This should have been a fairy tale. Once upon a time, there was a game called Black on the PlayStation 2. Although it didn’t sell particularly well, it was one of the finest first-person-shooters on the system, and those that played it loved it for its tight gunplay and its determination to make everything explode. Several years later, the brains behind Black turned up at Codemasters and started work on a new game, Bodycount, which – we were told – was a spiritual sequel.
Like Black, it would be a fast-paced FPS game, with a heavy emphasis on rapid-fire weaponry, destructible environments and things that go bang, causing other things to go bang, and sending people flying into the air like so many stunt-men at the climax of The A-Team. In our happy ending version of the tale, Bodycount is absolutely brilliant, phenomenally successful and a breath of fresh air for those of us getting a teensy bit tired of straight military shooters and their increasingly look-alike ways.
Unfortunately, that happy ending hasn’t quite worked out. Stuart Black, who designed Black, left the project halfway through, and the game we have left is a bit of a mess. The graphics are patchy, drifting from good to wretched within the space of a single level. The enemy AI is botched, with your foes rushing into pre-assigned positions almost oblivious to your attempts to gun them down, and sometimes standing still while you’re actually firing at them.The mission design is generic to the point that you suspect it might even be a parody, and the designers have been cheeky enough to re-use several levels in order to pump up the running time a little further. In short, Bodycount has all the makings of a complete and utter disaster.
Yet the odd thing is that it isn’t one. We’re not going to tell you that it’s unmissable, underrated or misunderstood, but Bodycount has something that Haze, Homefront, Conflict: Denied Ops and the other FPS duds of this generation haven’t: it’s fun. Broken? Yes. Badly executed? Certainly. Frustrating? Often. Yet Bodycount is weirdly entertaining. In fact, you end up wishing that someone had taken over the project, spent a bit more time on it, and transformed it into the game it might have been.
It’s partly a question of attitude. Forget the plot, which has two secret private armies battling out behind the scenes of global troublespots, and forget about the cinematic, thrill-ride structure of your Modern Warfare 2s or Killzone 3s. Bodycount is all about classic run-and-gun shooting, blasting away at large numbers of rather dumb enemies with a range of satisfyingly powerful guns, then doing it some more. The early shotgun are SMG and underwhelming, but once the game breaks out its assault rifles, heavy machine guns and weird energy-shotgun-grenade-launcher-thingy, the simple, repetitive act of blasting the baddies is, well, a blast. Throw in their propensity to take up position next to generators, fuel barrels and other explosive substances, and you have the video game equivalent of a golden age Schwarzenegger movie’s final act.