Review: Bodycount (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Bodycount
Genre: First Person Shooter
Developer: Guildford Studio
Publisher: Codemasters
Release Date: 08/30/11

Bodycount is a game that mostly slipped under the radar, as it didn’t have a particularly large ad campaign associated with it. Nor has it been drawing a significant amount of attention. While the title might not immediately inspire anything more than a quizzical look in many, its developer, Guildford Studio, might generate a bit more obvious recognition: they’re the developer behind sleeper hit Black, which generated a decent amount of press when it debuted for its excellent visuals, mechanics and aural presentation. Bodycount is described as something of a spiritual successor to Black by many, and while Guildford likely doesn’t have the same budget for this game as Black, there are certainly similarities to be had, especially the heavily destructible environments and the genre of game in general. However, while Bodycount seems at first glimpse to be somewhat ambitious, my time spent with it has shown that for all of its ambitions, it never manages to really pay them off in a way that makes the game satisfying. This leaves the game as a somewhat disappointing experience in a lot of ways as a result.

The storyline behind Bodycount is pretty standard at first: you take on the role of an unidentified representative of “The Network”, a sort of black ops organization that gets involved silently in conflicts to attempt to resolve them to whatever extent is required. As the game begins, you’re dropped off in a small part of Africa that has, after some time of peace talks and negotiations, devolved into all-out civil war. Your goal is to find out why. Things quickly escalates as you discover the existence of another third party, dubbed “The Target,” which seems to be escalating things behind the scenes. The game then takes you through the African battlegrounds and into Asia in an attempt to resolve the conflict with a whole lot of bullets. The storyline is generally dispensed by way of explanations from your handler and the odd threats and taunts of warriors from The Target, and is largely inoffensive, if mostly sporadic. As the story progresses, it seems like it has a neat idea in mind towards the end of the game that might have been enough to carry a better game from “good” to “great” status, but the minimalist plot exposition does nothing to really flesh out the characters enough for you as the player to care, and the game has its own problems. As such, what could have been a great story on a great game ends up a good idea for a story that isn’t developed as much as it could be in a game that can’t possibly compliment it.

Visually, Bodycount is mostly pretty solid. The environments are rather in-depth, featuring some fairly good depth and decent diversity at first, and the environments are also very easily destroyed, so you’ll often see walls, barricades, tables and mostly everything else get chewed up under the constant pressure from your weaponry. The enemies are generally decently designed and animated, and there are a decent amount of palettes for the enemy models so that they don’t get boring to look at as you go through the game. The different weapons you’re given also look different enough from one another to be unique and interesting to the eyes, and they’re certainly full of personality. There are some visual glitches with floating objects and death animations, however, and the draw distance takes a hit at times. Aurally, the music is absolutely stellar and is easily the best thing about the game, as the orchestral score of the game actually sounds interesting and fairly original. The voice acting is all generally well cast and assembled and the three main voice actresses in the game (most of the male cast are relegated to the random voices in the game) are all very well cast for their roles. The sound effects aren’t quite as awesome as one would expect from the folks who developed Black, but the guns do sound very powerful in action and really bring some personality to the firefights in the game, though explosions don’t sound as impressive as the gunfire effects.

Bodycount plays mostly like one would expect of an FPS, though it has some novelties about its mechanics that change the experience up a bit. The left stick moves while the right stick looks around, the right trigger fires as normal, and a half-press of the left trigger allows you to move while zoomed in for aiming purposes. Holding in the left trigger locks your character in place while you aim, however, allowing you to lean around corners and up over cover to take shots at enemies, though it sticks you in place, making you immobile as a trade-off. Most of the rest of the button functions are otherwise standard. X reloads, A jumps, B melee attacks, Y switches weapons, the right bumper tosses grenades, the left bumper tosses mines, pressing the left stick in sprints, and pressing the right stick in crouches. Aside from the ability to lean around cover, you can also throw normal grenades with a single tap of the right bumper or impact grenades that detonate on contact with a double-tap of the right bumper, but everything else more or less functions how you’d expect from a game of this sort. Fans of FPS titles can pretty much hit the ground running with some mild experimentation with the leaning mechanics, and even new players should be able to get the gist simply enough.

Now, Bodycount does a couple of things different, mechanically, that don’t relate to the controls, and the most obvious one is the intel system. Basically, every time you kill an enemy, colorful orbs fly out of them like they’re a bullet-riddled piñata, which either fill up your intel meter, your ammo, your grenades or your mines, depending on the helpful icon on the front. Now, the grenade, mine and ammo power-ups are all universal, because every enemy in the game is carrying every possible ammo type you could need (just in case), but this is actually a fair simplification of matters since you’ll be obliterating the entire populations of Africa and Asia by the time you’re done, so you’ll need the bullets. Intel, on the other hand, fills up a meter that allows you to use one of four power-ups from your D-pad, as you earn them. Pressing up kicks in a sort of adrenaline system that keeps you healthy in bad firefights, pressing right enables explosive bullets for fast enemy shredding, pressing down calls in an air strike to mow down enemies, and pressing left… lets you see enemies clearly, which you’ll never need. As you progress, the game will actually upgrade these powers for you, with all of the power-ups upgrading to their logical next level, save the left directional power; since the game apparently realized halfway through how silly enemy highlighting is, they instead turn it into an area-of-effect INSTANT DEATH WAVE, and, uh, yeah, that’s MUCH MORE USEFUL THANKS. In general, though, these power-ups all end up being useful at different points, because they all are very good at helping you not die against the large waves of enemies coming for you.

Beyond that, there are a few other things to bear in mind. The game doesn’t simply allow you to pick up enemy weapons; instead, you choose a primary and secondary weapon from a tube fired from, I don’t know, space, with whatever weapons you’ve unlocked up to that point inside it. There are ten guns total, comprised of a shotgun, a heavy pistol, a light silenced pistol, two SMG’s, three assault rifles, a heavy machine gun and a gun the game describes as a heavy shotgun but has more in common with a plasma rocket launcher than anything else, so you’ll have some variety from one section to the next. Further, cover can be absolutely ruined quickly in battle as nearly nothing is too solid to be ripped down, so you’ll often find that you’ll have to move around from place to place in a hurry if you don’t want to get wrecked, but you can also shoot enemies through cover, so it works out. Finally, the game also has a sort of scoring system in place; depending on how more involved your killing shot was than just “shot them in the bits,” you’ll get a count towards your Bodycount and a display indicating how you took the enemy out. Headshots, killing someone with the last round in the chamber, killing someone through cover, and other things count towards this, so as long as you don’t just shoot someone you can keep increasing this combo, and in turn, getting higher end-stage grades and intel bonuses from dead enemies. If you shoot an enemy normally or die, however, this counter resets (though the combo up to that point is still retained for the end of stage rankings), so you’ll want to do everything you can to keep it going as long as you can.

You can clear the game in about four or five hours, depending on how skilled you are, but there are multiple difficulties to come back to should you wish. There is also “Bodycount” mode, which is essentially just a way for you to revisit specific stages to improve your scores, as well as an online component that offers Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch play, as well as Co-Op, which is more or less a Horde Mode for you and friends to take on. There are also plenty of Achievements to earn, though to be completely honest, I earned all but one of the conditional ones by accident, and the difficulty and online Achievements are just a matter of time and perseverance over anything else. To be completely honest, Bodycount has just enough going for it in terms of replay value that one COULD come back to it, if one was so inclined, but the game itself would have to be good enough on its own merits to draw the player back in, and to be frank, Bodycount is not that game.

It’s like this: the more one plays Bodycount, the more one realizes that it could have been a good game, but it IS a very, VERY, VERY frustrating piece of work because it is just so unimaginative and broken that playing it, for me at least, became more of a test of will than anything else. I mean, I don’t even know where to start with the problems with the game, because it seems like there are just so many, but fine. There are ten guns in the whole game, from start to finish, okay? Why are six of them fucking machine guns? SIX. We get ONE shotgun and SIX machine guns? Oh, and I GET that a shotgun is less useful than a machine gun in the context of wanting to ensure that you get headshots and such, fine, but WHY WOULD YOU DESIGN A MECHANIC THAT SPECIFICALLY DISCOURAGES AGAINST USING SPECIFIC GUNS? Or, here’s another question. So you know what else could have been useful? A SNIPER RIFLE. You know, to take out ALL THE SNIPERS the game constantly throws at you. DOOM did a better job than this and that game is older than some of the people reading this. YOU PEOPLE MADE BLACK. You KNOW what FPS gamers are interested in, at least to a limited point. Either give me tons of guns or a good variety of choices from a smaller pool, don’t give me six guns that functionally achieve the same purpose, because if you do the latter I’m just going to carry the AR with the longest range and the most powerful gun I can get for the whole game. That helps no one.

