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Bodycount hands-on preview

Bodycount presents itself less ambiguously, title-wise, than its spiritual predecessor, Black. Sure, Black sounds cool, but what kind of game would that be (although the bullets on the box art of Black let gamers know)? Bodycount feels much more obvious, and at the same time seems to be joining Bulletstorm in some kind of trend for first-person shooters to approach self-parody in their titles. Ironically, at least in the level we played, there was no plethora of enemies with which to rack up the titular count. Sure, there were dudes to blow away, but not more than in your average shooter. Perhaps a more accurate title for the game would be Buildingshred, because man, does the poor environment take a beating.

Those familiar with Black and know that Bodycount is sort of a next-gen version of that game will also know that the central component of these games is what’s been lovingly referred to as “gun porn.” It’s an apt phrase. The guns in Bodycount are loud, beastly, nasty engines of flesh ruination. It’s clear that the devs have tweaked and re-tweaked the look, sound, and feel of every gun so that just shooting them is a reward in itself. You could shoot them in an empty room and have fun. Note: if you don’t have a beefy sound system at home, you’ll at least want headphones to do these guns justice. Low volume or crappy speakers will suck half the fun out of this game.

Everything we’ve seen of Bodycount so far has shown a realistic, if slightly stylized world for the story to take place in. We’ve seen standard gritty-shooter brown environments and real-world rifles and guns. Our hands-on revealed that the game has quite more up its sleeve, and it all stems from the story. Everything is quite mysterious, with your character part of a shady organization known as The Network. You’re a paid employee (a funny voice chimes in when you’re near death to let you know that your employment ends upon death), so you’re not exactly some honorable hero. Your job is to take on another private army The Network creatively calls The Target. Next to nothing is known about them, and so in our mission we went to Africa to find out anything we could.

Above: Go to Africa? Check. Leave nothing standing? Check-plus

The level we played looks like what we’ve seen in screens: brown, dusty, with shanties stacked on top of each other and grim enemy soldiers with skulls painted on their faces. The first thing we encountered, before firing a shot, was the game’s unique aiming system. It takes getting used to: holding down the left trigger puts you into aim mode, but it’s not the same as with typical Aim Down Sights (ADS) modes. It roots you in place, shifting the function of the left stick to a lean rather than moving you. It allows you to peek around and over cover, like a refined old-school lean function. We discovered, thankfully, that pulling the trigger only partway enables regular ADS, although we wonder if that will get tiresome through an entire game, since we preferred being able to move.

The peeking system ties in well to the environmental destruction, because as you crouch behind a wooden fence, for instance, the enemy will shoot holes in it. Then you can peek around to shoot back at them through the very holes they created. We also discovered how horrifically easy it is to tear apart a shanty with a single grenade (and naturally, the game encourages such shenanigans). Even if grenades aren’t handy, this is one of those shooters with conveniently-placed explosive barrels everywhere.

All this might seem like Bodycount is a mindless bullet-fest, but it most certainly is not. Thisbecame obvious when we encountered the Medic. He’ll scurry around the field and actually revive enemies you’ve killed, and if you encounter him alongside one of the tougher Psychopaths, things become really dangerous. Then there’s the Scavenger, whose job is to sneak about and steal your intel. Normally, enemies you kill drop little spheres of intel, which is the game’s currency, and you can just scoop it up. If you leave it lying around (which is understandable when you’re pinned down), the Scavenger can snatch it and run off with it, so chasing him down becomes a desperate gamble if he’s not alone. For an extra cool touch, if he does get away he can even deliver the intel to his boss, who can then use it against you.

The Psychopath at the end of the level wasn’t too tough – he just required some tactical retreating as he lumbered forward with his giant Gatling gun and obscene health. It was after him, at the end of the level, that Bodycount revealed it’s going to be much more than a brown, dreary shooter. Our character found an incongruously high-tech door behind the alley of shanties, and opening it revealed… something. We didn’t really see the inside, but the men residing there emerged, wearing ultra sci-fi outfits and carrying futuristic weapons. And so we learn that The Target may have been using low-tech mercenaries as cover, but they are at the bleeding edge of military technology. We then got to see some concept art showing how the color palette of the game will actually change drastically throughout the game, moving to blues, oranges and purples when the story leads to the Far East, and then stark whites, reds and blacks inside the Target complex. So Bodycount definitely has more to show us, and we hope it’s before the game’s release next summer.

Dec 16, 2010

My new approach to play all games on Hard mode straight off the bat has proven satisfying. Sure there is some frustration, but I've decided it's the lesser of two evils when weighed against the boredom of easiness that Normal difficulty has become in the era of casual gaming.