If I were to use one word to describe how it feels to play Bodycount, I would use “tedious.” If I were allowed to add another, “maddening” is the first that comes to mind. I’d be very comfortable describing it as “mindless.” Despite a thin plot that seems to focus on genocide and violence in the developing world, the questions it raises are far from profound. One that was never far from my mind was, “Why am I playing this?” I frequently asked, “What the fuck?” as I was killed by unseen ordinance. When I sat down to write this review, I couldn’t help but ask, “What about this game is even slightly redeeming?”
I didn’t enjoy my experience with Bodycount at all. It’s not the worst game that I’ve ever played, but it’s one that was consistently poor. Bodycount puts players in control of an operative of an organization known as The Network. The game opens with a cutscene showing off death tolls from conflicts around the world. You’re sent in to one such place, in West Africa, for reasons that weren’t clear to me, to do something that wasn’t clear to me. I decided to check the game’s manual before I sat down to write it and it didn’t even include a basic plot summary.
Your mission seems to be to kill everyone. As I traveled through a destroyed city, a mine and a refinery across the game’s first mission, I killed scores of poorly equipped Africans with little understanding as to why I was murdering them other than the game ended if I didn’t. Two factions seem to be fighting against one another, but allegiance didn’t matter – both sides needed to be killed. I must have killed a thousand men over the course of the first three levels.
Thankfully, the game explains a little later that a rival group known as The Target has been destabilizing the area by building a massive facility beneath the combat zone for some purpose that is revealed much later on. At one point during all this, a massive, two-hundred foot, Target-controlled tower pops out of the earth like a whack-a-mole popping out at a carnival. These people are apparently very powerful and are naturally our enemy. I mean, if you can propel a skyscraper, you must be evil.
After this, you chase The Target around the globe for five or so hours. It’s never terribly compelling and I rarely had any clue what was going on. There are no characters – a voice delivers messages to you via a headset, but you never really encounter anyone with a personality. When you’re not fighting for someone or even a cause that matters to you (or you’re really aware of), it’s difficult to stay interested. It’s a shame. The topic, genocide in the third-world, is ripe fruit waiting to be plucked, particularly for the shooter genre. Instead, we get a game that faults the main antagonist for inciting violence while you engage in genocide of your own. But you’re the good guy, so your murderous rampage is OK.
If Bodycount seems clueless, so is the player while they’re working through it. Despite an innovative control scheme that I really grew to love, allowing you to look and lean in a very natural way, playing the game is more often than not a chore. The biggest issue is that the game doesn’t seem to know what it is. It bills itself as offering “intense arcade firefights” on the box, but this game certainly can’t be put in the same category as Serious Sam or Bulletstorm. My biggest complaint and what caused me the most frustration is the unpredictability of damage the character receives. Sometimes he’s a sponge that takes shot after shot. Other times, you’ll get hit once or twice and die. You’ll never know when the game is going to decide if you can get shot ten times or two. You can imagine how frustrating that can be.
Many, many times, you’ll be killed by unseen grenades. There is a small indicator to let you know that a grenade has been tossed at you, but it frequently blends in with all of the items that are dropped by your foes. When you kill an enemy, they shower the battlefield with small, circular icons that the player collects to refill ammo, grenades and a special ability meter. The thrown grenade icon is the same color as one of the loot types and about the same size. In many areas, the floor will be littered with a hundred of these objects. It becomes very easy to lose the icon in there and die unexpectedly.
There’s another issue with grenades. I’ve been throwing grenades in games for years – they are an indispensable part of my arsenal. I have killed thousands of foes with grenades over the years and I can tell you, I’ve never blown myself up with my own ordinance as much as I have in Bodycount. All too frequently, my grenade would inexplicably hit an object in the environment and bounce back to me, a problem I’ve only rarely had in other games. When you’re already dying far more than you want, killing yourself with your own grenade is aggravating enough to make you want to snap the disc in two, no hyperbole intended.
You’re given some special abilities that evolve every time you complete a level, such as an ability that makes you temporarily invisible or another that allows you to call in an airstrike on your opponents. The abilities are perfectly fine and fit with the game, though they are nonsensically used at times. One segment, just after the giant spire shoots out of one of the poorest places on Earth, requires the player to call in airstrikes to destroy three nearby antennas for some reason or another. This is absolutely vital for mission success, but you still have to build up your special meter to call in the airstrikes. If this is so pivotal, it seems illogical that I would have to go to such great lengths to fill an arbitrary meter to call in an attack. Most games, even the laughably bad Battle: Los Angeles, handled this very type of segment better.
There’s more that I can go on to say, but I’m not going to waste your time. Bodycount should have been better – this was initially intended to be the spiritual successor to Black, with the principle creator at the helm. It also comes from Codemasters, a studio I hold in very high regard. But somewhere along the way, the vision for this game was lost and what remains is a jumbled, unsatisfying mess. There are good ideas here – the controls work very well and the core ideas the game calls on have potential. It’s just very poorly conceived. Nothing really meshes together and I got the feeling that it was just put to market because they’d spent so much on it already and it was too expensive to try to salvage it. I can’t really recommend Bodycount to anyone.