E3 2010 – Bodycount Demo Afterthoughts
It seems like 1999 all over again: There’s more FPS games than you can shake a stick at*, and half of them seem like they might not have been intended to be FPS in the first place. Most of them are endless iterations of MODERN COMBAT: WAR IS HELL: STEALTH KILL RUSSIA EDITION, and that’s definitely snoooore territory, but that doesn’t mean we want every FPS to recreate BioShock**. Can’t someone make an FPS that’s just FUN and not simply an advertisement for the armed forces? Yes, and Codemasters appear to have done so. During E3 we had the chance to attend a demo of their upcoming heavy-with-the-satire shooter, Bodycount. You can see from the footage above that it looks great, and, as I found out after the presentation when I got some hands on play, it’s also a hell of a lot of fun. My initial thoughts on the TBD 2011 game after the fold.
The demo began with an intro by game lead Stuart Black, who explained the basic premise of the game; set 20 minutes in the future, you’re an average Joe Nameless who’s been impressed into service as a corporate mercenary. Based on the footage we saw (same thing you’re seeing above), this apparently means what you think it means: you’re sent all over the world to do your corporate masters’ bidding, namely the delivery of carnage and destruction to the have-nots, in exotic locales worldwide. So how did it shake out?
Gameplay. The controls are super intuitive. They’re not trying to reinvent the wheel or be different for the sake of. Just grab and go. You shoot with the right trigger, crouch with the left trigger, move with the L-stick and adjust the camera with the R-stick, and so forth. I’m kind of set in my ways and I hate having to make my muscle memory change for a control scheme I’ll only need to do once, so thanks for this one. In addition, they do some very interesting things that make play very visceral. When crouching, you’re immobile, but if you ease up slightly on the crouch button, you can move around, adjusting tension on the button to keep from popping up. It sounds difficult but it actually makes you feel like you have a large degree of control over the action. Cooler still, when you crouch behind objects, but remain immobile, you can still peek around to get a better aim. It’s a neat way to mimic the cover system now ubiquitous in third person games, and adds to the you-are-here feel. Love it.
Destructable environment. You can destroy anything that isn’t made of metal – it’s supposedly an aesthetic choice; Stuart Black said he hates having flapping metal obscure the view, even for a second – and the results are spectacular. At one point, during a firefight in a shanty, I kept trying to precision shoot my opponent as he ducked around the door. That is, until Black reminded me that the enemy was hiding behind a wooden wall. So I fired through the wall, destroyed it entirely, cut the enemy to shreds and as a bonus, blew up a gas canister that happened to be in the room. Which blew the shanty to shreds and killed a couple of enemies outside. I then ducked behind some concrete partitions and took out enemies by A) shooting at the concrete they were hiding behind, which showered them with shrapnel; B) by blowing up random gas canisters; C) head shots; D shooting through more walls. It was really cool.
Light Sandbox elements. Players aren’t required to take a linear path in order to complete the game. As you destroy enemies, they explode into blue orbs reminiscent of the orbs from Crackdown (this was intentional homage, I was told). These orbs don’t provide power-ups or health, but “intel”. Intel can provide information about alternate routes, or even open new missions and submissions. During my demo play, I could choose to either attack a well fortified pirate base, or run into a shanty town looking for a different set of thugs; either choice came with different challenges but in both cases it was fluid, and easy to grok.
The tone and setting. The bleak, cynical setting might otherwise be a depressing bore, but it’s cleverly offset by jet black humor in the form of the corporate minder, constantly speaking to you during play, who sounds less like tactical support and more like a customer care rep. Stuart Black expressly mentioned that a lot of Bodycount’s tone was directly inspired by the works of comics genius Garth Ennis**. We had a chance to talk about that at length. Black mentioned Ennis’ ability to make even the Apocalypse funny, and wanted to capture that kind of humor in the contrast between the horrific actions you commit, and the cheery “your call is important to us” tone of corporate support.
Spectacular mayhem. The trailer gets across pretty well how it looks, but the mayhem in the game just feels immediate, grossly exploitative, and awesome. Buildings don’t just collapse, they shatter into a shower of debris. Explosions flash and boom like comic book panels, taking out multiple people as they’re flung across the area. So, yeah. Awesome.
This being a short demo showcasing the game’s strengths, there wasn’t a lot to dislike. That said, what little we saw didn’t reveal much about the game aside from Blow-Shit-Up, and the humor. I’m not expecting an epic length narrative but as we’ve seen with games like Borderlands and Crackdown, gleeful destruction, humor and impressive blammo-kill-whip ass can only get you so far. Even super fun can get pretty boring after a while and if there’s nothing motivating you to play, you’ll probably not end up finishing the game.
Obviously, the game isn’t out until early 2011, and I played a very short excerpt. As more details emerge we’ll know whether or not to be truly excited about it. Even so, based on what I saw, I’m anticipating a really, really fun, gleefully violent romp, and I’m looking forward to seeing more.
* yes, I said “shake a stick at”.
** I’ll say it. BioSHock is awesome, but there’s no good reason it needed to be FPS. There’s other ways to keep you from knowing who you are without resorting to FP perspective. Also, we know from the beginning of BioShock 2 that we’re playing as a Big Daddy. Why then can’t we see how cool we look? WHYYY? But I digress.
*** We also spoke at length about the ill-advised idea of a Preacher TV show. So, I mean to say that Stuart Black is awesome.