Rack 'em up, knock 'em down - whose counting anyway?
A lot of people think that the original Xbox and PS2 game, Black, was grossly underrated, ahead of its time even. For good reason people were excited to hear that Stuart Black was working on a new title for the PS3 and Xbox 360, Bodycount. At some point during the production Stuart departed, leaving the rest of the able bodied at Codemasters to craft the bombastic and frantic shooter. It's safe to say that whether he had stayed on or not, Bodycount probably wasn't the game fans were clamoring for. It's a game with a handful of ideas, a few neat setups and absolutely no pay off.
Skillshot's Without Skill
Bodycount puts you on the side of The Network, a unit supposedly used to resolve conflicts between the States. In actuality you're simply there to fight a mysterious group called The Target, and what little story you get comes from a voice that also gives you your objectives. If the names of the groups don't make it obvious already, Bodycount doesn't bother itself with story, history, or details. And anything that goes on in the world in terms of story is shouted at you, never uncovered by your actions. That's not always a bad thing, and Bodycount may pretend to be a game built around just killing guys, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't have been better served by a good story and some real characters. The nondescript bad guys, The Target, lack a true villain, making your mission a boring one without consequence and reason.
The hook, then, should be the action, and Bodycount delivers plenty of that. Enemies pour out at you in a non-stop fashion, bullets fly fast and the world is really only there to crumble and explode around you. When it works, that premise is just fine, but the reality is that promise is never actually fulfilled in a satisfactory way. There are two main components that Codemasters relies on: Skillshot's and destruction. Neither are new, both can be fun, but Bodycount never commits.
Players are given a combo for each Skillshot done in succession, things like a headshot, a kill from behind, or a grenade kill. On paper that's fun, and we had a fantastic example of it this year with Bulletstorm (read our Review here). Unlike games where it's worked the Skillshot system is entirely arbitrary and unjustified within the context of the story. Skillshot also aren't graded by difficulty or skill, but streaks, meaning it's hardly necessary to do anything but headshot or grenade every opponent you come across to maintain your streak and achieve an A ranking. Since your ranking attributes nothing to your character, you don't upgrade or gain high level weaponry based on skill, it just ends up being a pointless mechanic. Simply put Bodycount betrays itself too often for this feature to be as thrilling as it needs to be.
This trend isn't isolated either, the explosive action that certain areas of the game display masterfully, is then ignored completely in favor of environments that can't be destroyed and, by extension, aren't nearly as interesting. You'll sometimes be able to blow straight through a wall, or a piece of cover, and when that happens you're reminded why games like this can be really fun. It's not as extensive as other destructible environment games, like Battlefield, but it adds a level of excitement that Bodycount desperately needs. This system is best utilized in multiplayer, where the easiest path is through crumbling walls, it's just unfortunate the game doesn't make use of this feature in a strategic way during the campaign.
If there's one redeeming factor that maintains through all modes and maps it's the visceral thrill of firing weapons. Guns and grenades are fun to use, watching other players run over your mines is exciting, and the games four special powers add their own flavor of fun. As you kill enemy's they drop an energy source that you can use as a form of currency for these moves and even for purchasing new guns in multiplayer. Using explosive rounds to blast away hordes of opponents is a great way to get through big battles, or implementing an air drop that launches huge explosions down a strip in front of you - killing everything in its path. As you progress through the 5 or 6 hour campaign the game will systematically upgrade these powers for you, missing the opportunity to put the player in control of the games most exciting feature.
The Look Of Everything
It hard not to get through Bodycount without being reminded of many other titles out there, even its aesthetic look feels like a mix of Brink and Borderlands. Codemasters funnels the player through dusty wastelands, Asian urban cities and futuristic monoliths. But every chapter ends with the same, singular focused section that becomes tiring after just the first pass through. Worse, the one area they continuously repeat is the one that doesn't abide to the destructible theme, and it doesn't add anything remotely interesting to the gameplay. I'm all for sci-fi tinged worlds, but Bodycount makes you long for the dirt and explosive canisters of its earlier areas anytime you step into one of its technologically advanced surroundings.
Throughout the game you'll hear but one voice, a woman that guides and directs you to your next objective. While many of the enemies look fine, it's hard to feel invested in your actions or theirs. The listless characters are painful, made increasingly obvious when you realize just how poor the AI is. Enemies charge at you in one direction without any semblance of self-preservation or strategy. It's shocking how easy it is to get through the game standing in one area accumulating headshots from a distance - it's also the easiest way to rack up Skillshots.
It makes sense then the Bodycount is at its best online against other, real opponents. Like everything though, Bodycount only goes halfway, giving players but three modes to enjoy, with only two of them being online versus play. Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes cycle over a few maps. Players will find that special abilities are best used here, destroying opponents and tipping the scales of battle in an instant. Unfortunately there's no real upgrade system, no individual perks or kill-streaks. In my time with the game I found there were never more than three matches going on at one time, and rarely more than one. Stranger, I found myself staring at the matchmaking screen for long stretches even with a full room of players, the game seemingly never willing to start the match. That's something that may be patched later, but with such a sparse online community already it's unlikely anyone will be around when they do. If you have a buddy you'll probably prefer the co-op mode where you fight waves of enemies, but don't expect to find anything new here either.
Bodycount is a game that on paper sells fun, setting you up for an explosive time that doesn't get bogged down in extracurricular nonsense. In reality Bodycount is a boring game with half-baked features that aren't utilized to their potential. It's a game with dreaded AI, uninspired locations and a soulless story. It's actually the perfect example of a game that should have taken the Section 8: Prejudice route: going cheap and avoiding direct competition with the real triple-A shooters on the market. Instead it'll limp onto store shelves and be forgotten in weeks. It's certainly not worth buying, but might keep you interested for a single afternoon - maybe - I just can't honestly recommend you spend the money on it to decide if it is.
Final Score: 40%
Weak -- It's not broken, but that's the best thing about it. Creatively bankrupt, painfully dull, or just plain pointless -- this game gives you no good reason to spend money on it.