It seems that we’re finally experiencing a reaction to the seemingly never ending stream of Call of Duty clones vying for every first-person shooter fans limited attentions. The likes of Bulletstorm and Brink have shunned the quest for realistic visuals, incomprehensible storylines and a never ending sea of red-dot sights in a bid to provide something a little different, primarily by concentrating on gameplay styles that fly in the face of the ‘spawn point trigger’ norm. Bodycount seems to be following in the same vein. Perhaps it has something to do with the letter ‘B’…
The set-up is like something from an eighties action movie. You play a ‘war veteran enabled asset’ (whatever that means) who has been recruited by a mysterious, faceless organisation known as ‘The Network’. The Network’s specialty is in cleaning up the warzones that governments have either failed to pacify or haven’t even attempted to dirty themselves in trying to do so.
Your primary clean up job in this instance is a group known simply as ‘The Target’, a bizarre set of individuals who seem set on proving that ‘futuristic knight’ is a genuinely attractive style of dress. There are no extra-curricular story threads, no needy, bromantic partners in arms… no fuss, no mess. No genius writer of Commando would be proud.
What this threadbare ploy allows you to do is concentrate on the gameplay itself, a concept that seems to have fallen out of vogue ever since someone introduced the buzzword ‘cinematic’ to videogames. Bodycount is unapologetically ‘gamey’ and, even over the course of our two short demo levels, it’s clear that that’s where its charm and attraction resides.
For starters, pick-ups (ammo, grenades etc) are only dropped by dispatched enemies, forcing you to keep the aggression levels high and rids the gameplay of the standard shoot, advance, wait, shoot, advance structure of the majority of military based FPS’ of this generation. It’s a breath of fresh air and one the genre has been screaming out for in the face of the standardised formula of mediocrity we’ve become used to.
During our demo we never came close to running low on ammo or having to wait to catch sight of the next enemy – being thrifty, stealthy or cautious isn’t on this game’s radar. Apparently there are ten different guns in all although we only got to test out the standard assault rifle and shotgun (only two guns can be carried at one time). Both play as you would imagine, the assault rifle is effective at medium to long range and the shotgun excels up close. If you do manage to land a shotgun blast at point-blank range you’ll be treated to a view only usually available to Rambo or the Terminator as your unlucky foe is forced backwards, head over heels, as though they’ve been hit by a tomahawk missile… if they happen to standing by a ledge then they’re doubling unlucky.
In order to utilise these weapons properly you first need to get to grips with Bodycount’s cover/aiming system. Traditional ‘iron sights’ aiming is achieved by pressing down on the left trigger only halfway, whereas a full press snaps you into cover. There are no pre-defined points of cover, you simply snap to whatever makeshift barrier is closest to you at the time. Given the quantity of enemies, and The Target’s better-than-usual firing accuracy, it’s a system that quickly proves valuable and one that’s essential to master.
When behind a piece of cover you can lean out left or right by pressing in that direction on the left stick, while poking your head over the top is achieved by pressing forwards. However, simply camping behind cover is a smart tact as almost everything in the game can either by destroyed or shot through (dubbed as ‘Environmental Shredding’), forcing you move often and quickly. Of course, what the enemy can destroy, you can also destroy…
Aside from your firearms you’ve also got mines and grenades to play with. Hit left bumper and you’ll throw out a set of three proximity mines in a horizontal line in front of you. These can either be left in place for an enemy to stumble across or you can shot at them to explode them prematurely. The mines came in particularly handy during the end of the second level which sees you defending the tip of a crane from a Target onslaught, the high numbers of enemies meaning we always had a means of resupplying ourselves with their ‘Intel’ drops.
Grenades can be used in the usual way of throwing them and waiting for them to explode or they can be launched directly at the enemy and set to detonate on contact – it’s hardly a genre-busting feature but it’s a handy tool nonetheless.
At the end of each stage you’re bombarded with the usual stats detailing kills, completion time etc, along with info of your ‘skill shots.’ Skill shots are awarded for difficult and/or creative kills such as headshots, multi-kills and blasting enemies through cover. These are tallied up at the end of a round and used to determine a final grade. This grade is then uploaded to a leaderboard so you can rank your prowess against your friends and the rest of the world.
Of the two missions we played it was the first one that was most striking both visually and in temrs of action. Taking place in the headquarters of The Target – a place that has taken significantly influence from Tron, decked out with high dark walls and ceilings punctuated by beams of bright blue and red light – our mission here was to blow the place up and get out before we got caught up in the blast – again, the writer of Commando would be proud.
The second mission was more standard in its visual approach, taking place in a shanty town of dilapidated buildings and muddy streets (a ‘Pirate Bay’ we’re told). The area has been designed with many tiers, meaning there’s a good sense of vertically to the gunplay with bullets coming from above and/or below you depending on your position. As previously mentioned, this is where the crane defence scene took place which ends with a macho dive into oblivion from the top of the structure once The Target have been vanquished – the writer of Commando…
At its core, Bodycount is unashamedly arcade-y. It revels in its lack of story, direction and frilly bits. In a way it reminded me of Geometry Wars 2 in that it’s essential to keep the pressure up, loot fallen enemies for pick-ups and make sure you remain the aggressor rather than the passive party. Invariably, the big question mark with games of this ilk is whether they can remain appealing over the long-term. Bodycount is set to include both co-op and competitive multiplayer which may help in that regard.
…we’ll have to wait and see this September.
**Tangent Alert!** By the way, Steven E. de Souza wrote the screenplay for Commando – the same guy behind Die Hard, Die Hard 2, 48 Hrs and Beverly Hill Cop 2… a God among men.