After 35,693 shots fired, 583 grenades thrown and 2,184 bad guys killed, Bodycount's single-player mode lies bleeding before me. All seven hours and eight minutes of it. And I'm happy to report it was damn fun shooting holes in everything. In that respect, it is a big success. However, I was under the impression that the game would really come into its own on repeat plays in the eponymous Bodycount mode – and that's where things have gone awry.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. For those who've never encountered Bodycount before, it's a first-person shooter designed to put the fun back into shooting things. From the creators of Black (although with Stuart Black himself quitting the project before it was complete), it's similarly heavy on the destruction and all about the simple joy of firing a gun.
Above: Firing guns at things often ends in mass destruction. Which is as it should be, of course
I can't think of many FPS games with as much emphasis on weapon balance, which Bodycount excels at. Most games have shotguns that are predictably super-powerful up close but lose their sting rapidly over distance, but it's all exaggerated here, to great effect. Explosive grenade launchers are ludicrously powerful but take an absolute age to reload. And the silenced pistol is fast and quiet, but you need to be bang on with the accuracy or you're dead. It all translates into on-the-fly tactical changes that seriously turn the tables of combat.
There's a small amount of snap-to if you squeeze the aim button, but it's not enough to make this a skill-free experience. I did find myself using the trigger more for this feature, however, than the interesting walk/stand/lean mechanic that lets you squeeze the trigger to different degrees depending which effect you want. Leaning is fun, however, especially if you pretend to dodge bullets like Neo out of The Matrix.
That's not the only similarity with Keanu's finest hour (well, second-finest hour after Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, naturally), as once you get through a few levels of naturalistic environments, suddenly you find yourself inside a very futuristic bunker.
Above: Bit of a curve ball, these sections. But they're ultra-challenging, even on Normal
It looks more like Capcom's Gamecube classic P.N.03 than anything else, and practically recreates the Matrix's lobby shootout in every room. Taking cover, waiting for reload gaps and leaning out to take a pot shot works really well and I can't help but think perhaps this futuristic concept should have been explored further. It has quite a distinct feel and could have had its own game.
But instead, it's used for variety (which is still commendable) and you soon find yourself back above ground, exploring a new area. From Africa to Asia, every setting has its own colour theme, meaning you can tell pretty much instantaneously how far through the game any screenshot is.
Above: Now, I like the orange area, but I also like the blue area. But which is best? Only one way to find out...
Asia's blue works beautifully, especially when the rain is hammering down. The sound effect of the rain on a tin roof is superb with stereo headphones on, especially with the gunfire, explosions and collapsing masonry sounding so good alongside it.
However, the music isn't so hot. It's generically themed to the area you're in, sure, but it's pretty featureless and all melody is passed up in favour of orchestral stabs and repeating ostinato patterns that get tiresome very quickly, especially when you're stuck looking for a way to reach the next waypoint marker.
It is frustrating when you're enjoying yourself immensely and then suddenly it all goes quiet because you've killed everyone and haven't found the next spawn trigger. You can see where you're supposed to go by the little on-screen marker (complete with distance reading), but signposting is pretty poor.
I always found my way eventually, but there were several occasions where I simply didn't know where I should be going. The coast in the bay was one, and another was outside the mine. It breaks up the action and could have been fixed so easily.
Impressively, the game doesn't get boring even when you're stuck on a particularly difficult section. I lost count the number of times I died and restarted on the Pirate Bay (when you're tracking a general in the warehouse). It's damn hard. But while the challenge itself was fine, it was the restart point that frustrated me.
Above: There's the warehouse in the background, guarded by a suicide bomber. Nice
You see, I'd found the general. I'd killed the guards, flushed him out and followed him to the other end of the map. And I killed him with a grenade. Mission updated – great. But then a sniper shot to the head cost me my life… at which point I was put back to the run-up to the warehouse. That's not fair. And it's not the only time a tough mission objective is cleared but you can still die and go back to the section before it - it happens quite often.
The game is still all about the action wherever you are in the narrative, so it doesn't grate for quite a while as you reattempt tricky sections, but reloading for the umpteenth time does start to stretch that willingness to try again.
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