Preview: Bodycount

In an industry obsessed with military shooters, this year is populated with an unusually high number of games of the arcade run-and-gun variety, a sub-genre of which Bodycount is very much a part. Unfortunately for Codemasters, those that came before it – Brink, Bulletstorm and Duke Nukem Forever, didn’t do much to bring back that old school flavour or the sense of nostalgia they were so obviously aiming for. And on the face of it, it’s hard to tell how Bodycount will be any different.

It’s the spiritual successor to FPS sleeper hit Black, and that’s just another way of saying that it’s a completely different game from the same genre developed by the same team, or in this case, part of it. Three levels were available for us to play in the preview build, each drastically different in look, layout, and linearity. While the first level took place in an African setting covered in shanty huts with various routes, the Tron-esque enemy headquarters was a strictly linear affair as you move from room to room. The third was again a little open-ended, with the action moving across rooftops, corridors and a series of huts during the night in what seemed like a lakeside village.

A common characteristic in all three levels is how destructible everything is. Don’t expect the intricacy of DICE’s Frostbite or Volition’s GeoMod engines, but rather exaggerated, explosive destruction as you toss a grenade close to a wall or unleash a shotgun blast at a concrete pillar. Due to the nature of this destruction, its impact on gameplay is also quite different from what you’d expect in a game like Battlefield. You won’t be brining a building down on enemies with surgical assaults on its architecture, but rather chaotically blowing away the walls that stand between you and the enemy or the next checkpoint. The enemy will do the same to get to you, particularly in the levels where most structures are held up by what seems like paper thin metal sheets and wooden planks.

During firefights, don’t expect the brightest enemy AI, but fully expect the game to compensate for it by throwing several enemies at you at chokepoints that are built into each of the levels. Things get even more frantic when you come across a Psycho, a mini boss in the form of a hulking, 50-cal-toting bullet sponge. Your bullets do little damage to him, while his will tear through walls like they’re made of paper. For such situations, you’re equipped with grenades and mines, which are much more effective against bigger enemies. Dead enemies drop different coloured orbs that are strikingly similar to those in Crackdown, and collecting them will help you level up and customise your weapons.

Gunplay is solid enough, but the attention to detail in the guns (both visual and aural), which stood out in Black, seems somewhat lacking here. There’s a fairly effective and intuitive cover system, but it feels a little out of place in what is essentially a run-and-gun shooter. Bodycount also features a subdued and almost hidden variation of Bulletstorm’s skillshot system. Here, achieving various objectives (such as headshots, grenade kills) and combos during gunfights will allow you to activate one of two temporary power-ups – one makes your weapons far more destructive and penetrative, while the other is a shot of adrenaline that makes you impervious to damage. This build of the game forced the use of triggers as the default controls for aiming and shooting, quite in contrast to most shooters on PS3 these days, and there was no way to change this. We fully expect that option to be in the final game, otherwise there will be a lot more of us dropping grenades and mines while trying to shoot.

If there’s a story behind all this destructive action, there was certainly no evidence of it in this preview. This pre-release build was still a couple of coats of polish short of what we’d expect from the final product, but even now, it’s far from the dull browns and greys we’re usually treated to, and that in itself is quite refreshing. We only scratched the surface of some of the gameplay elements, such as power-ups, upgrades and customization, but if these are well fleshed out, Bodycount could end up being a lot more than the superficial run-and-gun shooter it might seem like. As for whether it will succeed where Bulletstorm and Brink failed, we’ll only know when the full game arrives early next month.

Bodycount is scheduled for release on September 2, 2011 for Xbox 360 and PS3.

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