In today’s market of lengthy awareness campaigns and primetime television adverts, Codemasters’ Bodycount is something of an oddity. Jumping out of nowhere with a reveal that appeared to suggest a high profile release akin to a new title in the Halo or Killzone franchises, the game quickly disappeared back to whence it came. Only showing itself on choice occasions and rarely offering anything new, Bodycount was consigned to the league of ‘wannabe’ First-Person Shooter (FPS) titles when considering the amount of potentially groundbreaking releases coming to retail in 2011. However, that was until we played it, at which point Electronic Theatre suggested that maybe we should all sit up and take note once again.
Ten years ago, every FPS aspired to be Bodycount, nowadays there’s nothing else like it on the market. It’s a game designed to be little more than a tactically explosive piece of entertainment. It’s a brash and unforgiving white knuckle ride in which the player will shoot nearly as much as they move, in which caution is frequently thrown to the wind, and in which the one-man army that is the player face off against not just one, not two, but three enemy forces.
The Campaign delivers a story that is clearly superfluous to the action, as is made abundantly clear by Codemasters’ decision to opt for labels as opposed to names. The player is known as The Operative, an asset of the Network fighting an oppressive force known as The Target. The Target are the black knight enemies featured in the game, high-tech equipment coupled with metallic base colours and angular design offers a futuristic aesthetic, and a great contrast to the other two enemy types: the rebels and the militia. The rebels are a local band of warriors, defending their turf against the invaders. Heavily armed but not at all well defended, they fight against the militia’s standardised troops and tactical positioning: while the rebels may have large mini-gun wielding units, the militia have medics, snipers, and a great faith in explosive weaponry.
As the player tackles these numerous foes – often simultaneously, as they also engage in combat with one another – Bodycount does include a system in which players are rewarded for specific kills, and already comparisons to Epic Games and People Can Fly’s Bulletstorm have been pouring in. However, the mechanics of each system are very different, with Bodycount rewarding skilful play as opposed to varying tactics. Taking down enemies through cover when low on health, achieving a kill with the last round in your gun or taking down enemies without alerting them to you presence: these are the things Bodycount considers worthy of praise, rather than simply mixing weapon combinations and taking down multiple enemies in quick succession. The reward for engaging in such activities is significantly different also, as the player gains Intel for these kills (as well as an end of level points tally and grade) which is used to charge the meter that governs the special abilities available to the player.
Coming in four flavours, the special abilities are commanded via the D-Pad, and are greatly limited so as not to unbalance the flow of play. From the tactical use of airstrikes to the ability to enter an overcharged mode in invulnerability, the player can rely on these special additions to aid them when encountering tricky spots, but their use is only essential on very rare occasion.
The levels frequently flit between expansive, open ended designs and tight corridors, demanding the player change tactics regularly throughout the game. The former offers opportunity for experimentation with the weapon and skill sets, while the latter put more demand on the knowledge already gained. The fact that there is not a punishment for death besides the reloading of a local checkpoint – including no loading delay whatsoever – offers an even greater invitation to experiment; rarely will there be an occasion when the player isn’t tempted to sprint around the next corner armed with only a few shotguns shells and a grenade, and rarely is there an occasion when that isn’t enough to make at least some small dent in the enemy’s pride.
And this is one of the key elements that makes Bodycount such an intriguing prospect: the expansive level design giving you far more options than strictly necessary, the objectives that have you moving back and forth across the map and the general feel of the weaponry are all hallmarks or a game that has used the Nintendo 64 classic Goldeneye 007 as it’s template opposed to modern big budget titles such as Halo or Call of Duty. It’s a game that stands up to repeated play and experimentation within the levels given. It’s a game that you’ll play through a second time not just for that GamerScore, but because it will still feel fresh. Quite frankly, in the modern market of ‘me-too’ titles, Bodycount is a rare treat.
In addition to the single-player campaign are two further gameplay modes: Multiplayer and Bodycount Mode. Multiplayer is as would be expected, and while the deathmatch and team deathmatch modes are enjoyable, it’s not likely that a huge and long lasting community will be established. A welcome addition, but Bodycount would arguably be no weaker without it. More interesting is the co-operative gameplay of the co-operative gameplay: Bodycount’s own survival mode in which players have to fight through twenty waves of foes. The Bodycount Mode is simply the option to play through previously completed levels at any point and attempt to achieve a better grade.
The visual design of Bodycount is very interesting, but could well contribute to it’s seemingly lack of attention from the wider audience. It looks fantastic, colourful and rickety at one minute then sturdy and sterile the next, but it’s this step aside that’s both it’s strongest aesthetic quality and the weak link in the chain: for every gamer astounded by the bold visual style, there’ll be another turned off by the modern day science-fiction setting. Given the lack of importance the story holds, it’s frequently surprising to see the amount of attention that has been placed on giving each faction a believable set of motives: if the game plays like a modern Goldeneye 007, its visual quality is a modern TimeSplitters.
Bodycount is an entirely surprising game. If you haven’t paid too much attention to it thus far – and you wouldn’t be blamed for not doing so – it’s time to rethink your September purchases. It’s a new take on a old style challenge that feels fresh throughout the duration of its campaign, and provides enough multiplayer entertainment to allow you to feel as though your money has been well spent. For gamers that have become weary of fighting with futuristic alien invaders or bored of Call of Duty’s sterilised gunplay, Bodycount is nothing less than a breath of fresh air. More than anything else, Bodycount is simple, gratifying, instant fun.