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From the people who brought you Black comes another FPS with a penchant for destruction...
There was a time when arcade games were one of the most successful genres on consoles. Epitomised by the likes of Daytona USA for the SEGA Saturn and Time Crisis for the original PlayStation, the arcade cabinet to table-top console port effortlessly drew hard-earned cash from wilful gamers' pockets all over again as they set out to discover just how close their home system could get to the industry-leading visuals of a cabinet machine. Limited content and the lack of a half-decent story were of little concern in those days – it was all about recreating the buzz of an arcade emporium in the comfort of your own home with the aid of a much flimsier light gun or racing wheel and minus the compulsive injection of 20 pence pieces. It's hardly shocking, then, that in an era where arcade cabinets near extinction in the UK (they cling on in the seedy backwaters of motorway service stations and seaside piers) and console games like Call of Duty pack tens of hours-worth of blockbusting content onto a single disc, the arcade gaming experience is struggling to compete.
Activision would have you believe that the reason Bizarre Creations' Blur (a game we gave 9/10) was so commercially unsuccessful is because gamers aren't interested in arcade racing games anymore, while classic arcade shooter series like Time Crisis (3 & 4 were released on PS3) have been critically ripped apart this generation. Perhaps the best example of an arcade shooter in recent times was Bizarre Creations' The Club, which met a lukewarm reception from critics in 2008 (again, despite a high score from TVG). You see, we love arcade games here at TVG and we love a good arcade-style combo system, which is exactly the kind of experience Codemasters' Bodycount is aiming for. The whole game is based around a combo multiplier that builds in number as you headshot and frag enemies. With little room for a notable storyline or punctuating set-pieces, this score multiplier effectively becomes the centrepiece to Bodycount's gameplay.
Contrary to our initial impressions during the last preview, it's not the lineage of Bodycount's destructible environments from Criterion's 2006 shooter, Black that form the game's primary focus. Sure, blowing up an explosive canister will take out a few foes nearby, and arcking a grenade into the top floor of a wooden guard tower can bring it to a satisfyingly splintered heap, but it's not the propellant of Bodycount; it's more a supporting member of the cast. Drop a trio of mines at the feet of some enemies on patrol, however, and watch as one gets stepped on and detonated, combusting all nearby fuel cans into a x5 multiplier flurry of kills, and you begin to get a picture of where the appeal ultimately lies. Again, as we pointed out during a recent hands-on, the destruction is actually very formulaic and abundantly predictable, which is arguably as it's supposed to be in an arcade shooter of this type – Battlefield: Bad Company 2, however, it is not.
But while there is an obvious tiering of destructability to the levels – with their red oil drums, fuel cans, and gas canisters – which is semi-excusable in all its arcade trashiness, that doesn't make basic oversights like shoddy AI and lazy level design acceptable just because it's an arcade game. And we're not talking about dull, jack-in-the-box AI that's shoddy just because it's so one dimensional; we're talking about schizophrenic AI that fails to make any consistent sense throughout the entirety of the game. Enemies will land grenades on a 50 pence piece right next to you on every throw, and whole platoons will know your precise location at all times (no matter how much cover you hide behind), constantly showering you with bullets leaving little room for respite. And yet, at other times, they'll fail to notice you standing a few metres in front of them, or they'll get stuck in a feedback loop as they attempt to negotiate a wall by repeatedly walking into it.
But if the AI is glitchy, then the level design is just downright cheap. Most levels resemble a mediocre multiplayer map more than they do a precisely orchestrated single-player layout, while the objectives are as colourful and stimulating as sawdust. Many of the 18 levels are so small, in fact, that the developers often resort to making you retrace your steps and activate a beacon or some such in the same general area that you blew up a command console five minutes earlier. The recycling of assets leads to repetitive colour schemes and environments, and Codies even has the cheek to reuse the same maps on multiple levels. We certainly felt a bit ripped off by all of this by the end of the game – even though the single-player campaign may take towards 10 hours to beat, the actual content on show seems to be more fitting of around half that game time.
Perhaps the score multiplier could appease our frustrations over all of these shortcomings though; perhaps it could resurrect a poor example of a dying genre. Regrettably not. It isn't as if there's anything overtly offensive about the score multiplier, or that it's broken in any way; it's just that it doesn't quite fit together particularly well. It's a bit like Orlando Bloom really: he seems like a nice enough guy and we don't have anything against him, but he just doesn't play the role of a hero convincingly – you get the feeling that he just wants to pop down the street and buy some organic pesto from the deli. Similarly, Bodycount's multiplier should be about freneticism and chained kills but it just hasn't been balanced enough to achieve this. There's no time limit on the multiplier, which encourages an overly methodical approach, and this is then made worse by the fact that any regular gun kill breaks the chain. So, rather than risk an attempt at a headshot, you'll end up darting around the levels dropping copious grenades and mines (which are dispatched plentifully from downed enemies) to keep the multiplier up. At times you'll end up using explosives more than guns, which comes across a bit backward to be honest – the resulting gameplay just doesn't quite ring true. When you compare Bodycount's system to the variation, scope, and balance of Bulletstorm's 'Skillshots', for example, it really does pale in comaprison.
We haven't been able to sample Bodycount's multiplayer on the review code provided, but the details are fairly straight forward: competitive multiplayer comes with deathmatch and team deatchmatch modes for up to 12 players, while a co-op mode that has you fighting off waves of enemies across an enclosed map in the now standard Horde/co-op Zombies style helps to bolster long-term appeal. A further Bodycount Mode, which grades your scoring performance in each single-player level and sets it against ranked leaderboards, adds a touch of replayability. All in all though, none of this helps to save Bodycount from being one of the poorer FPS titles so far this year. It's not the worst – that achievement goes to Duke Nukem Forever so far – but it's uncomfortably close nonetheless.
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