A 30 day consultation period has begun with 66 staff informed of the move by Codemasters to ‘retire’ the development studio as Codemasters look to re-focus on their acclaimed and respected racing titles which originate from from their Warwickshire headquarters, and also forming a team to work on ‘a new racing IP’ alongside the F1 2011 team in Birmingham. That makes sense given the fact that Dirt, F1, Grid, and the forthcoming F1 Online are all doing well and the future releases are eagerly awaited.
The troubled development of Bodycount will doutbless be examined in the future, but executive producer Stuart Black, general manager Adrain Bolton and game director Andrew Wilson have all left the company. Rumours of a lack of funding and a negative reception obviously didn’t help the release, which went into the all-formats top 40 at 36th place.
We can only hope that the multiplayer ‘ready’ bug is patched either before the studio closes or by one of the other teams to at least let existing purchasers to at least get into games.
Bodycount doesn’t just share a name with Ice-T’s rap/metal crossover band. Both are based around interesting concepts, and in the case of the game, it’s the idea of dropping plot considerations to focus on gameplay. As a spiritual successor to cult last-gen FPS Black, and initially having the eponymous creator Stuart Black as Creative Director until he left last October, Bodycount seemed to promise an interesting alternative to the current Call of Duty and Battlefield epics. Sadly the alternative it offers just isn’t very enjoyable.
The concept of dismissing the plot to focus on the gameplay isn’t a bad one, and excuses some of the barebones structure of the game, with you as a nameless solder fighting on behalf of ‘The Network’ to save the world against various rebels, military and futuristic forces. The intros to each level are mercifully short and you soon get on with the action.
But as a nameless, faceless identity whose death is announced with ‘Asset Expired’, it’s an incredibly soulless experience. There’s no way you can identify with the character you control, and it’s a real missed opportunity. Making the lead character somewhat aware of the situation would introduce some much needed character and comedy opportunities, or at least distract you momentarily from the mindless grind of moving slowly towards each objective before The Network’s Cortana equivalent informs you of another objective in the distance to go and secure.
Frustratingly there are hints of some interesting ideas – the initial campaign drops you in the midst of a rebels vs army battle in Africa, but doesn’t allow you to utilise the fact the two forces are already shooting the heck out of each other. And they’re rendered pretty meaningless once you discover the overarching futuristic military force which symbolises the game by wondering around in anonymous black armour.
Bodycount graphics and sound:
In the five years since Black was released, graphics have moved on substantially on consoles, and that isn’t always reflected by Bodycount. The character hand and gun model looks like it may have been ported over from a last-gen game, and although the scenery is OK, there’s a lot of repetition and generic building models being endlessly re-used. The futuristic sections especially seem like a way to capitalise on a featureless corridor again and again. And again. And again.
Scenery can be destroyed to some extent and with some good effect, but doesn’t quite reach the levels of Battlefield. Meanwhile the HUD icons and hit indicators are functional at best. Meanwhile loading screens could have been created any time in the last 10 years. Reading old previews of Black, the inspirations were the great movie shoot-out scenes, but Bodycount feels more like a B-movie overall. Enemies are generic, and hordes of cloned bad guys will come rushing towads you assuming the AI is still functioning, with the occasionally interesting boss encounters left to liven things up a little.
Possibly we’ve been spoilt by the huge budgets thrown at Call of Duty, Battlefield, Halo, etc, but there’s nothing to make you stop and admire Bodycount’s aesthetics. Soundwise the gunfire isn’t too bad, and the orchestral scores are fairly inoffensive, but couldn’t the audio have been used to add some personality to the game?
The actual gameplay itself isn’t as bad as you might think. You get a standard two gun selection, with grenades, mines, and four ‘upgrades’ including temporary invincibility. The other three don’t seem to make a huge deal of difference but are sometimes required by boss fights.
