a few occasions does the radar go offline, making the firefight a little less like shooting fish in a barrel. Differentiating between the enemies in the high-tech facilities becomes troublesome as these soldiers look remarkably similar save slightly different markings. They pack different weapons though, and in the particularly intensive firefights, you’ll not know which of these you’re up against, until they’re all up in your grill. The boss fights aren’t particularly stirring and in both cases, you’re up against the same enemy, having to use the very same technique to kill it.
After you have finished the game, the only replayability comes in via “Bodycount Mode” and the online multiplayer options. The former lets you replay the levels to advance your grade, and the latter sees you being able to compete online in the standard deathmatch, team deathmatch, and co-operative modes.
When all is said and blown up, Bodycount’s campaign isn’t terribly exciting. The weapon selection isn’t great, and neither is the roster of enemies. The missions are weak and repetitive and while the levels may be large, they aren’t particularly inspiring. The multiplayer component is equally lacklustre. Shredding through the environments and making this go boom can be fun, but for the most part I find Bodycount nothing more than a mindless experience. With good FPS games that have come before it (and a few more to come after it) Bodycount is in an unfortunate position. It is mired in an ever-filling bog of bland shooters.
Score: 5 out of 10 prawns
Distributor: Megarom Games
RRP: R499 (PS3, Xbox 360)
Release Date: 3 September 2011