I played a few sample levels of Bodycount recently without really knowing anything about it. I was initially cynical because if there's one thing the world doesn't really need, it's another quasi-realistic FPS where a featureless, voiceless mercenary employed by a fictional government organization with a silly generic name goes up against a vast, world-spanning conspiracy, which he must then defuse by killing more people than cancer. It is the fast-food hamburger of first-person shooter settings.
Then I threw a grenade at somebody and, as far as I could tell, blew up everything.
Bodycount is by the same developers who made Black, the 2011 reigning champion of "hardest game to successfully Google search." That game is mostly memorable now for how it rendered its weapons with extensive, loving detail, to the point where its creators persisted in referring to it as "gun porn."
Bodycount isn't quite that bad (and/or good, I suppose, depending on your perspective), but it focuses on a specific kind of combat. I've been playing some sample levels for the past few days, and all are set in that bizarre Hong Kong version of reality, where everything in the world is a volatile explosive. For whatever reason, your Network agent's mission takes him into ramshackle shantytowns all over the world, held together with scrap metal and baling wire, and liberally strewn with barrels full of nitroglycerin. Enemy gunfire pulverizes walls, knocking them apart bit by bit, and stray grenades are likely to trigger a cascading series of powerful blasts that look kind of like you just called in an airstrike.
The biggest problem I ran into is that I've been playing too many recent shooters that put a high emphasis on tactical gameplay, hard cover and dealing out damage in measured, precise amounts. Bodycount seems to be built to punish you for that approach; enemies come in from strange angles, hard cover doesn't really exist, and collateral damage is really the entire point.
I only started getting anywhere once I ran in like an idiot and started charging up to guys, blasting faces with a shotgun at point-blank range and tossing grenades and proximity mines everywhere I looked. You can trigger an adrenaline burst for a short-lived stretch of immunity to gunfire, which rewards a straightforward, run-and-gun approach that most games don't bother with these days. Bodycount is about traveling to exotic locales, blowing them up, finding survivors and jamming a submachine gun into their nasal cavity.
The weapons in the game are all powerful and easy to use, to the point where this is one of the only shooters I can remember playing recently where I could reliably expect to be more accurate at long range than my enemies. Usually, I'm lucky to hit one of every five shots unless I'm in point-blank range while the random grunts I'm fighting can put an entire clip into my left eye from 500 yards. Bodycount, by comparison, makes it very easy to kill people, choosing to pile on the enemies rather than to make each one an exercise in frustration.
Each enemy you kill explodes into a happy multicolored burst of pick-ups, including intel drops, extra ammunition and the odd health boost. You're also rewarded with "skillshots" every time you kill an opponent in a method other than simply punching a hole through their center of mass, which includes backstabs, headshots, explosives and multiple successive kills. These build a score multiplier, which figures into your final score at the end of the level, thus encouraging you to run through each stage by being thorough, precise and inventive.
If I have a complaint about Bodycount as it stands, it's that the preview build I played didn't have much to explain beyond the fact that there were bad men with guns who intended to shoot me. I've been playing it for a few days, and I'm still not entirely sure how the health meter works. I'd thought it was part of the onscreen HUD, which it wasn't, and then that it was a typical modern unseen recharging life bar, which it wasn't. As far as I can tell, sometimes I get shot dead, and sometimes I don't. Then again, this is an unfinished preview build, so the final version ought to be a bit clearer about that.
The FPS always seems to be rebounding between two different approaches. One is whatever method the most popular game at the moment is taking, and the other is a deliberate attempt to go as far in the other direction as possible. Bodycount is the latter, since it may look like an attempt to cash in on Black Ops' popularity, but it's got a unique kind of fast-paced, twitchy gameplay that's more reminiscent of Bulletstorm. If its predecessor Black was "gun porn" — and yes, I will use that phrase as often as I can — then Bodycount is "explosion porn."
More articles about Bodycount