US: 30 Aug 2011
Released in 2006 for the PS2 and Xbox systems, Black was a relatively well-received first person shooter that relied heavily on sensory overload and chaos. It was mindless fun, but it performed well enough that a sequel seemed likely. Instead of Black 2, the team behind the original have chosen to create a spiritual successor for a different publisher wrapped in an entirely new property called Bodycount.
Given how little Black’s characters and setting contributed to overall enjoyment of the game, the change certainly isn’t a big issue. However, given that Black garnered some criticism for its narrative shortcomings, it’s surprising that the developers have chosen to deemphasize strong storytelling even further in Bodycount. While a strong narrative certainly isn’t a requirement for an enjoyable game experience, in this case the lack of one seems to be simply another example of how Bodycount is largely a skeleton of a game.
Bodycount tries to set itself apart from the rest of the first person shooter pack with a skillshot system, wherein some types of kills like headshots or grenade kills are rewarded if performed in a streak. However, there really isn’t enough of an incentive system in place for players to care about that aspect of the game. Bulletstorm had a similar system, but it was propelled by an in-game currency. The far more arcade inspired The Club also rewarded more difficult or stylish kills, but that was in the name of a score multiplier in a game that emphasized high score runs. Though Bodycount awards players a letter grade at the end of every level based on these more difficult kills, that’s the only consequence of buying into this mechanic, and it’s not enough to make players go through the whole game prioritizing the kind of gameplay Bodycount is trying to encourage.
The six to seven hour single player campaign is somewhat bland and repetitive. The enemy AI is puzzlingly incompetent at times. Granted, a short single player experience is not necessarily a bad thing if there is a heavy multiplayer component available, particularly in the case of first person shooters, whose longevity are largely based on the attention paid to multiplayer elements. Unfortunately for Bodycount, both the competitive and cooperative multiplayer modes are relatively flat.
It’s not so much that Bodycount fails to bring anything new to the multiplayer table, though that is largely the case. The bigger issue is that what it brings isn’t even a compelling example of well-trodden territory. The only competitive multiplayer modes available are deathmatch and team deathmatch. In this day and age, that simply isn’t enough. There’s also a straightforward cooperative mode where two players are tasked with dealing with increasingly difficult waves of enemies. The reality is both of these modes feel tacked on to an already shallow, if somewhat entertaining, single player experience.
Among the things that Black had going for it was technical polish. Black came out relatively late into the last console lifecycle, and as such it pushed the PS2 and Xbox to their respective limits. It reveled in being a bit of a sensory overload, and it both looked and sounded great. While Bodycount looks good compared to Black, it doesn’t really stand up with any of the games it’s trying to compete with. It’s not that anything looks or sounds particularly bad, but for a title that so desperately wants to be a summer popcorn game, it’s imperative that it be full of eye and ear candy, and that’s simply not the case here.
The reality is that the first person shooter framework put forth by the Battlefield and Call of Duty franchises has dominated the marketplace for some time now. While the genre tropes those games have created might feel a little long in the tooth at this point, they’ve stuck around for a reason. It’s going to take something truly innovative to set another first person shooter, particularly a new property regardless of its spiritual pedigree, apart from the pack. Bodycount neither walks well-trodden ground competently, nor explores new creative territory particularly well. This, unfortunately, makes it a largely forgettable experience.
Although there are some enjoyable moments to be had with Bodycount, it’s tough not to feel as though it was developed without any attention to games that have come out since Black, which was already somewhat fundamentally archaic when it was released. None of the criticisms of Black were brought to bear on developing a version of the game which had been improved in any way other than in terms of presentation. To be fair, Bodycount does a good job of improving upon the aspects that Black did well, namely presenting chaos and destruction. I’m not sure what this means for the chances of there being a sequel to Bodycount, but I sincerely hope that should the developers be given the chance to make one, that they imbue it with more depth than is on display here.