A lot of fans of that most underrated and culty of last-gen FPSs – the hardcore Criterion mini-masterpiece Black – are counting on Bodycount being the sequel that they’ve been waiting four long years for. It’s too early to tell whether Codemaster’s Guildford studio (featuring members of the original Black team) have nailed it as comprehensively as it seems at this point, but they are clearly all too aware of those towering fan expectations, and appear to be more than dedicated to meeting them.
Bodycount is about nothing more complicated than guns, guns and more guns. One of the game’s lead creators is keen to describe the game’s DNA thus: “Bodycount is about guns. It’s about squeezing the trigger and unleashing that raw power, and it’s about the cause and effect involved in that. It’s about environmental shredding. It’s not about set-pieces; it’s about localised gameplay devices that take place up close…” That talk about the environmental cover dynamic being “vital” to the gunplay isn’t hyperbole either; if you don’t use every available new nook as an outlet for your iron sights, you’re dead meat.
In short, this is an arcade game to its very core, and its plot is endearingly flippant. You play as a (apparently silent) James Bond figure who trots around the world mopping up in the aftermath of chaotic (and dangerous) governmental screw-ups; a reliable servant for a faceless corporation known as the “Network”. The game commences as a band of be-suited scumbags known as the “Target” begin to rise to prominence; a comparable but much more immoral organisation, the Target are charmingly simplistic yin/yang villains; the Shelbyville to the Network’s Springfield, if you will.
But Codemasters Guildford are very keen to stress that all of this is deliberately secondary to the gameplay, which is all about dexterous, cool-headed carnage. The enemies are all class based and colour coded, and dispatching them in the correct order looks like being a big part of the fun. In one sequence (which took place in an all-glass enemy facility that looked like something out of Tron) we watched as the player was bombarded with enemies; white ones were fast but stupid and easily killed, and red ones were crafty and tough, but slow moving.
The gunplay is based around maintaining lofty skill-kill chains, and the most skill points are earned by using the destructible cover to your advantage. Colour coded icons are awarded after every kill, all of which fill an ‘Intel’ meter; every time you max it out, you gain access to perks like radar upgrades and air strikes. Because you’re often dropped into the middle of a turbulent warzone, your enemies aren’t always part of the same faction, and if you’re finding things too tough – and/or you’re prepared to sacrifice your point tally – you can simply stand back and leave pockets of the two groups to kill each other before you proceed.
There are also multiple routes through each level, encouraging multiple playthroughs in order to find the perfect high-score sweet spot. A new cover system also commendably simplifies things – press the left trigger and you’re immediately placed in cover, but can still duck and weave around when pieces of that cover go flying. Bodycount isn’t a mega-budget blockbuster, so although it’s looking slick, visually it isn’t anything to write home about; but the same was the case with Black and that has such a strong reputation for a very good reason. Bodycount has more in common with Japanese shmups than it does with something like Modern Warfare 3 say, and it’s looking rather a lot like that Black sequel that everyone has been hoping for.
Bodycount is currently due for release on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 in August this year.
Watch the Bodycount trailer here: