On Codemasters’ colourful shooter, Bodycount, and its shreddable cover, arcade sensibilities, and novel cover-lean mechanic.
It takes a brave developer (or a foolhardy one) to mess with the formula for a console FPS control scheme. So familiar and ingrained is that formula, a developer better have a good reason to arrange its controls otherwise. Codemasters Guildford Studio is one such brave or foolhardy outfit. Its good reason is the cover-lean mechanic in lively, arcadey shooter Bodycount.
With this mechanic, the left-trigger plants you where you stand, rather than giving you the traditional view down the sights. Then, once you are locked in place, the right analog stick controls how you duck and weave on the spot. Instead of crouching or standing up with a button press, you twitch the stick up or down. Instead of full-on strafing left or right around the edge of cover, you move the stick left or right to lean either way.
The idea is that you plant yourself behind cover–say, a low wall–and use the cover-lean system to open up new lines of sight on the bad guys, letting you peek out from behind the wall rather than pop out from behind it. Though it takes time to get to grips with (and to shake the Call of Duty muscle memory), it feels like a neat idea successfully executed. It wont be to all tastes but, to the studios credit, it doesnt feel like novelty for noveltys sake.
Andrew Wilson, who took up Stuart Blacks mantle when he left Bodycount and Codemasters, is aware the unconventional mechanic is a gamble. But as the games summer release date draws near, its time for the studio to have the courage of [its] convictions, as he puts it. And with the best gun experience, says the game director, also up Bodycounts sleeve, he is quietly confident. Enough of quirky cover schemes, then. What makes a best gun experience?
“It’s all about the effect the bullets have on the world around you,” says Wilson, describing the shreddable cover that keeps you on your toes in the games diverse environments. Its this exaggerated destructibility that smashes the chest-high wall you were hiding behind at an alarming rate, and that means many walls dont take a heavy weapon to demolish; a standard-issue assault rifle will do the trick. Thats not to say explosives wont be readily available. Mines and grenades were plentiful in our hands-on. In a fun touch, grenades can be primed to explode on impact with a double tap of the right bumper–like having a grenade launcher permanently at your fingertips.
The games story has the protagonist, an ex-army type, drafted into a private military agency known as The Network and, in his new gig, applying his lethal expertise in conflicts around the world. These are wholly fictional conflicts; in its mechanics and story alike, Bodycount has arcadey sensibilities, and no designs on being a modern military sim.
The first part of our hands-on, for example, took us to non-specific West Africa, to a colourful harbour settlement dubbed Pirate Bay. The bay was packed with drydocked boats and corrugated iron shacks, bordered with steep green hillsides and red gas pipelines, and swarming, naturally, with African pirates. The orange-clad pirates were mixed in with local militia and your primary target, General Okoro, with all charcaters imagined in broad, cheerily stylised strokes. Wilson calls the story and setting light-hearted, and so it it is–except, perhaps, for some bare-chested suicide bomber pirates who might have been airdropped in from another, grimmer game.
All the same, they are part of Bodycounts stratified, class-based combat. Alongside the explosive troops, we encountered menacing shotgun troopers and snipers among the enemy ranks, as well as medics who can revive their comrades and scavengers who steal the intel orbs that drop from your fallen foes. These orbs are the games currency, and fill a meter that can be drained to activate various benefits, including minimap dots to highlight enemy positions, temporary invulnerability, airstrikes, and explosive bullets.
The intel orbs are awarded in greater quantities for skilful kills, with the key being to build up combo chains. Headshots, shooting through cover, or multiple kills with a single grenade, for instance, will net you better intel payoffs. In this, again, Bodycounts arcade sensibilities show through, along with the musical electronic blips and bleeps that sound as you gather orbs and as your bullets hit their marks, plus your sum total of kills, the titular bodycount, on the lower right of the screen.
The second part of the hands-on skipped us ahead in the game to an underground base belonging to an enemy agency known as The Target. If interior design were the window to the soul, wed gather Target was coolly and efficiently ruthless, having decked out its lair in shiny white, black, and grey surfaces, discreetly trimmed with red neon, and filled with glass walls ready for a shattering.
As we smashed our way through the base, through shiny white server rooms and weapons caches, cover seemed scarcer, and enemies meaner. Its easy at first, though unwise, to neglect the cover-lean system under pressure, while the device is not as familiar as other, more traditional elements of the control scheme. (A half-pull on the left trigger, meanwhile, gives you a minor zoom and the freedom to strafe around, resembling a more conventional iron sights view.) The Target troops resemble black knights, with sleek black armour and slitted helms, and are considerably more aggressive than non-specific West Africas pirates. Here, as in Africa, you follow objectives assigned by the lady operator speaking through your earpiece: kill this guy, hack that SAM site, blow up that reinforced door.
Our hands-on included only single-player action, though well be curious to see how the class-based enemy ranks potentially translate into team-based online play. Well also be curious to see how players respond to a game that takes on the control scheme status quo in a genre as crowded and roughly homogenous (in control terms) as the first-person shooter. The vivid environments, enthusiastically destructible cover, and arcade cues may help win them over.