Bodycount

The numbers game.

A few years back, when DICE was sitting down and putting together its plans for domination of the first-person shooter genre - plans that may well come to fruition later this year - it peered into the future and asked: what's the one feature that all first-person shooter games will have?

The answer, it was surmised, was destructibility. Walls would come tumbling down, cover would crumble and bullets would tear into the scenery with realistic conviction. Both Bad Company games took that challenge on, but disappointingly, very few others followed this path.

With the Red Faction series now officially marked down in history as a noble failure, it's just Bodycount that's left to probe that particular vision of the future - and it does so with gusto. Things fall apart in this game, and they do so with style. Playing through one of its levels is like being given the keys to the sweet shop then wreaking havoc with a heavy mallet.

The destruction here is satisfyingly granular; wood splinters, metal buckles and concrete flecks away with pleasing authenticity. Its influence on the second-by-second play is unsurprisingly profound: cover shreds and walls give dissolve with ease. There's none of the persistent chipping away that Bad Company requires. Bodycount's destructibility is comically exaggerated, and a single grenade or a couple of shotgun shells is often all it takes to open up a new route.

It's an open-ended and freeform shooter, then, because its core mechanic dictates that. There can be no corridors to funnel the player through when the chief selling point allows you to bust through those narrow walls. It does frequently direct the player, however, and a look at three of its single-player levels shows an appetite for introducing choke points and smaller arenas in which the action intensifies.

That's where cover comes in, and for once, it's good to have a cover-based game that has spared a little thought for the mechanic. Holding the left trigger attaches the player to an object, and from there it's possible to peer over or around it with the left stick while using the right stick to aim. An elegant solution, and one that quickly becomes instinctive; within minutes, you're ducking and weaving through the gunfire with the speed and wit of a pro boxer.

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Bodycount loves the gun the same way the Killzone games do, dedicating much screen space to these overstated gems.

You're a fighter with an envious arsenal too, and true to the game's spiritual forebear Black, the guns are lusted over with disturbing fervour. Rendered in exacting detail and taking up a pleasingly large section of your view, they're quite rightly the focus of the game.

These fictional designs, seemingly plucked from a six-year-old's daydreams rather than the pages of a military manual, are gloriously overstated; the Kriss SMG has a high-pitched and violent rasp that can bring walls down; the Super90 shotgun's a hearty boom stick that sends the enemy pirouetting across the map; and the standard assault rifle gives off a mean crackle.

Whether the AI puts up a fight worthy of Bodycount's mean arsenal remains to be seen. Its open-ended gunplay can show the enemy up as smart but functional; they'll know where the fight is and won't get snagged on the scenery (or what's left of it), an achievement in itself, but they don't behave in a way that elevates them from being mere cannon fodder.

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