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Published: Thursday, 9/29/2011

Racking up body count doesn't equal success

BY TOM FISHER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Most gamers are aware of the saturation of shooter games on the market.

This year already has seen more than a dozen titles in the genre. It's quickly becoming the leading style of play for budding as well as veteran developers. We can speculate ad infinitum about why it's so popular, but when the developers at Codemasters decided to branch out from their usual racing titles for their second try at the FPS genre with Bodycount, it is a testament to how popular the genre has become.

The dangers in making such a move are real, as are the benefits. If you succeed, you join the ranks of juggernauts such as Call of Duty, Gears of War and Battlefield: Bad Company, and the money and praise will gush forth. Fail, and you should get used to making racing games for a long time.

Players in Bodycount take the role of a special agent with an organization called The Network. Third world countries across Africa have reheated some cold conflicts and your job is to infiltrate and gather intelligence. You're a loner, so you must fight foes on both sides of the conflict. As the game progresses it becomes apparent that there is another player in the game, a rival organization called The Target. And, yes, you'll have to kill them too, though you're not sure why. It's an uninteresting plot that has no sense of purpose and does a poor job of explaining the missions. Generally players just won't care about the plight of The Network or the countries they will infiltrate.

The first few levels take players through some slummy, seedy environs throughout Africa, fighting the local militia as well as government forces. The graphics are crisp and sharp with realistic texture mapping and the scenery does a good job of creating an atmosphere of desolation and poverty. But most levels look way too similar and some are just previous levels with new objectives.

Game play is so similar to most shooter titles that there virtually is no learning curve for Bodycount. If you've played any other shooter, you'll be able to jump in and start cracking off shots. One of the best aspects of the game was the ease of use. And the load times are almost non-existent. After being killed, you're popped right back into it almost instantly.

The combat is actually a lot of fun but mainly consists of some tough levels sprinkled throughout a mostly benign campaign. I was surprised how barren some of the levels were. I kept creeping through areas where you would think there might be trouble only to realize there was nothing to fear. Even the tougher combat wasn't that difficult. But that was the intention. The developers wanted to build a product that focused not just on killing, but killing with creativity. Gamers will receive higher intel points for things like taking down enemies with head shots, explosives, or successive kills. There are also more points for every guy you drop, hence the catchy title.

These intel points are used on the battlefield to get a shot of adrenaline, use explosive bullets, locate hidden enemies, and call in an air strike. Problem is you'll only really use the adrenaline and the explosive bullets. The airstrikes aren't always available and the "wave pulse" enemy finder is useless.

Like the overused graphics, the enemy combatants were all far too similar. So you're killing the same guys over and over. And they're not smart guys either. Far too often a baddy would round a corner and run right past me. Or worse, he would stop and look around for a few seconds before noticing that I was standing right next to him. Wait, now I get it. I need to kill these people because they're just too stupid.

Although I'm growing a little weary of games overstuffed with nonsensical extra features, Bodycount lacked depth. Aside from the solo campaign, there was little else to keep a true shooter fan interested. No minis, no alternate campaigns, and a mediocre online offering limit the longevity of this game in anyone's collection. It might not be time to go back to the racetrack just yet but I wouldn't let the checkered flag get too dusty.

Contact Tom Fisher at tfisher@theblade.com.



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