If you’re going to compete with the big boys, you better bring the big guns. You can’t just produce a generic shooter with a few intriguing elements, especially when the campaign ends too soon and the multiplayer is relatively bland. The concept is solid and successful skill shots are fulfilling, but it lacks the polish and quality found in the successful shooter franchises. Bodycount seeks to provide gamers with a ceaseless onslaught of FPS entertainment but it falls well shy of its target, despite its slick style and promising ideas. Hate it when that happens.
The presentation and interface is sharp and refined but the actual gameplay graphics pale in comparison to the current competition. Much of the visuals actually appear slightly grainy; a feature I thought we left behind in the PS2 generation. However, there are some nice effects and the battlefields are pleasantly open and airy. This allows for a hectic run ‘n gun mentality, which in some cases can be a detriment but here, it’s the only way to go. The areas for stealth aren’t as well designed, though, and the more you play, the more you start to realize that you’re revisiting the same set of sci-fi environments. This is very disappointing.
The sound is a definite high point, as a good set of speakers or headphones will cause the crackling gunfire to explode in your ears. Then, toss in a great soundtrack that – while a tad repetitive – keeps you riveted; good audio enriches the experience by complementing the on-screen action. In this respect, the game excels. The voiceover performance (by your handler) is mediocre, though, and sometimes, I thought the onslaught of sound was actually a little overwhelming. Still, if we’re going to find a silver lining here, one can easily point to the effects and music.
We’ll start with the story, even though the focus is squarely on gunfights: you’re an agent of the The Network, who is often tasked with being sent to hellish areas and “fixing” things. Some woman in your ear tells you what to do and every once in a while, you’ll stumble across a cut-scene. It never smacks you right between the eyes, though, and you’re often craving a return to action. That quest starts out with a bang and for a while, I can almost guarantee you’ll have some fun. There are only 10 weapons in the game but I’m fine with that number, especially because they’re all deadly effective, and most look great, too.
But then you’ll start to notice a few issues. You might lob a grenade, only to find that it got caught up in a part of the environment that…well, you didn’t even know it was there. Then there are a few collision detection problems that seem more prominent with certain weapons. Oh, and let’s not forget the Godlike capability of your enemies when it comes to the aforementioned projectile explosives; you’ll often die suddenly and for no visible reason. I’m sure there was a reason, but I never saw it. For the most part, the gunplay works well, but the flaws are impossible to ignore.
Furthermore, I have a big problem with this game’s hypocrisy. That’s a rough word to use but I can’t think of a better one. See, this adventure is supposed to be all about nonstop shooting insanity (you can try the stealth stuff, but it’s not great), but for some reason, they don’t want me to just run around and go nuts. Well, they do, but I’m supposed to be very precise when doling out the pain. You can increase your combat chain by executing skill shots, which are gained by doing something special. This can be a head shot, nailing someone when close to death, getting a kill when behind cover, etc. They're challenging and occasionally fun to execute.
But if you simply eliminate a foe the old-fashioned way, the chain breaks and you have to start over. This style reminded me a little of Bulletstorm, which also encouraged you to get creative with both your weapons and the environment, but Epic and People Can Fly understood that you shouldn’t be penalized for just having fun. Granted, you’d get more points for skill shots, but they weren’t always the focal point, and let’s not forget that those challenges were unique to each weapon. That greatly enhanced the depth. In Bodycount, we don’t get any of that solidarity or depth.
You can customize your loadout but that’s only a minor bonus. The AI falters when put to the test, upping the repetition and mindlessness, and the perks you earn with your skill shots feel underwhelming. Landing successive skill shots increases the amount of Intel you earn (this pops out of vanquished enemies), and the more you earn, the more powers you can grab. This includes more firepower, better armor and extra speed. You would think that this might greatly alter the gameplay and ramp up the excitement factor, but somehow, these super abilities just seem flat.
And that’s the buzz word for the whole game: flat. The multiplayer consists of only Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch with a max of 12 players in each contest. There’s a grand total of four maps and the entire affair suffers from a “been there, done that” atmosphere. The only mildly interesting part of the multiplayer is that Intel isn’t automatically garnered after a kill; someone has to manually pick it up, which means players will continually clamor for those valuable pickups. But other than that, it won’t compete with other online experiences and in truth, you’ll have difficulty finding others to play with. Hardly surprising, I'm sure.
Bodycount had a chance to really impress the hell out of me; I loved Bulletstorm and the idea of running around through a hail of bullets is attractive. The very title makes certain statements that hint at gleefully twisted entertainment. But it’s all just so… Just pick your favorite synonym for bland or flat. The control is fine, some of the backdrops are cool, and particularly hectic firefights can deliver the energetic goods. But the skill shot system clashes badly with the overall theme, the campaign is way too short (and quite boring), the multiplayer is lackluster, and the AI isn’t bright.
With such an amazing late summer and fall lineup, I’m sure your money is better spent elsewhere.
The Good: Slick presentation. Great effects and music. Skill shots can be very satisfying. Decent control.
The Bad: Uneven, unimpressive graphics. Repeated environments. Dimwitted AI. Skill shot mechanic doesn’t correspond with run ‘n gun concept. Campaign is short and uninspired. Multiplayer is bland and boring.
The Ugly: Something like this should’ve been way more thrilling.
9/14/2011 Ben Dutka