Bodycount was one of those games that just kind of snuck up on the radar for me. It didn't get a lot of press, for reasons I was unsure of but still somewhat concerned about, and it looked like this generation's Black, or maybe even Soldier of Fortune. A demo was released, but I got a copy in for review before I got a chance to check that out. Sure enough, this is a pure FPS in the vein of Black. In a direct comparison, it's not as good as Black or Soldier of Fortune, but if you're looking for a guns blazing, no questions asked, FPS, and can stomach some key shortcomings, read on.
In Bodycount, players control a nameless/faceless/speechless 'asset' who works for a hard justice-dishing peace keeping organization known simply as The Network. Their belief is along the lines of 'extreme times call for extreme measures,' in other words, they're not afraid to get their hands dirty to help resolve some of the world's global problems, and prefer to let their bullets do all the talking.
Expect nonstop action -- no keys or puzzle sequences to slow you down, just very linear directives that involve you shooting anything that moves as you blast your way from one objective point to the next to unravel just what the hell is going on with the civil war in Africa and the unrest in Asia. The Target, a secretive organization, is somehow involved and over the course of the campaign, it's up to you and Network headquarters (but mostly you of course) to figure it out.
Controls are familiar and functional -- about the only thing that took some getting used to was the crouching and cover system, which uses L2 + RS to allow you to duck, pop-up, and peek around coverage. Bodycount has some unique (I haven't seen them at least) grenade throwing controls, too. In addition to the standard toss, and hold-to-cook mechanic, there is also a control mechanism to throw an impact grenade: simply double tap RB and you will toss a grenade that blows on impact, rather than waiting for a timer to expire.
You're able to carry two weapons at a time. The game features a variety of realistic military weapons, and a couple of fakes ones that Target baddies carry. Realistic weapons include the H&K G36 (as seen on the box art), a Sig Sauer P226, on up to a FN brand SPW (similar to a SAW-249). Weapons can generally be changed at convenient weapon stations positioned at the start of missions, and new weapons are unlocked as you progress through the story. Weapons are not upgradeable, but there is a good variety, and all of the weapons have a good 'weight' to them, i.e., a good sense of feedback and response. As usual, my favorite combination ended up being an assault rifle with a slightly more accurate assault rifle as my secondary weapon, or the G36 and Tavor CTAR in Bodycount. By pressing 'Y,' you can quickly switch back and forth. Oh, you're not able to run and reload, which I found an interesting design choice, given this game's fast-paced, almost completely arcade-like action.
General mission flow has the asset being dropped off near or behind the hot zone, and chasing down several objective points that are always clearly marked in your field of view. My biggest complaint with the layout of these objective points is that they have you zig-zagging back and forth across the map, with respawned enemies waiting for you on return trips back to places you were just at a few minutes ago. It's a design that I don't particularly like; I certainly don't mind level design that "wraps around" but the amount of double-backing and backtracking in Bodycount is a bit much.
On the other hand, the level design isn't too bad in terms of layout. There is a good mixture of levels that are wide open, with a long field of view, and more enclosed areas. In either case, the visuals are not very pretty, especially in the first Target base you stumble upon in the fake Tasenga (sp) Republic of Africa. Bodycount was made with the EGO Engine, which Codemasters has previously used for GRID, DiRT, and Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising. Today, the engine looks well aged, in part due to a lot of 2D objects, flat colors, and unimpressive textures.
The most blatant use of 2D objects is with the pickups that are jarred loose from enemies you blow away. When you shoot down an enemy, they will often sprinkle several pickups around them. Some are Blue, and automatically fly towards you as you get near. These are used for building up the OSB meter in the lower left of the HUD, which I'll explain shortly. Other pickups are reddish and contain ammo, mines, and grenades. All icons have an exclamation point, and it's not uncommon to have at least a couple dozen of these ugly, flat objects littered over the battlefield. Suffice it to say, ammo is never a problem in this game, but the amount of 'litter' from these ammo icons is disagreeable. I think a better system could have been implemented here to achieve the same goal.
In nearly every situation in Bodycount, you are vastly outnumbered, and it's the quantity, not quality, of AI that makes the game challenging at times. AI accuracy and alertness is often pretty bad, but their grenade tosses are accurate and deadly, and they will surround you if you run into a situation too quickly. Thankfully, even though you can die quickly, load times are near instant, and checkpoints are made often enough.
Countering the enemy is achieved with tried and true FPS tactics, and with the assistance of some temporary boosts. This is where the OSB meter in the lower left comes in. After you get a few missions under your belt, you will have unlocked the four special powers -- invulnerability, explosive rounds, improved enemy radar detection, and the ability to call in an air strike. These abilities can be upgraded one time each. These OSB abilities can be turned on and off with the press of a d-pad direction, as each ability is mapped to one direction. I liked that you could turn on the ability for just the amount of time you need it, instead of having to use it and then have it run the meter down to zero every time. These special abilities are a welcomed feature in a game such as this, just don't forget you have them at your disposal like I often did.
Bodycount has a Skillshot mechanic that reminded me a little bit of Bulletstorm's skill kills feature (I forget the actual name that game used). The idea in Bodycount is to get as many consecutive skillshots as you can to increase your score for that mission, which can then be uploaded to Leaderboards. Skillshots include headshots, stealth kills, explosive kills (using environmental items like barrels), near-death kills, and several others.
The Campaign mode takes you across some fake republics and hot zones in Africa, and then over into Asia. The luster of the campaign fades pretty quickly with the monotony combined with the shortcomings and issues of the game in general, but it manages to stay enjoyable enough to see it through. In addition, you can replay levels to try to improve your Bodycount score, but this is really only useful if you like to compete on Leaderboards. There is a multiplayer component that offers Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch (2-12 players), and Cooperative. The latter sounded the most interesting to me, as a co-op experience can often make up for a poor or disappointing single player offering, not unlike the Army of Two games. Unfortunately, all modes require being online (I had hoped for co-op splitscreen), and worst yet, the cooperative mode is actually a 'you and a partner versus wave after wave of CPU enemies." The campaign is sadly not available for co-op play, which is too bad because I think the gameplay, level design, etc. would make co-op pretty easily viable.
To the summary...
Bodycount has its place, but for the full price and at this time of year, it's hard to recommend for purchase for any gamer who needs to pick and choose his way through this upcoming holiday gaming season. Ultimately, it manages to be fun enough to play in spite of a variety of key issues in the design and execution.