Apparently, Asia is full of buildings that explode lots - at least if the latest area of Bodycount is anything to go by. But if you've been following our coverage up until now, you know all about the explosions, the exploding barrels and the fragile buildings standing next to the exploding barrels. What you don't know about is the co-op mode, or the single-player's most important feature - which is why I'm here. So step right this way. Oh, and watch out for the proximity mines on the floor. Good man.
As with classic arcade games of the mid to late 1990s, the game's action and spectacle belies its tactical depths. But that's a conscious decision. The term the devs have been using is 'overdialled fun', with the focus on bright colours and the enjoyment of firing a gun. It's reminiscent of the first time Black was shown off and the volume on the TV was turned up so loud, it was like a real gun being fired in the room. But while this pick-up-and-play gameplay has been finely honed, it's surprising how soon it melds into a deeper experience, if you take the time to understand its nuances.
You've probably heard about 'intel' already – a kind of currency dropped by downed enemies, increasing as you dispatch foes in more and more impressive ways. Head shots are good, multiple kills from an exploding barrel are better. But this intel is used as currency on the fly. It can be earned and spent within the same second if you've got your head in the right place, using the 'OSB' (Operative Support Button), mapped to the four directions on the d-pad. And it's crucial too, not only for your own survival, but for how well you do in the leaderboards.
Above: This is Asia - the latest area of the game to be shown. All of the neon signs can be destroyed. Pity...
Take, for instance, the air strike. This can be called in when your intel bar is pretty much full, simply by tapping 'down' on the D-pad. If the air strike finds its target and kills enough enemies in one go, you can mop up another swathe of intel orbs, half-filling your gauge again on your way towards another air strike.
Likewise, tapping right on the d-pad starts depleting your intel bar. But while it's activated and there's juice left, all of your ammunition is switched out for explosive rounds. Just like that. Again, cause enough mayhem and you can keep this going for longer.
Above: The greyed-out icon here is the air strike. Explosive rounds, radar and adrenaline are all available
All of the d-pad commands are toggled with repeat presses, so if you're almost dead and unlikely to make it to safety for your health to recharge, you can simply swap some of your intel bar for a shot of adrenaline. In this state, you're virtually invincible for as long as your bar lasts (which isn't long), but it lets you run faster and melee-attack harder for that short time. Once you're safe, click it off again and preserve what little you have left of your bar.
The great thing about all this is that it turns the game into a completely different game. During my initial hands-on time with the single-player mode, I didn't know how the d-pad worked, yet I was having plenty enough fun just blasting walls out of buildings, lobbing grenades into groups of enemies and finding alternative paths through the level.
The Asia level is much more open than most FPS games dare to allow, allowing you even to traverse the rooftops if you so desire. So I was wading in with all guns blazing and just enjoying the spectacle wherever I could find it. Machine gun fire for the individuals, grenades for the groups and a nice carpet of proximity mines in my wake when I ran for shelter from the chain gun guy. He's known only as 'The Tank' and I'm not ashamed to say he gave me a lot of grief.
The team wants gamers to enjoy this gung-ho style of play, too, even going so far as to make close-up explosions hurt you less than they probably should. There's more fun in witnessing a massive explosion first-hand and just surving it than getting wiped out and having to restart at a checkpoint. Fact.
Above: Close-up explosions definitely still kill your enemies. But if that was you, you might live to tell the tale
But then, it was time for me to watch someone else have a go, and the game changed completely. Another journo stepped up and began playing the game carefully - even stealthily. He chose a sniper rifle from the weapons terminal at the start of the level, and began to creep through the level, picking off guards with head shots. It was like watching a different game.
The stealth mechanics are well-implemented, but never dwelled upon. They're just there and they work, which is how it should be in a game like this. Yellow dots on your radar show you enemies in the immediate vicinity, but they turn more and more orange as they hear your shots and see their comrades fall. They're becoming more alert, but they haven't seen you yet. But, amazingly, you might never even notice if you ignore the HUD and just get stuck in. Which is fine - however you want to play is the way you should play it. The game won't penalise you for just having fun.
Above: The red dot is someone who's seen you. That orange mass haven't. 4 grenades left? I have an idea...
The fellow journo's methodical approach saw just as much success as my twitch-reflex attempt. But during my time off the demo, I had been watching how the OSB worked. When I got back into the game, it was a totally different experience again. And I just know that, given the time, I would be playing this like a score attack shooter, trying to keep at least one part of my OSB running at any one time, fuelled by skill kills. There's vast potential for showboating here.
Having now grasped the mechanics of the OSB system, it was time to play the two-player co-op game. It plays much the same as the single player, although with the stealth mechanics still evident in full effect. The satisfaction to be gleaned from successfully flanking an enemy while your comrade provides a distraction is something the single-player experience simply can't offer.
Further distancing the gameplay from the regular story mode, attacks come in waves, adding a Resi-Mercenaries survival feel to the proceedings. There's no time limit and it's not over if either player dies at any one time, but it does end if one player dies before the other can respawn. There's also no 'help me, I'm down' medic tomfoolery, which is a relief, to be honest, as the game is more streamlined as a result. There's still plenty of tension when your colleague shouts "Don't die - I'm down", which is obviously easier said than done. Surviving for eight seconds in a room full of enemies is incredibly tense and feels more like 20.
Above: It is possible to explode your mate by mistake. But it's clearly his fault for getting in the way
Again, it's back to that arcade sensibility. It really has that feel of going to an arcade with your mate and hopping on a machine together to fight until your money runs out. There will be a more contemporary-feeling 12-player deathmatch mode too, but that wasn't available to try in our demo.
The team is making a big deal of its focus on fun instead of realism and I think it's really going to work. This isn't designed to be a long slog through a painstakingly paced campaign mode - CoD does that already so there's no point Codies doing the same thing. No, Bodycount is designed to be the game you go to when you simply want to shoot stuff. And while that instant hit of fun is there in truckloads, I have a sneaking suspicion it's got legs, too. Review soon.
08 Aug, 2011