Bodycount, Codemasters' new first-person shooter, shuns complex storytelling in favour of explosions, destruction and over-the-top action. Billed as the follow-up to 2006 title Black, the game aims to equip players with near-perfect video games weaponry to dispatch an army of human and alien foes. Get ready for a hail of bullets in our single-player preview.
While co-creating PS2 game Black, games designer Stuart Black set out on a personal crusade to develop a first person shooter featuring the most realistic and visceral weapons, or "gun porn" as it was often referred to at the time.
Despite being slightly flawed, the game did set a strong standard in FPS munitions, and its ethos certainly underpins "spiritual successor" Bodycount. Published by Codemasters, the shooter focuses on punchy weapons, destructible environments, outrageous explosions and a whole lot of bullets.
Digital Spy locked and loaded to check the game out.
Forget storytelling, let's cut to the chase
Even though Stuart Black quite quickly departed Bodycount to "move on to different things", and there is actually no-one working on the shooter who also worked on Black, the game's mission statement very much remains the same.
Bodycount is not an FPS that majors on narrative and storytelling, it's all about three things - "guns, bullets, world".
Anyone wanting a twisting, turning and challenging story should look elsewhere, but the people gripped by over-the-top, relentless action that doesn't take itself too seriously will be well served by the game. Think Call of Duty meets Bulletstorm, and you are pretty much there.
The story in Bodycount, told with tongue placed firmly in cheek, involves the player becoming a mercenary working for The Network, a shadowy organisation which provides soldiers for the warzones where others fear to tread.
The Network is also battling a race of mysterious warriors known, with rather on-the-nose silliness, as The Target. Developer Codemasters Guilford describes The Target as "medieval knights meets Tron", and it is clear that Disney's sci-fi film series has proved a significant inspiration for Bodycount, along with various 1980s action movies such as Rambo and Commando.
The game unfurls partly in The Target's pseudo futuristic bases - a mixture of Blade Runner and London's Trocadero - but also in various conflict zones across Africa and Asia.
The graphics are crisp and impressive, with the colour palette amped up to fit with the exaggerated feel of everything. Even the greys, greens and browns of wartorn African villages are punctuated with sharp stabs of vibrant blues, yellows and reds to always imbue a sense of drama.
It's clear that Bodycount is intended to be a glorious action pantomime so ridiculous that it becomes engrossing, just like a late night movie on Channel 5.
Guns, shreddable environments and intelligence orbs
For an FPS that sells itself on guns, it's somewhat surprising that there are only actually ten available in Bodycount. Codemasters has instead focused on refining these core weapons until they are as impressive and enjoyable as possible.
Assault rifles feel solid and visceral, packing a pleasing punch that certainly lives up to the game's billing, but it's the shotgun that really excels. Pounding The Target soldiers in the face with a slug of buckshot from this weapon is simply a guilt-free delight.
There is also apparently a range of experimental weapons available later in the game that the team has imagined using The Target's technology, but we did not get the chance to try out any of these in the demo.
Aside the firearms, the game's other big selling point is its "shreddable" environments, meaning all walls, doors, windows and other items can be chopped up like a portion of crispy duck.
Destruction is only to a point, and so building structures cannot be completely levelled as certain supports remain indestructible. But despite this limitation, the destructibility is well handled and succeeds in its primary aim of always forcing the player to keep moving.
As pretty much all cover is destructible, there are few places in the levels to hunker down for cover, which lends itself to more dynamic play. Likewise, any enemies hiding away in houses or buildings can be easily wrenched out with a well-placed grenade or volley of fire.
All enemies killed in the game drop intelligence points in the form of glowing, arcade-style orbs. Gathering these orbs fills up your meter and opens up a range of special powers on the D-Pad.
Pushing up gives an adrenaline boost that makes you temporarily invulnerable, pushing left throws up a radar showing all enemies in the area, pushing down launches an airstrike on a designated area and pushing left turns your bullets into explosive tipped shells.
The process of killing enemies, gathering intelligence orbs and using these special abilities is really where Bodycount will excel as an FPS.
