by Joseph Barron
previewed on PS3
In 2006, director Stuart Black shocked the first-person shooter world with his visceral and explosive "gun porn" shooter, Black. His latest brainchild, being developed at Codemasters' Guildford studio, is Bodycount, a game which promises to bring the ground-breaking action and violence of Black to the current generation of games hardware.
Although Black later left the project, his design influence on Bodycount is easy to see. The classic notion of "everything must explode" definitely sticks around for this new game, but it all takes place in a more visually interesting world, which seems to have been heavily influenced by sci-fi aesthetics, rather than by the 1980s action movies that were often referenced in Black. At one stage Stuart Black went as far as to cite Lady Gaga as an influence on the Bodycount's graphics, saying her "retro-future chic" style would help to bring Bodycount's graphics up-to-date for the 21st Century. It all seems like rather a bizarre mix, but the game looks impressive so far - and it really needs to, given the standards of the genre rivals. Most importantly, the visual style is distinctive enough to separate it from Call of Duty and other cookie cutter FPSs.
In Bodycount, you play Jackson, a new recruit in a mysterious organisation known as The Network, which appears to be similar to a private military company. One of the most criticised areas of modern FPS titles is story and Bodycount is aiming to take an approach to story-telling that is similar to last year's Alan Wake, in that the game will be presented in episodes. This is designed to avoid the classic problem of trying to pad out 2 to 3 hours of story into a 10 hour game. Instead, like a TV show, each episode of Bodycount will be a standalone narrative of 40 minutes to an hour that eventually completes a wider plot.
As in Black, the gameplay of Bodycount is dominated by destructible environments. You may see plenty of opportunities for cover, but just as you can destroy your enemies' hiding places, they can quickly decimate your own. The enemies are a traditional mix of useless foot soldiers, backed up by more intimidating foes such as at the massive, machine-gun wielding "psycho-tank," and medics who can revive soldiers that you have already incapacitated.
Let me pay for that rifle with some... intel
The currency in Bodycount is "Intel" which can be collected from fallen enemies and used to upgrade your weapons, call in air-strikes and so on. There is even a skillshot system which offers extra amounts of Intel depending on how each enemy is killed. This should help encourage players to experiment with different approaches to each combat situation, while giving immediate tangible rewards which can then be used to discover new ways of dispatching enemies, earning you even more Intel. Enemy AI will move dynamically in the environment, encouraging quick thinking and experimentation from the player. There is also a scavenger enemy who will try to steal Intel from fallen soldiers before you can. Clearly the pace of the gameplay in Bodycount is going to be incredibly fast.
Multiplayer, what else?
In addition to the fascinating sounding campaign, Bodycount will also offer multiplayer in the form of traditional competitive modes and a separate co-op campaign. The co-op missions will take place in the same locations as the single-player game, but have you playing as nameless characters going through the locations either just before, or just after Jackson does. It's good to see a developer offering a co-op campaign with something different to the single-player experience, though it's hard to tell how compelling this mode will be when it is simply re-using environments that you will have already experienced on your own.
Start counting the bodies
Bodycount is shaping up to be an intriguing addition to the FPS genre. Stuart Black may have left the project, but his influences are still clear to see in much of the game's design. 2006's Black has become something of a cult favourite and fans will be eager to see just how this spiritual successor will perform when it is released. You can start racking up the kills and counting the bodies when Bodycount is released in summer 2011.