Xbox 360 | Bodycount Hands-On Preview

Xbox 360 | Bodycount Hands-On Preview

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 won’t be to all tastes but, to the studio’s credit, it doesn’t feel like novelty for novelty’s sake.

Andrew Wilson, who took up Stuart Black’s mantle when he left Bodycount and Codemasters, is aware the unconventional mechanic is a gamble. But as the game’s summer release date draws near, it’s 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 Bodycount’s 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 game’s diverse environments. It’s this exaggerated destructibility that smashes the chest-high wall you were hiding behind at an alarming rate, and that means many walls don’t take a heavy weapon to demolish; a standard-issue assault rifle will do the trick. That’s not to say explosives won’t 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 game’s 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 Bodycount’s 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 game’s 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, Bodycount’s 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, we’d 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. It’s 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 Africa’s 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 we’ll be curious to see how the class-based enemy ranks potentially translate into team-based online play. We’ll 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.

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Xbox 360 | Bodycount Hands-On Preview” was posted by Jane Douglas on Tue, 31 May 2011 10:00:00 -0700
PC | Call of Duty: Elite First Look Preview

PC | Call of Duty: Elite First Look Preview

We put down our rifle and dig out the calculator for our first look at Call of Duty’s new social subscription service.

Activision Blizzard’s other major breadwinner in the family, World of Warcraft, has proven that to be successful in the extremely competitive gaming landscape, creating a vibrant, fun world isn’t enough anymore. To keep players engaged, they need to be immersed not only in the content within the artificial world, but also in talking about it with the friends they make, and thinking about their virtual pastime long after the console or PC has powered down. With this in mind, Activision recently gave us a sneak peek at the Call of Duty: Elite service that they hope will keep shooter fans coming back for more games, and interacting with other likeminded players.

Our presentation began with some impressive stats: globally, more than 30 million people have played Call of Duty multiplayer matches in the last year, 20 million players continue to play each month, and seven million log on to cap each other each day. However, as a result of the franchise’s yearly release schedule, player fragmentation means that they’re not all playing the same game, let alone conversing with each other in the same space. With this in mind, Activision hopes that its Elite service (formally codenamed Project Beachhead) will create a “connected service” that will “enrich the multiplayer experience”.

Marketing mumbo jumbo aside, what is Call of Duty: Elite, and how does it work? Great question from you there in the back–allow us elaborate further. Elite is designed to create a single, portable profile that spans across CoD games, moving seamlessly when a new title is released, and giving you access to a huge amount of player data for you and your friends, as well as for total strangers. Unfortunately for those of you (and there are plenty) still actively playing older games like Modern Warfare 2, Elite will only support Black Ops and future titles, with Modern Warfare 3 being the first game to be built from the ground up to include Elite functionality.

Activision is working hard to ensure that no matter where you are, you’ll have access to your stats–they’ll be available through the game’s multiplayer mode, accessible online with a web browser, and (though we didn’t see it in action) an iPhone app. The service will be split into three major elements: Connect, Compare, and Improve. Connect will allow you to find friends and keep track of them through a new grouping system. Searching for groups in your areas of interest (in our demo, photography) would return all available joinable groups that you could opt to become a part of. If a group doesn’t already exist, one will be automatically created, and you’ll become a member. Activision hopes that it will bring together people with similar interests, and eventually feed back into the game, allowing them to foster competitive leagues and impromptu battle groups, such as fans of one football team taking on another.

The Career category works like an extended version of the Combat Record found in Black Ops, and provides a breakdown on your kills and deaths, your proficiency with individual weapons, and top-down heat-maps for each environment. Leader boards can be filtered to show your mettle in the larger CoD community, or boiled down to compare against only your friends’ records.

Compare and Improve are the two new features we can see being most useful to players. Improve acts like a personalised CoD trainer, giving expert hints and tips on each map, weapon load-out, perks, and kill-streaks. It lists spawn points, shows the most effective weapon combinations for maps, and opens up potential for plenty of theory-crafters to compare weapon damage breakdowns and kit effectiveness. How much the coaching will improve each player’s game remains to be seen, but it never hurts to get a few pointers from the pros.

From what we’ve seen so far, grouping could be laying the path for more serious competitive play in the future. As it stands, the current system will allow players to enter Activision-sponsored events such as screenshot competitions. Prizes will include a mixture of digital items, like emblems and medals, as well as real-world tangible goods like Call of Duty belt buckles, iPads, and (at least for North America) a customised Jeep. Read our Q&A with Chacko Sonny for details on how regional competitions will work.

So, how much would YOU expect to pay for this new suite of tools and data? Well’ we don’t know, either. While Activision has said that Connect, Compare and Improve features will all be available free to current players (multiplayer games will also remain free), there will be a premium subscription available that will include the various DLC drops that are released for each game. All we know so far is that according to the publisher it will cost “less than any comparable online gaming or entertainment service”.

From our time using it, the wealth of information on tap is deep, the interface is easy to use–if a little daunting for first-timers facing waves of info–and the social aspects will help players to expand their circles. We’ll be interested to see how the system fares once players begin tracking and participating in a large number of groups, how well regionalisation of competitions will be handled, and whether the stigma that comes with subscription pushes away potential users. Call of Duty: Elite will be available for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC owners later this year. Stay tuned for more details in the coming months.

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PC | Call of Duty: Elite First Look Preview” was posted by Dan Chiappini on Tue, 31 May 2011 09:02:20 -0700