There’s a cover system, which allows you to hide behind buildings and lean out to take shots at the enemy with the left trigger fully depressed, or you can hold halfway to zoom to target. Not too bad, although you do occasionally find yourself stood in the open randomly leaning to the side after hitting the trigger too hard in a firefight. And given the fact that both you and the enemy can rip apart all the scenery, the benfits of cover are often over-estimated.
More painful is the world’s slowest reload action, which sometimes doesn’t seem to work at all, and the run animation (or lack thereof), as your character floats forward with his gun pressed to his chest. It doesn’t feel like a supersoldier, but more like someone trying to rush home with an anniversary card for his girflriend and trying not to get it wet. And the default turn settings feel a little like your anonymous hero is stood in a bucket of treacle at various points before he finally spins round to walk headfirst into the nearest scenery.
The bonus icon system, which can lead to scenery covered in neon symbols, isn’t a bad idea, and could be quite fun, if the rest of the game hadn’t seemingly tried to take itself seriously. Mowing down people in an armed conflict trying to save the world, and seeing them spew out neon icons is somewhat jarring without something to lighten the mood.
But there are some moments of fun – mowing down rows of enemies with barely a thought for your own safety can be a little cathartic, particularly when restarting is quick and painless and you don’t have to endure anyone whittering on about ‘the numbers, Mason’. It shows why Codemasters might have thought updating a cult FPS was a good idea, even if ‘cult’ is usually synonamous with financial failure unappreciated at launch.
And at least it’s fairly quick – the singleplayer campaign is over in a few hours, the achievements are handed out without requiring any deviation from the main story, and the skillshot bonsues for killing enemies in interesting ways do provide a little more depth, although they also seem sometimes infuriatingly random. Just don’t be tempted to try and melee too often as the knife stab is not only slow, but also pretty inaccurate. And generally, the most fun way to play is to spray bullets everywhere, destroying scenery and the many, many exploding barrels and other objects, which is obviously the complete oppposite of slow, careful progression with skillshots, thus defeating part of the point.
One final irony is that the aiming system is a little clunky, but you get used to it. The enemies, however, appear to have excellent x-ray vision to be able to locate and shoot you through walls on occasion, which is often how your deaths will occur.
I was probably a lot more sympathetic to Bodycount last night, having played through a fair bit of singleplayer. Tonight I tried to tackle the online multiplayer side of things, and that’s really not helped matters. You get the normal Deathmathc, Team Deathmatch and Co-Op Siege (Survival/Horde) options. Obviously Siege can be reasonable fun with a friend, although the control issues and general experience of singleplayer is preserved, and I’ve so far ended up with silent random gamers, adding to the general feeling that I’m alone in the universe playing Bodycount when the rest of the world is having fun with a different game.
But there are bigger issues. Jump into a Deathmatch lobby and you’ll suddenly find vocal players complaining about being unable to jump into games. The ‘Ready’ icon regularly disapears unless you quickly alternate the left and right bmuper buttons, meaning that you’re often in a lobby with at least one person oblvious to the fact the game won’t start without them – and if you jump out to find another game, the fact you’re only able to select Quick Match means you’ll end up right back in the same lobby.
After roughly three hours, I’d managed one game of a free for all Deathmath, which ended up with me and one other player. Who then quit out.
I’m a big fan of Codemasters games in general, having grown up with them since they began in 1986, and regularly heaping praise on their racing games for OnlineRaceDriver. And even though the likes of F1 2010 suffered from numerous launch bugs, the quality of the licence and underlying game made it worthwhile persevering until most of the issues were fairly quickly patched.
But it’s hard to find a reason to justify Bodycount as a full price release. The single player is short, fairly predictable, and only really worthwhile as a quick way to grab a large number of achievements, but at least is a fully functioning element which would be a reasonable purchase if it was half the price as a downloadable game or in a cut price deal, and there weren’t so many better alternatives available. I’ve refrained from mentioning Bulletstorm, for example, which does a similar job far better.
But the multiplayer is simply broken to the point that you struggle to get into a game – I’ve spoken with gamers who spent the 3 days since release trying to find matches, and still not achieved the 10 necessary for the online Team Deathmatch achievement.