The Body Count Rises
In the past couple of years, the FPS formula has been reworked by developers wary of diving into the same pool of realistic shooters as the Battlefield and Call of Duty series. This has birthed prospective alternatives with outlandish features and a more action-oriented, arcade-like experience.
Following a similar path to games like Bulletstorm and Brink, developer Guildford Studios and publisher Codemasters are braving this relatively unknown territory with Bodycount, in the hopes of bringing something new to the table. The problem, from what we’ve heard thus far, is that all the game elements designed to shake things up and stand out from the crowd have either been done before or just may be too off-putting for the FPS community.
Story and characters have steadily become a more important factor in the ultimate success of any game, including shooters. Players want to feel for the heroes rather than just enjoying the primal satisfaction of taking out an entire army of bad guys. But in Bodycount, story and character take a backseat to action, and developers have admitted to making it more about the guns than anything.
That’s not to say there’s no story whatsoever; you play an ex-army soldier named Jackson, enlisted by a private military agency called “The Network.” The Network is trying to solve world conflicts using methods unsanctioned by the United Nations. Most notably, your objective is to take down an extremely well-equipped and slightly futuristic enemy known only as “The Target.”
The campaign takes place through the course of three acts, each involving a different locale and thus featuring a varied visual aesthetic. The first and lengthiest portion will be a battle in an African setting, filled with yellows, browns, greens, and the expected shanties. In Act two, the location moves eastward to an urban Asia, where blues, purples, and neon signage fill the area. The endgame will take you into the belly of the beast, as you attempt to topple the Target facility, with black and white shades dominating the screen, and laser-like red accents everywhere. Everything about the Target has an edge, and the enemy soldiers don what’s being viewed as a modern take on a medieval suit of armor. None of these locations are designed to represent a specific city or site, but just a general backdrop. This fits in the line with goal of breaking from a historically accurate shooter.
But, as was mentioned earlier, it’s the guns that Bodycount was built for. Each weapon has been crafted to unleash a nonstop barrage of lethal damage. Despite the expected small arsenal, there are no lightweights here: assault rifles, machine guns, and shotguns take center stage. Apart from the bullet-wielders, a variety of different grenade types will be just as satisfying to unleash. Guildford wants to keep your trigger finger working, so you’ll rarely have to go on an ammunition hunt or be frugal with your clips.
The real dynamic of the game comes in the form of environmental shredding, as nearly everything can be ripped to the ground with any ammo that meets it. This presents the biggest gameplay differential, where cover is never considered a permanent safe haven. You’ll constantly be on the move, scrambling for a new barrel or building to hide behind; but this also works to your advantage, as you can disintegrate walls and other enemy shelters to pump your opponents full of lead.
Because of the constant environmental evolution (or de-evolution, rather), a new system called “cover lean” allows more freedom to target enemies from behind cover. Instead of fully exposing yourself with static movements, you can peak and shift in a more variable manner, placing your gun barrel through a newly formed hole to dispatch the enemy. The new control scheme will require the player to reeducate their hands to adapt to the new cover system, which may alienate some FPS-oholics who’ve perfected the more standard methods.
Instead of cash, kills award you with a currency called Intel, which is used to purchase special aids and upgrades like explosive ammunition, radar augments, temporary invincibility, and airstrikes. You can increase the yield of Intel with combos, chains, and skill kills (like taking out an enemy behind cover).
Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, as well as a non-campaign based co-op, are the only online multiplayer modes currently listed. The firefights will undoubtedly be different for each round, even on the same maps, with the gradually destroyed arena demanding a new set of tactics as the battle progresses. Quite frankly, what surprises me is that Capture the Flag and King of the Hill haven’t been announced. These seem like they’d be a perfect fit for the environmental shredding, granting new ways to defend or capture your target.
All in all, I applaud Codemasters and Guildford Studio for the dedication they have in making Bodycount something atypical to the mass of other first-person shooters out there. That being said, their ideas are not completely original – the shredding concept is basically a more tepid version of that seen in the Red Faction series, and the freedom granted with an arcade design has been accomplished on a grander, more “out there” creativity scale, like Bulletstorm. It’ll still be a game to at least rent and have one run through, and who knows, maybe there are more hidden games and fun gameplay options that haven’t been announced yet. We’ll find out when it’s released on August 30 for the PS3 and Xbox 360.