Any title attempting to muscle its way to the forefront of the gaming public’s imagination, particularly in such a competitive genre as the modern FPS, must have some incredible quality to make its appearance anything other than a mere footnote.
Our preview build only showed minor glimpses of the title, providing just three missions of the games total of seventeen. These were only available in Bodycount Mode, which allows gamers to replay storyline missions in order to hopefully improve their final score (a la Bulletstorm/The Club). None of the promised co-op or online features had been enabled, hence we won’t comment on the quality of those particular areas.
As this is the spiritual successor to the last gen classic Black, the surroundings take a noticeable visual hammering as you spew forth bullet after bullet. Although not every single piece of scenery can be destroyed – buildings will always maintain a basic structure – there is certainly the possibility to carve yourself new paths in which to surprise your enemies. Wielding a heavy shotgun during the first of the games missions, we regularly blasted our way through sides of the flimsy shanty town we found ourselves in, allowing us to get around the back of groups of enemies just ripe for a swiftly tossed grenade.
This mechanic, while enjoyable – although quite how enemies fail to hear the shotgun blasts and crumpling masonry from mere feet away bewilders us – did throw up the first of numerous minor glitches we encountered. A test blast at a table saw half its bulk be blown away. Another two and as the dust cleared we expected to see nothing more than dust. Instead one lone piece of table proceeded to float in mid-air, nothing holding it aloft. A minor flaw, but enough to encourage a critical eye.
While the enemy may seem to be slightly hard of hearing, they also appear quite unafraid of danger. Despite shoving a shotgun in the face of one opponent and smearing his brains across a nearby wall, his compatriot little more than two metres away remained facing in the opposite direction. Instances of sheer idiocy were numerous enough to make it quite a major concern, particularly when other enemies would gleefully spot you from an unseen hiding point a hefty distance away.
The levels we were provided with did thankfully provide a vastly different visual experience. The first, within a dusty shanty town packed with the standard genre fare of various shades of brown, was at least moderately attractive, if entirely generic. The second from much later in the campaign was all sleek lines and the kind of aesthetics you’d expect to witness in a high concept sci-fi thriller. Again it provided a fairly attractive backdrop – the best of the three truth be told – but lacked the kind of wow factor that the real top dogs provide. The last, on a wind and rain swept fishing village, was frustratingly blue to the point that enemies were actually quite difficult to spot. By far the least impressive of the three. Frame rate issues raised their ugly heads, though there’s time yet for technical tweaks before the games retail release.
Weaponry felt suitably powerful when against staunchly human foes, and even the bits and pieces of backdrop as we mentioned earlier. However, against arbitrary armoured enemies, and even simply large humans, numerous shotgun blasts could be required before they’d finally perish. It’s an unusual situation – and design decision – as it caused what initially feels like an absolutely spot on weapon and enemy design to suddenly feel frustrating and random. An almost universal truth is that if a shotgun blast occurs on any human head within a few metres, they’ll either explode in a sea of red, or at least tumble to the floor in a timely death. Here, simply because they happen to be a couple of feet taller and wider, the same short range trigger pull is required a half dozen times before they crumple to the floor.
The Bodycount Mode we were able to try seemed to be a much of a similar fashion to Bulletstorm. Kills in stylish fashion causes corpses to collapse in a flood of Crackdown esque glowing orbs. Points are accumulated, while chaining together Skill Kills causes your score to ramp up ever higher. It’s an excellent idea, but the in game interface doesn’t really display what you’re doing right or wrong blatantly enough to encourage you to try new things. Where Bulletstorm would flash up how many points it’s adding to your total and a childish name, Bodycount simply displays a generic name. It’s hard to get too excited when the bombastic way that Bulletstorm tossed figures into our eyeline has been ignored.
If all this sounds like we aren’t big fans of Bodycount, a lot of these issues could easily be the kind that could be tweaked and fixed before release. With the technical problems and glitches eradicated, and a tweaked enemy AI, Bodycount could be all set to be a pretty solid shooter. And if the rest of the games campaign, co-op, and multiplayer modes prove to be a cut above what we’ve seen so far, it could even carve a niche for itself in this busy genre.
But that’s all ifs and buts. From what we’ve seen and tried so far, Bodycount looks like it may be out of luck. And considering full release appears the same day as the latest in the Deus Ex saga, it might be hitting the bargain bins even before the real big hitters arrive in November. Keep an eye out for our final verdict to hear the definitive opinion.
Bodycount is out later this month for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.