The cover system in Bodycount is slightly different to other games in that you don't snap into cover against surfaces, but instead depress the left trigger to action iron sights, which locks you into a cover pivot. In this mode, you can shift left and right, or up and down on a point instead of being 'attached' to an object.
Half depressing the trigger means that you can go down iron sights while still staying mobile, although the aiming reticule does not sharpen as it does when you are in cover. The system has potential, in that it more easily enables players to duck into cover anywhere while fighting, rather than having the restriction of 'sticky' cover points.
Another promising mechanic is a double click of the right bumper which launches a grenade that explodes instantly on impact. Grenades can still be 'cooked', but the option to get an instant explosion is a great feature.
The player also gets proximity mines that are thrown out in threes, although there is the danger that enemies could turn the mines on you if they see them being planted. Indeed, the enemy AI appear reasonably intelligent and well designed, providing a decent challenge to the player.
There are medics in The Target's ranks who will revive their downed comrades unless you kill them, while human scavengers will attempt to steal the intelligence orbs before you get there, as well as use discarded items against you.
Enter the fray, get ready for carnage
We tried out two level sections which were roughly around a third of the way into the main campaign. The first was a Tron-style level inside The Target's base, known as the Nexus.
As we entered the level, a female voice announced that we had just uploaded a data worm and now must get the hell out of there. What followed was a mad dash down a series of staircases around a giant central atrium. As we moved further down, more and more Target enemies stood in our way.
We had a shotgun and an assault rifle to dispatch the foes as we hurled ourselves down the staircase, with the option to finish them all off or just rush to the objective. A timer ran down on the screen as we jumped over a series of obstacles and leaped through a door, ending the short sequences.
An interesting aspect is that everything you do combat-wise in Bodycount attracts a score that contributes to an overall ranking at the end of the levels. There is a Bulletstorm style combo system, which awards points for the finesse with which you tackle your enemies.
Popping a head shot or catching an enemy unawares from behind awards points which are totalled up at the end of each level and rated on online leaderboards. You can string together a combination streak of kills, but it is broken as soon as you get hit.
Codemasters clearly hopes that this system will improve competition and replayability of the levels, as players try to post the biggest scores on a range of difficulty settings.
The next mission we played was in Africa. We emerged in a construction site that was clearly beset with all out war. Soldiers ran around the place, backed up by a giant of a man with a chain gun who took two grenades and countless rounds to kill him.
As discussed above, the game's presentation is strong and there is a pleasing amount of detail to the maps and levels. The AI appears reasonably intelligent, with enemy soldiers seeking to take cover, while also trying to flank the player.
All the time there is the nagging factor of destructible environments, meaning no position is ever truly safe to remain for a long period of time. We fought up a hill to reach an area of buildings, where we blew up a surface-to-air missile launcher, before heading on up through the site.
The game led us up to a crane gantry leading across the site, but as soon as we headed down the long, thin structure a challenge was triggered involving survival against a horde of goons for a designated period of time.
This is where the special abilities and items come into play, as it's important to use your mines to protect the tight bottleneck and then mix up adrenaline boosts and airstrikes to clear out the foes.
The game also encourages the player to be bold and collect all the orbs dropped by the downed enemies to keep using special abilities. After a while, we had to run down the end of the crane and jump off, triggering a cut scene and ending our hands-on demo.
Aside from the single player, there is just Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes available in the competitive multiplayer, although the shreddable cover could add a new dimension to the play.
There is also a two-player co-op mode modelled on Gears of War Horde, in which the players must survive wave after wave of enemies. The difference here is that all cover gradually erodes, meaning the players must decide quickly whether to stick to their position or risk finding a new base to defend.
While the lack of an engaging narrative that could leave players feeling detached from campaign and relatively lightweight multiplayer could be a concern, Bodycount appears to have many positives, and hopefully the sheer joy of bullet-ridden destruction will prove compelling enough to avoid a bloodbath come release next month.
Bodycount will be released on August 30 in North America and September 2 in Europe on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.