Let’s take a trip back in time, back to the early noughties. A new game emerges – that game is Serious Sam. At the time, explosive fun, funny witty remarks from the protagonist, great enemy design and some lovely set piece moments which genuinely make the whole experience worthwhile. The game is fun to play – very simple (just shoot the enemies and progress through the weird levels) and the comedy elements are really well done.
Shoot forward (pun intended) to 2011. Codemasters release Bodycount. An “over the top” shooter set in a near future world. I’d like to elaborate more on the story but unfortunately the whole thing is just so confusing and esoterical that I resorted to the old “just shoot stuff” mentality. At its very base level it’s Serious Sam, but without all the things that made Serious Sam fun.
My very first impressions of the game were how meaty the weapons felt – they sounded the part, they looked the part and they seemed to tear through not only the enemies but the scenery too. Wow. I was impressed. The thing is, I had experienced ALL this game has to offer in the first 10 minutes. Basically you run around a deathmatch type map shooting bad guys and activating bits and pieces here and there. That’s it pretty much. Every now and again the dusty landscapes are replaced by clean “Mirrors Edge” style bunkers which you basically have to destroy. Rinse and repeat in different settings and you have Bodycount.
In terms of mechanics, basically you shoot dudes who drop “intel orbs” you can collect to make yourself invincible for a short period of time. There are other “abilities” such as explosive bullets, enemy detection – a bit like a counter strike luminous enemy hack – and (oooh!) a WMD “airstrike” type weapon but to be honest you really only need to use the invincibility ability as the rest are largely useless when you consider you can become invincible. Sure, you are forced to use the WMD ability on occasion to complete an objective but other than that you will find yourself using invincibility pretty much all the time.
The game attempts to mix things up with skill shot multipliers – a la Bulletstorm, but FAR less gratifying and varied. It seems to me they are just in there for trophy/achievement purposes. I didn’t really spot a multiplication in the amount of intel dropped, hence my assumption. It’s really not too difficult to get long chains of multipliers. There is a gold trophy for getting 25 skill kills in a row – which when I sat down and attempted I got first time with little effort.
As I alluded to earlier there are glimmers of what the game could’ve been here – some lovely weapons which just feel meaty and substantial – especially the shotgun, and the way that you can shoot through and destroy cover and bits of buildings is a really nice touch but it’s SO limited. I can’t remove the struts holding up a building, I can only shoot through walls – and not ALL walls mind, just ones that the developer deems destructible. The AI is pretty inconsistent too, there have been moments when I’ve stood against a wall and the enemy troops have literally run straight by me without batting an eyelid until I’ve unloaded a shotgun cartridge in their head! That changes to AI that can take you out from the other side of the map without you even knowing they are there. This raises another gripe with the game – the situational awareness is awful, really awful. The HUD that sits in the bottom right of the screen is so small it’s neither use nor ornament, and I found myself on more than one occasion frantically spinning around trying to see where I’m being shot from. There’s a larger in game map in the pause menu – but that doesn’t really help either – it’s basically a “you are here, go here” map. This leads into yet another problem with the game, after I’ve being killed from afar you return to the last checkpoint which could be a fair way back – not in game time but from effort put in to progress. So I might for example have fought a really hard battle to get into a building (a mission checkpoint no less) to be shot down seconds later and the game return me to a previous objective. SO frustrating.
Another confusing aspect of the game is that I can’t decide if it’s trying to be funny or not – I don’t think it is, I think it’s taking itself very seriously and that being the case it falls flat on its face. You shoot people who drop orbs for one – but another thing I spotted was that there are medics in certain levels who revive the people you have shot/blown up (oh yeah, did I mention there are red explosive barrels in this game? (c) FPS cliché 2000). These medics run up to a fallen enemy – use a defibrillating device on them and up they pop again, shooting and back in the action straight away. Not something I expect to see when I have just unloaded three full shotgun shells into the guys head. We are in the near future here, but I doubt that medical science has quite managed to overcome that minor problem!
Online is a similarly disappointing affair. Deathmatch/Team Deathmatch and a wave based mode spread over 4 maps. That’s it. No persistence, no perks, nothing. It’s almost like the developers just totally overlooked arguably the most important aspect of any modern FPS. Given that the single player feels “tacked on” to the game, you almost expect the multiplayer to be the main focus, a real shame and something that could’ve lifted the final score.
Overall a really disappointing game and one which feels like it needed another 2-3 years of development to fulfil any potential it had.
Reviewed on PS3