• Bodycount Review - Microsoft Xbox 360

    In 2006, EA published Black, developed by Criterion Games. A First Person Shooter that gained plaudits for its cinematic style and top-notch sound design, it saw release on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. While a direct sequel never materialised, many of the team went on to work on Bodycount and it has since come to be known as a spiritual sequel to Black.

    The world in Bodycount is one of Private Military Companies, global conflict and a mysterious organisation known as The Network who exist to intervene in and settle wars that no one else wants to touch. The player takes on the role of Jackson, a former U.S soldier who is now working for this organisation. The story takes a back seat to the action however, existing most of the time as a way to give the player something to keep them occupied during loading screens. With a lack of an in-depth narrative, the focus then, is firmly on the action.

    The First Person Shooter is a genre that is incredibly packed, with every new release trying hard to forge an identity for itself and stand out among the crowd. At first glance, Bodycount seems to be a routine example of the genre. As soon as the player squeezes the left trigger to aim down the sights of their gun though, something immediately feels different. In a control scheme similar to that seen in Medal of Honor: Airborne, with the trigger held down the on-screen character is locked in place, the right analogue stick allowing the camera to be freely moved around and the left stick letting the player duck or lean out to the left and right, depending on which direction it is moved in. Whilst initially those who have not played MoH: Airborne may feel this is awkward and perhaps frustrating, once it has been learnt and grown accustomed to, it plays a vital part in survival tactics, especially when faced with waves of challenging enemies. The fact that ducking or leaning from behind cover is fluid and responsive means that this is a mechanic that, when it clicks, works well and provides something different.

    That is all well and good but anyone who played and enjoyed Black will be mainly concerned with a more important issue the destructibility of the environments. While Bodycount picks up where its predecessor left off and allows for damage to be dealt not only to enemies, but to the immediate surroundings, it is limited in its scope and not everything can be destroyed with bullets. That's not to say that spotting that old classic, the red barrel, firing a shot at it and blowing it up, taking with it not only that irritating sniper but also his vantage point isn't enjoyable, just that scenarios like that are the exception rather than the rule. It's an effective way to play, (using the destruction to take out multiple enemies at once, for example, saves ammo and eliminates multiple enemies at once) but just isn't on the scale that is perhaps expected.

    Although the game may well be compared to Call of Duty in that it has its feet planted firmly in the arcade side of the FPS genre, it can more accurately be compared to both The Club and Bulletstorm. This is due to the fact that a big part of the experience revolves around Skillshots and stringing them together to form combos. Awarded upon killing an enemy in a certain way a headshot, with a grenade,from behind and so on these can be strung together to create a multiplier, earning the player a higher grade and score at the end of each level. Although not as interesting, or indeed important, as the similar system implemented in Bulletstorm, they keep the action varied to some degree even if they don't encourage the same frantic pace to keep the points building up that The Club did in its almost racing game like approach. They may not be essential for finishing the game but they provide the player with options in combat and add to the variety on offer.

    Firing the guns feels solid. While it is the standard mix of pistols and machine guns for the most part, they pack a punch and provide satisfaction in killing enemies. Although only two can be carried at any time (kiosks throughout the levels allow the selection of primary and secondary firearms to be swapped around but once selected, they are set until the next one is accessed enemy guns cannot be picked up) the player gains more options in combat not only with grenades and landmines, but by using the OSB, or Operative Support Button. Mapped to the D-pad, these are triggered once enough orbs have been collected from defeated enemies, filling a meter. Each direction on the D-pad sees the player gain a temporary advantage, whether it is becoming invulnerable for a short period of time, gaining more powerful bullets, allowing enemies to be highlighted on the mini-map or calling in an air strike. What they lack in volume (when compared, for instance to the killstreaks in the Call of Duty series) they make up for in usefulness as each one is more or less essential throughout the game. Having them on the D-pad and not hidden in a menu means that they can be used easily, the player not fumbling with the controller in the heat of battle.

    Mission structure in Bodycount mixes things up and means that the player is not following one objective for too long. It may be executing a target, finding and recovering intel from an enemy, defeating all enemies on screen, planting C4 and so on. It gives the game a bite sized feel, perhaps more similar in structure to what would be expected from a single player game on a handheld system. It keeps the game progressing which is great for keeping the player engaged, but also highlights one of the shortfalls of the game the length. Bodycount is a game that can be completed in around four to six hours. On top of the expected online multiplayer option, the Bodycount Mode adds some depth. Essentially the main single player mode without the story, it places the emphasis on score and making use of the Skillshots mentioned previously. Although it may offer little new in terms of mission setting when held up against the story mode, it allows those who have grown accustomed to both the controls and mechanics of the game the chance to compete with themselves and others with the online leaderboards. Mission locales in the game are something of an odd bunch, brown African settings and more impressive rainy Asian cities paling in comparison to the futuristic styled levels that appear now and again. The difference may be jarring, but like the gameplay structure, it mixes things up nicely. It's a shame then that the enemy A.I is always less than perfect, no matter what the setting. Difficulty spikes occur at times too, for example, being rushed by enemies whilst waiting for a bomb to arm and it is at this point that there exists a fine line between learning when to use the tools at hand (for example the OSB) and frustration.

    As a new game in a crowded genre, one of the advantages Bodycount has is that the game which came before it came from some of the same creative minds. Anyone who enjoyed Black is likely to appreciate this game, not as a direct sequel, but as something of a next-gen add-on or expansion pack. Given the short nature of the game, that is perhaps the best way to describe Bodycount. Those with a love of the First Person Shooter will also take something away from the game, whether it is the destructibility, the linear but varied mission structure or the slightly different controls the game brings. Going into the game expecting the next Call of Duty or Battlefield will lead to disappointment however and after the highs that those games have reached, many may come away from this disappointed.

    Pros:
    Focused and varied single player campaign.
    Firing weapons feel good.
    Score chasing offers replay value.

    Cons:
    Can be completed in an afternoon.
    Aiming takes time to get used to.
    Throwaway story.
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