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Bodycount - Hands-On [E3 2011]

Going into E3 I had a list of games that I wanted to check out since I’ve been following them for an extended period of time.  I was able to hit up quite a few of the games I had on my list (Binary Domain, Starhawk) but a few were missing in action (where the hell is The Last Guardian damnit!).  I expected a few games to be missing in action and to be honest, there were some games I just didn’t get a chance to play either because of long lines or me being busy as hell. As I was walking the showfloor of E3 I saw something surprising: Bodycount was actually playable on the showfloor. Nestled away within THQ’s booth was a demo of Bodycount, the new FPS title from Codemasters which is being published by THQ in North America.

I’ve had my eye on Bodycount since it was unveiled last year since the game was being dubbed as the next big thing in the FPS genre. Set to revitalize the current stature of FPS games which are bogged down in scripted action, Bodycount had a lot going for it despite a plot that was flaky at best.  After initial gameplay videos looked rough, Bodycount went into hiding and wasn’t mentioned of until creator Stuart Black left Codemasters long before development on the game was complete.  Bodycount’s quality was called into question as another key staff member left and rumblings began to spread that the game was troubled and Codemasters just didn’t know what to do with it.  I was hoping that Bodycount would be an E3 2011 surprise for me but instead it just reaffirmed all the troubling news that was circling the project.

Consisting of two stages, the Bodycount demo offered a good chance to see what the game has to offer and after playing both stages and pondering to myself I still don’t know what the team at Codemasters is trying to achieve.  Initially Bodycount was being created as a spiritual successor to the FPS game Black, which Stuart Black worked on when he was part of Criterion.  In fact one major theme of Bodycount was supposed to be how gamers can shred through the environment and cause copious amounts of destruction.  Obviously things were toned down a bit as the destruction in the E3 2011 demo of Bodycount featured destruction that was somewhat comparable to other FPS games on the market such as Killzone 3 instead of offering a more condensed version of something like what was done in Red Faction: Guerrilla or most recently Red Faction: Armageddon.  There was a nice amount of explosions which led to structures falling apart, but for some reason it didn’t seem that impactful or equally impressive.

It’s disappointing that Bodycount doesn’t really offer a constant flow of destruction, but I may be able to overlook such a thing if the game was completely fun to play.  Like I said early, I’m still trying to figure out what Bodycount is trying to achieve and that’s basically because the two levels in the demo were vastly different in the tone and style they offered and generally how the game plays.

I literally came upon Bodycount by mere chance as I was walking through the THQ booth, which was completely baller to the max this year, and came across Bodycount. Seeing the game I opted to play the level that was on the screen and then proceeded to not know what was going on so I decided to quit to the main menu and go for another mission.  The mission I chose took place in Africa in an industrial like setting in which some major action was going down and it was up to me to shoot some dudes, most of whom I had no clue where either good or bad.  The level itself was ok as it consisted of some typical structures made out of wood and sheet metal and generally had the industrial vibe down with pipes prominently strewn about the level. 

As much as we were led to believe or were promised, Bodycount plays pretty much like a typical FPS game.  There isn’t a huge amount of scripted events and the action I found myself in solely consisted of me going in one-man army mode instead of having some assistance by a squad of some sort.  Bodycount felt rather responsive as shooting was easy and so was moving around, but the game just seemed pretty typical all around and the only major things that stuck out to me was the jumpy framerate and how blue icons would come out of enemies that I killed. I guess these icons offer something valuable in game but they’re a bit distracting since they literally sprout forth from a dead enemy almost like coins coming out of Sonic when he gets hit.

Bodycount’s action is somewhat plagued by what appears in other FPS games: the enemies are either too easy or too hard.  At first it took me awhile to get a lay of the land in the Africa based level, but eventually I found that most of the standard enemies were push-overs and the only trouble I did receive was at the hands of a big brute wielding a massive assault gun which resulted in me dying several times. The A.I in Bodycount was stepped up rather considerable when I played the second level the demo offered, of which I can basically sum it up as something taken from the more sci-fi/futuristic elements of Metal Gear Solid.  Thematically going from an African warzone to a facility filled with sleek surfaces, glowing lines and lots of blue hues is about a big of a departure as you can make in the same FPS game, even more considering that I found myself battling enemies decked out in armor that made them look like Medieval Templars from the year 2245.  The second level of the demo did feature a cool if not entirely familiar ascetic, but once again there wasn’t too much about it to make it stick out compared to other FPS games as the level resulted in me sabotaging a device and then making a quick exit before the facility blew up.

I wouldn’t say that Bodycount has a major identity crisis as the levels I played were totally out of context so the connective tissue tying them together wasn’t present.  With that being said, I still found the general style of gameplay in Bodycount to be intriguing if slightly disappointing based on what we heard last year.  The team at Codemasters have no doubt tinkered with things slightly as the months have went on and perhaps totally retooled everything once Stuart Black left the project.  Bodycount may have been started up as a FPS game that was going to stand out amongst the likes of COD, Killzone and Halo but as of now the game is simply a so-so title that probably won’t get the hype machines swirling.  The continued silence on the project and the poor E3 demo (showing the game in its current state was a poor move) will likely make people brush Bodycount off as another generic FPS game that just features lots of crap blowing up.

Bodycount is currently scheduled for release in late August and I sincerely hope that the final product is more refined and coherent than what I played at E3.