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None more Black.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

If ever a man reflected the character of the game he was making, it's Stuart Black, the wild creative lead behind Codemasters' gun porn shooter Bodycount. Loud, effervescent, uncompromising, relentless, engaging, destructive. If his mouth was a gun, energetic banter with the silver-haired Scot would end with your brains smeared over the wall.

Never afraid to court controversy, Black's central assertion that most console shooters are "f***ing boring" isn't something he's about to apologise for any time soon.

"But that's not to say they're all s***!" he smiles. He's just rightly fed up with "nineties design" and "whack-a-mole" AI, where enemies obligingly pop their heads out of cover in patterns so predictable it's insulting. He also admits to a healthy hatred of being forced to play in a prescribed way by the developer. "It really pisses me off!" he hisses.

"Now, I'm certainly not going to make a game like that. I'm bored of that. I've done it to death. I want to play something different," he insists. "There has to be a valid reason for making Bodycount. I don't want to copy someone else, and if it doesn't exist you have to invent it. If I could buy this style of game, I wouldn't make it."

With seemingly no-one willing to pick up the gun porn mantle from Criterion's Black, it's hardly a great shock that Black himself has taken up the challenge of making another game with the same insatiable appetite for destruction. A game where "unapologetic arcade action" is placed front and centre, and the gun is the true star.

Shooting the wall's not going to kill him, dude.

To demonstrate the point, we're invited to play an early build and spend time simply spraying bullets around an enclosed environment to see what effect they have. Wooden crates don't simply break apart in the usual prescribed fashion, but splinter apart piece by piece, scattering debris in all directions. The metal frame bends and eventually buckles, with its ammo-filled contents revealed, and you can take it even further by electing to blow up the ammo rather than collect it.

This layered approach to destruction extends to the most trivial item of scenery, whether it's a vending machine, petrol pump or an internal wall. Every shot exposes its shattered innards, until it falls apart completely in a big pile of shattered junk.

But such a gratuitous approach isn't just technological showboating to ratchet up the feeling of chaos. As much as it succeeds in doing that, the tactical implications are literally everywhere. For Black, "it's about player choice and player customisation".

In the midst of a level, you're suddenly aware that interior walls, floors and ceilings aren't going to stand up to concerted punishment - and so it proves. Enemies cowering for cover beside windows and doors can be quickly flushed out, while a bit of speculative ceiling destruction promises to ensure that anyone hiding upstairs won't be safe for long.

This caption is useless without onomatopoeia.

To pull this off, Codemasters has had to come up with the kind of adaptive AI that's alien to most shooters. With practically every cover point destructible, enemies react accordingly when in danger, and scuttle off to take up new positions. "If there's opportunity to broaden the player choice, we'll always go down that route. We're building creative arenas rather than corridors," Black nods.

Amidst all this dust-strewn chaos, Codemasters hasn't neglected to create a world that you care about, populated with strong characters that you care about. With influences drawn heavily from the best modern, big-budget episodic dramas and personalities they could think of, you play as a generically-named combat asset, John Doe. "He's the bastard love child of Steve McQueen, Lady Gaga and JJ Abrams," according to the ever-modest Black. "He really typifies that post-modern take on thrillers, and that's the direction we wanted to go."

With everything from True Blood to FlashForward and Lost thrown into the pot, the plan is to create a "glossy techno thriller" where you play as a combat asset on the ground, engaging in "a stylised orgy of shooting" under the remote guidance of three sexy operatives.

"There's a lot of depression in games these days," notes Black. "You're always playing a desperate man in a cruel world, but I want you to escape to a fantasy world, and that's not often done."