When the finishing touches are placed on Bodycount, Stuart Black's follow-up to last generation's Black, it has the potential to be a fun, sexy, arcade FPS. Unfortunately, the pre-E3 demo that I played wasn't ready for the limelight.
It's refreshing to see a more light-hearted take on the genre, with a focus on the sheer fun of firing weapons. I certainly wouldn't mind a change of pace from the gravitas and machismo of games like Call of Duty and Killzone. Bodycount's colorful, spy-themed world reminds me of Monolith's No One Lives Forever series -- and that's a good thing.
The world of Bodycount is heavily influenced by TV's Alias, with the player assuming the role of a reluctant operative, thrown into unstable areas of conflict. For reasons unknown to the player, he's become a member of "The Network," an organization whose slogan -- "Your Safety is our Concern" -- comes off as more than a little disingenuous. His objectives come courtesy of an unidentified female handler, and the game promises to explore the evolving relationship between the two.
I saw a few conceptual storyboards for the cinematics, and it's clear that Codemasters is going for a much more stylized and slightly satirical approach to the narrative. While an amnesiac hero is a tired gimmick, it effectively makes the player feel like the fish-out-of-water character he is: a cutscene shows the main character kidnapped, and thrown in the middle of a war. Black promised a dynamic battlefield, where your actions can affect which sides gain the upper-hand, akin to Metal Gear Solid 4. You can help the rebels, for example, and get their support in battle. You can choose to go commando, and kill everyone in sight. Or, you can stay back and watch the conflicting sides duke it out and wait to kill any stragglers.
Of course, the name of the game made it clear what I should do. Your objectives come via a yet-unknown female, whose teasing, sexy lines sound borderline pornographic. The voice actress playing that role has certainly nailed it: I felt at odds with my goal (murder, essentially) -- but she made it sound oh so fun. As enemies burst into explosions of colorful point and ammo boxes, it's hard not to think "this is a game" and aim for a high score -- is there a meta message being delivered here?
Visually, the most striking aspect of Bodycount has to be its destructible environments, going a step farther than the already-impressive Bad Company. "Shredding" (as it's being called) affects more than just walls. Whether it's a box, barrel or pillar, almost everything in the environment appeared destructible. In what seems like an homage to the N64 Goldeneye, certain ammo boxes will explode when shot often enough. This means you'll have to be constantly moving: taking cover behind an object for too long will undoubtedly get you exposed.
There are a number of exciting concepts being implemented in Bodycount, but the build I saw was far too early to see them really coalesce into something meaningful. The graphics were definitely rough, and the gameplay needed some fine-tuning. It should be evident (even in these screens) that the visuals are far from the standard of games like Homefront and Crysis 2. The gameplay didn't feel any different from that of any other shooter. Did the guns feel like they had an extra kick to them? Not really. Did the enemies seem any more interesting than drones in any other FPS? Not particularly. The execution isn't quite there yet, but the direction definitely is. Hopefully, Codemasters can give this new IP the time it needs to grow.