When Bodycount works, in those brief moments where the old-school FPS mentality, trumpeted game mechanics and big explosions come together to form a riotous synthesis, it's impossible not to let a big smile break out on your face. But it doesn't last long, early promise almost always crushed by a sense of unfinished business, lacklustre level design and an utter commitment to half-heartedness.
If you were expecting Bodycount to be a statement of intent, if you bought into the developers' hype of touting the game as something breaktakingly fresh and original, putting the fun back into FPS gaming, then you're about to be horribly disappointed.
Bodycount does get it's initial remit right, to a certain extent. The guns - at least those of them that are in the game - have been lovingly put together, the weapon balancing is some of the best around, the feedback satisfying both in sound and feel. Firing these devices is fun, sadly there aren't really enough of them. The grenades are a lot of fun, but when one of the best things you can say about a game is that it lets you choose between timed delayed grenades and instant impact explosions, you know you're in trouble.
Moreover, the problems deepen when you begin to hit things. For a game that made a big deal out of destructible cover, it's telling that Bodycount barely even compares to the original Frostbite engine is this respect. 'Shredding' is fun when it works (which is distressingly patchy), but only if you've never played any of the Battlefield: Bad Company titles. Furthermore, the pantomime deaths exhibited by the enemies you take down seem to have little to do with the area in which they were original shot. In fact the AI in general is scatterbrained at best, and suicidally apathetic at worst.
Having multiple warring factions in the game is a good thing, when it works it brings a tension to the open-world areas and the gameplay that's otherwise sorely missed. But too often you'll find yourself standing a metre away from a guard, having just offed all of his mates, watching as he blithely ignores your existence, or the fresh cadavers around him.
But I really wanted to love Bodycount. It has some interesting ideas in it, from the woefully underused lean mechanic to a colour palette that winds its way around the colour wheel as the game progresses. There are the instant restarts too - not an innovation as such - but the game shoves you straight back into the action with barely an afterthought. This a thing that we want in more games, please. No lingering camera shots of corpses, there's a goddamn world to save. And you'll die a lot. If the game had been longer, and more interesting, if the AI and level design had been more focused and less vague, it would have been a perfect proponent for 'just one more go'. Sadly, although the respawn time is very impressive, the placement of checkpoints is hardly what one would call 'generous', and your reward for completing a particularly fiendish bit is often that, not having seen that one remaining sniper, you get to do it all over again.
I want to take a specific look at that lean mechanic. Holding down the left trigger roots you to the spot and allows you to essentially bob and weave around the cover that's been shredded to bits (supposedly) around you. It's a nice idea, and one that borught back memories of leaning around corners in Goldeneye, but it's a feature that is rendered pretty useless for a good 70% of the game, because you're pushed into wide open spaces. Only when you begin infiltrating the bases of rival organisation, the Target, does the corridor-shooter such a function was born to accompany actually emerge. Although an interesting mechanic, it's implementation presents something of an issue too, with iron-sights available to you by half-pressing the trigger. What this invariably leads to is you trying to aim with increased accuracy during a firefight and inadvertently rooting yourself to the spot. And dying. Lots.
And herein lies Bodycount's biggest issue: lining up under-developed old-school ideas with under-developed modern trappings. Why for example, and we shrieked this at the screen when it came to Duke Nukem Forever earlier this year, can you only carry two guns in a game like this? Why on earth is this concession to 'realism' made in a title that primarily purports to being an arcade-style shooter? Why, for a game in which one would think pacing is key, is pathfinding so irritating? Why dies the game literally rehash and replicate entire maps in an already chronically short play-time? Why, for a game that's supposedly all about the guns, aren't there more guns?!
Bodycount does work occasionally. When you find yourself in a Target base - or Nexus, as they call it - things suddenly slip into place. The claustrophobic, futuristic, angular corridors provide perfect opportunity to make the most of that innovative duck-and-weave mechanic coupled with a classic run-and-gun style of play. The clinically polished surroundings, littered with sparks as bullets go flying, surging through the action against the clock, reminds us a bit of Perfect Dark. But then it's over, far too quickly, and its back to mediocrity, or the endgame screen - Bodycount clocked in just under seven and a half hours for us. But I game ridiculously slowly, and there are reports of people polishing this thing off in 4-5 hours.
You can replay levels to bump up your score - the game grades you upon completion of each level - but you won't really want to, and there is a co-op survival mode, but that just results in two people yelling obscenities at the screen rather than one. Still, misery loves company. The multiplayer component of the game is fun in places, but feels more like a demo than a fully fledged addition, so bare is the gaming meat covering its bones.
At the end of the day, Bodycount isn't really a bad game, there are some fun times to be had here, but only if you're willing to put up with a certain amount of frustration and an identity crisis so severe that makes Ben Stiller's character in Tropic Thunder look like a grounded individual. We should probably be thankful that it was released at all, but somehow, on this evidence, it's difficult to muster anything more than a shrug.
- It got finished
- Nexus levels are good fun
- Some nice ideas
- ...but often poorly implemented
- Doesn't quite know what it wants to be
- Short and lacking in supplemental content
The Short Version: Sadly, Bodycount's good ideas prove either underdeveloped or drowned out by poor AI, dubious level design or not knowing what kind of a game it actually wants to be. Shame.