So, beyond the short campaign, the dearth of online modes, and the dearth of weapon variety, what else is wrong? Well, there’s the numerous times I watched an enemy glitch against the environment, completely stuck in place and spazzing until I shot them or moved close enough to kickstart their AI into doing something else. Hell, there’s the AI in general, which made enemies at least FIVE TIMES PER LEVEL run completely past me, stop, turn around, and THEN start firing. There’s the completely broken damage notification system that basically doesn’t bother to give you a good indication that you’re nearly dying until you’re dead, or bother to make it apparent that a dude is knifing you in the back until you’re dead for that matter. There’s the atrocious checkpoint system that, on FIVE separate occasions, saved a checkpoint with multiple enemies surrounding me, and on ONE occasion saved the checkpoint with a heavy enemy STARING ME IN THE FACE, which was basically the game saying, “hope you enjoyed the loading screen because you’re going right back to it.” There’s the glitch at the end boss that numerous people have experienced that basically makes her unbeatable without reloading and trying again, which is a great way to cap off the entire experience. There’s the inconsistent behavior of grenades that makes them bounce off of walls one minute and drop straight down the next with no explanation, or the hit detection that lets me shoot the enemy in the shoulder and get a headshot, or the fact that enemies will sometimes walk clean through explosions none the worse for wear, or even the fact that there are about four enemy types repeated across the game, just with different models attached. Oh, and there’s the entire “killswitch” gimmick the game forces on you for about half an hour where you’re constantly having to deal with massive interface disruption from cybernetic poisoning or something, which was ABSOLUTELY atrocious and easily one of the worst ideas in an FPS ever, especially one where enemies swarm you constantly and being in control is kind of vital.

So, the bottom line is that, while there are people out there in the world that are enjoying Bodycount, that does not make it a good game, because it most certainly is not. The story COULD have been good in a better game, the visuals are solid, the audio is alright, and the gameplay has enough creative concepts and mechanical elements of interest that there’s the faintest glimmer of imagination and invention in the product, and you can see how maybe, with some better developers, this could have been something. Unfortunately, the actual final product is so completely shallow, poorly designed, and bug-ridden that the game can’t even come close to paying off the promise associated with it, and the end result is a mess. Repetitive weapons with obvious choices excluded, glitchy enemies, broken AI, a broken damage notification system, a broken checkpoint system, a broken final boss, broken physics, broken collision detection, lack of variety online or off, repeated enemy models, and an entire section of the game that messes with the interface in an intolerable way all come together to make for an experience that is simply not good. There is certainly fun to be had with Bodycount, but it will require significant avoidance of or tolerance for the game’s many flaws, and while there are certainly people out there who will be able to do so, if you’ve read through that list above and decided you’re not one of those people, you’re probably right.

The Scores:
Story: MEDIOCRE
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: POOR
Replayability: BAD
Balance: POOR
Originality: MEDIOCRE
Addictiveness: BAD
Appeal: BAD
Miscellaneous: WORTHLESS
FINAL SCORE: BELOW AVERAGE GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
When handed a bat and given a real opportunity to swing for the fences, Guildford Studio ends up bunting, as Bodycount might appease someone, somewhere, but for the most part, it’s not a particularly pleasant experience by any means. The story is okay (but smacks of lost potential), the visuals are solid, the audio is pretty good, and the gameplay is mechanically simple to understand and work with. You can see where there were some creative ideas put into play throughout the game, and there is some joy, however minimal, to be had with the game. But the game ends up being a mess, thanks to repetitive weapons and obvious missing weapon types, glitchy enemies, broken AI, a broken damage notification system, a broken checkpoint system, a broken final boss, broken physics, broken collision detection, lack of variety online or off, repeated enemy models, and a half an hour long interface screw section that’s simply unpleasant at best. You could, absolutely, have fun with Bodycount if you’re an exceptionally patient person, but odds are good that you won’t, as for as much as it tries to be something new and different, it fails on twice as many different levels.

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