Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Impressions: Bodycount, 360, PS3

With the FPS crosshairs of autumn releases seeming to be aimed at the two behemoths that are Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3, you can imagine that there probably isn't much space for another first person shooter this year. Well Codemasters seem to think differently - the real question is, are they right?

There have been a few big name FPS games that have come out earlier in the year that have failed to dethrone the big two, but that hasn't made them any less fun. Bulletstorm was the first to hit and its 'kill with skill' system added a nice new twist to what can be a somewhat stale genre. Duke Nukem came and went and nobody seems to care anymore and Brink had to give away its first DLC for free to try and curb trade-ins, despite it being a fast paced adrenaline filled experience.

With the Xbox 360 demo of Bodycount going live this week (PS3 to follow shortly) we have had a hands on look at whether this is going to be something worth playing or something worth avoiding. Now obviously when you're going up against two of the biggest franchises in gaming you're going to have to do something a little bit special to get noticed, and I can happily report that Bodycount is not just another run of the mill FPS.

In the demo, you make your way into a desert town, assassinate a boss and then get back out again - all pretty bog standard stuff until you get to the town. Before you get to the town the game walks you through the controls, shoot this, jump this, crouch here etc.. But in the town you're on your own.

So there you are staring down the iron sights at an enemy, when suddenly you realise you're not strafing, you're leaning. This is something rarely seen in FPS and the system works very well. By holding down the aim trigger fully, you are anchored to the spot and the movement stick now makes you lean, stand and crouch. This makes taking pot shots from behind cover very intuitive and satisfying. However, very soon after taking cover you realise that the cover is fully destructible, and this is where the new aiming system really puts a smile on your face. We were able to take cover, take out a few mercs, release the trigger slightly to go into a traditional iron sights mode, run to another piece of cover, and duck and dive then rinse and repeat.

From playing around with the game it seems that the destruction engine is much more impressive than the Frostbite 1.0 engine used in the Battlefield series so far. Bullets can tear through walls and windows, and a good shotgun blast can send enemies clean through walls. Which as you can guess, puts a big smile on your face.

Weapons can have several power ups attached to them, with the demo showcasing the explosive ammo. These power ups can then be recharged by picking up the collectible 'intel' dropped by dead enemies. You can earn more intel by performing special kills and yet more bonuses for chaining special kills together.

So who are these enemies then? Well the game has 3 races, two of whom appear in the demo. The first race you encounter us the resistance, and look very similar to the resistance from Brink. The second race is a more conventional looking army who are at war with the resistance. The third race is more of a mystery and decide to introduce themselves part way through the game, we'll say no more than that for now.

Bodycount looks nice and what's more it's interesting to look at. The environments all have their own look and feel, but at no point seem disjointed. The camera effects are very impressive, with bloom and muzzle flares accompanying explosions and gun fire while all the time not seeming overwhelming. It's a nice place to be.

The only slight hang up is the AI. The website has videos where the dev team are singing the praises of the AI and how good it is. However, in my experience the boss I was sent to kill just walked straight at me and walked right over any mines I placed, dispatching him pretty quickly. Now it could be that this is an early AI build as pretty much all demos now have that 'this is not the final version and all graphics and game play could change' disclaimer on the splash screen. It could also be that it is an early boss and therefore easy to deal with. I am leaning more to the second option here as later on in the demo when you meet the second enemy faction, they seem to fight in a whole other style, frequently flanking me while snipers pinned me down. So I am holding out hope.

All in all, I don't see this game ruling the roost, because lets face it, it was never going to happen. But does that mean you shouldn't buy it? No, of course not. I can honestly say that this felt fresh and new, it was a breath of fresh air from games that just seem to take themselves too seriously. Bodycount borrows from its peers but it doesn't feel like a cheap copy, it takes these features and makes them its own by integrating them in new ways. It would have been nice to been able to give the multiplayer a bash but you can't have everything, it is only a demo after all. That said it has shown me enough to get me very excited for this game and put my pre-order in. If I had to sum Bodycount up, I'd do it like this:

Call Of Duty's gunplay + Battlefield's destructive environments + Brink's visuals + Bulletstorm's skill kill system = Bodycount

And that to me seems like a winner.

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