Written : Tuesday, September 06, 2011
By: Richard Walker
Back in the day, Black was a shotgun blast up the backside for the FPS genre, with loud, meaty guns that tore up scenery, blasted doors off their hinges and sent enemies flying. Black was unashamedly arcadey too, revelling in staple shooter cliches like the exploding barrel and a hokey militaristic story. Initially positioned as a kind of spiritual successor to Black with Designer Stuart Black originally on-board, Bodycount shares a great deal of DNA with the 2006 Xbox and PS2 FPS, with big guns and bombast in spades, but sadly it doesn't have much of a brain to back it up.
Not that Black was particularly cerebral, but at the time it was something relatively new and different, whereas the same thing now feels stale and somewhat hackneyed in today's competitive shooter market. Bodycount has some great ideas and pleasing mechanics, but they're mired in a slapdash execution that sees repetitive environments rubbing shoulders with some pretty lazy design and gameplay that never quite seems to gel in the way you want it to.
One of the first problems we encountered while playing Bodycount were indistinct, generic enemies that seem to blend in to the drab level design, meaning that the only way you'll notice them is if they shoot in your direction. That's assuming that they manage to notice you first, as the enemy AI is truly shoddy. We thought that bad guys queueing up to get their lead salad was a video game convention consigned to the past, but in Bodycount it's alive and well, meaning you can usually hole up in a room and pick off bad guys one at a time if you want to play it that way.
"A rare instance in which the shotgun does its job."
Playing the game like this is of course quite silly, but if you have the patience and wherewithal to do so, you can. If you decide to put yourself in the line of fire and mix things up, you'll find that enemies will run past you and take a good few seconds before they turn to confront you, or they'll stand out in the open looking straight at you and doing nothing. When the AI does kick in, enemies will band together and fire at you with unerring accuracy, especially the snipers far in the distance that are invisible more often than not, making it impossible to draw a bead on them, as their laser sight teasingly dances around in the impenetrable mist.
This wouldn't be such a huge problem if it wasn't for the poor visual feedback when you're being shot, leading to some abrupt 'Asset Expired' screens when you least expect it. There's a lub-dub heartbeat sound effect and subtle controller vibration when you're close to death, but in the heat of a firefight, it's easy to lose track of how much damage you've taken. There's the now classic red haze around the edges of the screen too, but by the time you've noticed that, it's usually too late. Thankfully, the game does have instant restarts, which helps lessen the pain.
All too soon, Bodycount's single-player campaign still becomes a fairly tiresome slog, as you return to recycled levels you've just completed but in the reverse direction. And when the early Africa levels look almost exactly the same anyway, this just reeks of lacklustre level design. It's a shame, because on the whole, Bodycount doesn't actually look all that bad, and by the time you get to the levels in Asia, things starts to look up as Codies decide that a bit of variation might finally be in order. And to be fair, the Asia portion of the game isn't too bad from a visual standpoint, although the game's inherent issues and niggles obviously persist.
"Target man was impressed by Bill's novelty lighter."
After several hours of shooting the same stupid enemies, completing the same old generic objectives and general, all-round mediocrity, you'll be ready to consign Bodycount to the dustbin, but hold on a second... Could that be too hasty? After all, there's multiplayer too! Ah, yes multiplayer, or should that be the mode in which you sit in a lobby for an interminable amount of time only to have the game freeze or crash on you? If you're (un)lucky enough to get into a match, then you'll be subjected to yet more of the same piss poor, generic shooter gameplay, as the Target take on the Network in Deathmatch or Team Deathmatch modes. That's right, there's two modes. Two!
Perhaps you're hoping for some depth from your multiplayer, with customisation options, unlockables and rewards? You won't find any of that in Bodycount. You can take your two modes and that's all you're getting. The very fact that these two modes don't even work particularly well is quite possibly the final nail in Bodycount's coffin. It's simply unacceptable to put out such a bare bones multiplayer mode in this day and age, and then expect players to stick around. Already Bodycount's multiplayer population is dwindling, as we struggled to get a match going. In the lobby, you'll often find the 'Ready Up' button has vanished too, meaning you have to employ a trick to activate it. This kind of thing is shoddy beyond belief.
Bodycount doesn't even really have it where it matters, with a paltry selection of weapons to choose from. There's not even a frickin' sniper rifle for crying out loud. What's more, the shotgun is largely ineffectual, which is a kick in the crotch, forcing you to stick purely to the handful of automatic weapons available to you. You can lean in and out of cover, crouch behind it, pop up over it and even shred through it, and blasting through the destructible scenery is nice enough, but if that's what you really want, then Battlefield: Bad Company 2 does it a whole lot better, and has done for well over a year.
"Look at my glowing yellow starfish!"
There's an attempt at adding tactics and strategy to the game with the use of intel that you gather from fallen enemies to activate OSB support items, such as airstrikes, life-boosting adrenaline shots, shock waves and explosive bullets, but these mostly fall flat, so more often than not you'll just find yourself using the adrenaline to keep you from dying unexpectedly for the umpteenth time. There's even a co-op mode too, which presents some short-lived enjoyment, but it's simply not enough.
If there is a silver lining to Bodycount, it's the speed and frequency with which the achievements fly at you, granting 50 Gamerscore apiece alone for merely acquiring each of your four OSB abilities. There's straightforward progression-based achievements to be bagged by simply playing through single-player, and apart from a 1000 multiplayer kills achievement, you'll more than likely find an easy 500-600 Gamerscore to be gleaned without much effort.
On paper, Bodycount should have had a lot going for it, and at certain moments, there are flashes of what could have been a decent shooter, fighting to get out amid messy design and poorly executed game mechanics. We could continue writing a litany of faults and flaws that prevent Bodycount from becoming a decent FPS, but you'd be reading this review until Christmas. Simply put, Bodycount just doesn't cut it, and feels unfinished and incredibly rough around the edges. A missed opportunity.
A bombastic Hollywood-style movie score is marred by detached atmospheric sound effects and a soundtrack that occasionally cuts in and out. Gunfire sounds and explosions are excellent though, so kudos to Bodycount there.
Bodycount looks functional for the most part and nothing more. There are brief flashes of excellence at times, with some of the rainy, neon-soaked Asian locations, but the rest is just pedestrian.
Starting out heaping on the frustration, Bodycount seldom lets up throwing irritants your way, whether it's dodgy AI, annoying checkpoints or a weak, inexcusably dire multiplayer component.
Despite having its moments, the single-player is pretty piss poor on the whole and the multiplayer is even worse. Co-op siege mode and the replayable 'Bodycount Mode' do little to rescue a miserly package. 'Nuff said.
This is a run-of-the-mill achievement list, with a lot of simple progression-based tasks to complete, and it's a small mercy that they're rather easy too. There's a few multiplayer achievements to contend with, which would be fine if it worked like it should. There's an effortless 600 in here, and an easy 1000 if you can be bothered to put in the extra effort.
Bodycount could have been so much more than the generic FPS that it's turned out to be. It has its moments, but they're too few and far between in a game that's plagued with imperfections and glaring flaws. Bodycount is not a completely terrible game by any means, it just feels dated and doesn't measure up to the high standards set by most of today's shooters. It's Shoddycount.