If low grade, mediocre-at-best shooters are your thing, then you should feel right at home playing Bodycount, the latest effort from the now defunct team that brought you the well-received Black back in 2006. With the likes of Crysis 2 and Deus Ex standing tall as fine examples of what a shooter can accomplish (not to mention the upcoming Battlefield and Modern Warfare games), the fact that this title exists in its current form and has hit shelves following the summer dearth must be called into question. You know we didn’t like it – now found out why.
In Bodycount, you play as a faceless soldier working for an organization referred to as The Network. Very little, if anything is revealed about this mysterious company; only that they work above and beyond the UN and have their reasons in trying to prevent the catastrophe of open war. To that end, they send in top soldier, Jackson, to seemingly take out every living being with zero back-up. Make no mistake; you’re very much on your own as you take on the crazed enemies that pour in from every corner, and we really do mean every corner. This is arcade action in a very simple form, with sparse story or character progression to distract you from the endless waves of cannon fodder. This is not a good thing.
Right off the bat you’ll notice that something is amiss. For one, the controls are immediately irksome; where the handling of a dozen other past games would have worked fine, we’re instead presented with a bizarre and useless system which lets you weave in and out of cover… in theory. In practise, it’s much more likely to get in the way, leading to a playstyle involving running and blasting everything in sight without thought – though to be fair, this seems to be the very tactic that Bodycount likes to encourage. Unless developers can genuinely add to a game with some nice surprises and fresh mechanics, the control system of the COD franchise is best emulated rather than tampered with.
The graphics of Bodycount don’t stand out in any way, and are likely to have you rethinking your purchase the moment you turn it on (of course we are aware that graphics should never come at the cost of engaging gameplay), as everything looks unfinished and blurry. The muddy landscapes don’t help either, presenting a world lacking in resolution or much character at all. Sub-par graphics can usually be forgiven with some creative art design, but in Bodycount we can only imagine that the design team took an extended leave of absence, offering nothing but a few jumbled ideas for the programmers to work with. Only on very rare occasions does any kind of flair shine through, when splashes of colour permeate through the enduring shades of brown to present something that could be considered pleasing on a visual level. Winding shanty towns complete with oil drums and grubby paths are present and accounted for, and you may even welcome the cool blues of the Target bases, at least to begin with.
If we were to commend the game for any one feature, it would probably be the sound design, which has moments that genuinely get the blood pumping at key moments. The fact that the soundtrack is capable of making you feel like an army-swatting badass in a game that fails to provide on so many levels means it holds some value. If anything, this is the single case where Bodycount understands its identity and plays to its strengths, but as the levels are so intense, you can expect to hear little more than the rattles of gunfire as you make your way through the linear campaign. The few cutscenes present do almost nothing to progress the story or add depth. They’re shown from the first-person perspective and look polished compared to the levels themselves, but such a thing is hardly an achievement. Voice work is merely serviceable, guiding you between points and briefly explaining why a certain action must be performed.
The name of the game is in the hectic nature of the firefights. It can seem like you’re cutting through hundreds of enemies just to make it to the end of a single stage, and often that may be exactly what you’re doing. The trade-off is that it can often feel like you’ve been blasting away for far longer than you actually have, where a fifteen minute session can seem like an hour. Checkpoints can be cruelly placed during challenging moments, though enemies show little in the way of intelligence, resorting to strength in numbers rather than any form of strategy. One moment you might have to chase down a foe, then the next you’ll be tasked with fighting off waves of enemies before you can deactivate a machine (this is generally achieved by holding a button). A couple of timed segments fail to switch things up, and the suicidal, explosive enemies only serve to irritate.
To help alleviate the difficulty, Jackson is granted four special abilities that become more powerful over the course of the game. Explosive bullets are particularly useful and add a huge power boost should you be confronted by a brute with a gattling gun. Air strikes can wipe out many enemies at once, but these powers should be used sparingly as you won’t know what challenges lay just a short way ahead. On the flipside, Bodycount’s ammo stocks never become an issue – enemies drop stocks like candy and it’s just as well given the sheer volume of foes Jackson will be facing. If having a quiet moment to breathe in games is your thing, then this is one to avoid.
Multiplayer is more barebones than you might expect from a shooter at the tail end of 2011. Deathmatch is the obvious choice, but it won’t be pulling your attention from the obvious favourites, so don’t expect to find replay value here. You can take the fight co-op if you’re feeling particularly bold, but in this case the game presents you with a handful of environments, and (surprise, surprise) then pits you against waves of foes. There’s no option to play the campaign with a buddy – which could have increased the fun factor tenfold in a game such as this – but sadly this was not to be.
With a short, linear and derivative campaign plus a multiplayer offering unlikely to distract for long, Bodycount just doesn’t have enough going for it to warrant a purchase, even at a bargain bin price. What we’ve been presented with here is the definition of blandness, coupled with exasperating arcade kicks simply begging for a complete overhaul. You may enjoy the basic action for the first hour, to be fair, but when one muddy level blends in to the next with just a handful of palette changes then you’ll know it wasn’t a sound purchase. It may not be so atrocious as to be rendered unplayable, but Bodycount should probably be left in the gaming morgue rather than probed for redeeming qualities.
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