Version tested: Xbox 360
You can tell a lot about a game from its Achievements. After one hour and six minutes of playing Bodycount, it had doled out 335 points. Not only are the names uninspired ('Boombastic' - really?) but they're handed out in great chunks for standard progression. Unlock a new ability, another 50 points. That's not generosity - it's desperation.
Bodycount is a desperately average FPS, a poorly-conceived and barely finished rush-job entering the most over-saturated genre around. It has a campaign clocking in at around four hours, a multiplayer mode that redefines bare bones, enemies that don't respond to your presence, and a frankly terrible line in costumes.
This was supposed to be Black's spiritual sequel - a line that Codemasters has been playing down since the departure of Bodycount's spookily-named former project lead Stuart Black. But Bodycount loses out in every way to Black, a game released five years ago on last-generation hardware. There's no point in dwelling on the comparison just to stick the boot in, but you wonder why it was made in the first place.
Bodycount's weapons are mundane versions of the usual suspects: pistol, shotgun, machine-gun, etc. There's a decent enough alien shotgun/grenade launcher hybrid waiting in the game's final third, which blows up enemies with crackling purple electricity, but needless to say it's not really worth the entry fee.
Bodycount's shooting, in terms of aiming and firing, is reasonably tuned and could have been the basis of a better game, but here it's constantly hampered by a terrible cover mechanic and a travesty of a melee attack, and that's before we even mention what you're shooting at.
The cover system, such as it is, is based around holding the left trigger while hiding behind something to peek out from the side. You'll use it intentionally maybe five times, if that, in the whole campaign, yet it shares a trigger with normal aiming. This means that if the game thinks you're in cover while aiming, moving your sight around can suddenly jerk the screen sideways - and it's not the most gracefully presented move. Bodycount's fighting doesn't even demand a cover system, never mind one that's neither use nor ornament.
Backing up this misfire is a destruction system that's downright archaic. Next to what Battlefield has been doing for years and years, Bodycount's effort is paltry. When behind cover, chunks of it will go flying when the bullets hit, and elements of the scenery can be shot or knifed through. That's it. There's no grand scale to it. Certain bits of the environments are destructible while others are not.
But what does for Bodycount is its enemies. The game's spawning mechanism for each level has these chumps running towards their assigned start point, which often seems to be behind the player, before attacking. So for much of Bodycount you'll be sprinting forwards to a checkpoint while the four or five men supposed to stop you sprint in the other direction. It's bizarre.
Things don't get any better once they start attacking. A dumb horde is fine, in its own way, but Bodycount's troops are lemmings, relentlessly jamming into doorways, bunching near explosive barrels, and rushing into the hail of fire that killed their mate.
Sometimes they'll ignore you completely. Just stop in the middle of a firefight, look in a different direction and turn motionless. At one point a crack team of five troopers came undone when they huddled near a barrel, and one threw a grenade that bounced off the head of another and fell at their feet. I'm not making this up.
Worst of all, they can see through walls. At least, that's the only explanation for the deadly-accurate fire that traces you through buildings. If you die in Bodycount, it's always because you're just walking forwards trying to end it all - stay safe and take it slow, and these clowns will never once get the better of you. Except if you try to melee them. The farce of Bodycount's combat is complete with a useless, disembodied knife swipe that's more of a flail, usually followed by the ignominy of being downed by an enemy using the same animation. It's one of the worst melees ever.
But although Bodycount's enemy AI is remarkably poor, the strange thing is that the levels are clearly designed for something better. This is a linear shooter, but its major environments are multi-levelled and expansive - the kind of place that would be perfect for, say, a ruck with the Covenant.
But the potential of enemy troops like the medic - who revives dead troops as stronger zombie versions - and scavenger, who hoovers up all of your rewards and runs away like the goblin from Golden Axe, is never realised on these clumsy battlefields. Whatever the aspirations were, the hugely disappointing group dynamic of Bodycount's enemies make its better ideas no more than footnotes.
Points are awarded for 'skillshots', but these are unimaginative to the extreme: headshots, explosive kills, kills through cover, and variants thereof. Chaining them together is the route to a big level score, but the elephant in the room is Bulletstorm. People Can Fly's recent FPS not only does the same trick in a much more mechanically accomplished fashion, but has so much more flair, imagination and fun about it.
The skillshot feature, like so much else of Bodycount, feels like it's going through the motions. Getting major scores doesn't reward you with anything other than a global leaderboard, and in the days when games are drowning us in more stats and persistence than ever before, Bodycount has almost nothing. Even the multiplayer, the one area you'd expect to find some kind of avatar to tinker with, is absolutely bare bones in its presentation.
Needless to say, multiplayer is a truly stillborn effort. Including only Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes, along with a small clutch of maps, two teams duke it out to be first to 50 kills.
The presence of 'intel' after killing enemies, which is used to charge up special moves, adds a nice coda to the usual deathmatch exchange - the victor has to claim part of their spoils - and the destruction plays much more of a noticeable role than in single-player, so by the end of most maps the key buildings look like Swiss cheese.
Those are two decent ideas in a sea of mediocrity, however, and sometimes even worse. The respawning is especially terrible, and needless to say even early players have worked out where to camp out for easy kills. Among the many crazy things about Bodycount is that its influences are clear and yet not a single one of its features can compete with what other games have been doing as a matter of course for many years.
You begin to think that behind Bodycount there is perhaps the story of an heroic development team tasked with doing far too much with far too little, who have performed a minor miracle in simply shipping something that works. Well, works some of the time. It's an explanation. But the killer fact about Bodycount is that it's nowhere near good enough to compete in the FPS arena, and serves nobody - player, developer or publisher.
4 / 10