Long story short, I've basically had a front row seat on the development of this one, and it's been very interesting to watch it develop over the past 16 months. Black's original vision was not much more than just a demo level, a slick future shooter with a snappy female voice feeding orders in your ear. And from preview to preview, that vision has been prodded and poked by other developers, growing up into the game Bodycount has become.
Unfortunately, much of what appealed in the initial vision has gotten a little muddied along the way. Some elements of that early demo are still in there (and there's a whole lot more besides), but Bodycount's gone from a lot of unique potential to a much more mundane reality.
The initial demo, to begin, was much more colorful than most current shooters. Not in terms of the environment -- most of it was still that dirty brown that seems to pervade grimy enemy lairs -- but when you killed enemies, intel and experience would fly off of them in great colorful orbs. The intel idea is still in the game, but the orbs are much dimmer, as if the browns and blacks had taken over. Later environments that take place in large, slick strongholds do change up the look a bit, but those orbs that made the game feel like the arcade shooter it originally aimed to be are much toned down.
The HUD does help that a bit -- it's much more polished than than it ever was before, featuring a lot of slick lines and numbers that feed you information well. At the end of each level, you're now also given totals of "skillshots" like headshots and combo attacks, and you're even given a grade based on how well you did each time out. Developer Andy Wilson says that idea has been in the game for a while, perhaps hearkening back to that original plan of a very arcade-like shooter.
The Psycho enemy is another interesting line in the game's development. Back at the original demo, the Psycho was only seen briefly, a huge hulking character that had to be dealt with carefully, making you grab cover as quickly as it was splintered apart by the game's environmental shredding system. In the latest incarnation, the Psycho seems much slower, which has the effect of turning him into a more traditional Heavy -- fire out some tripmines and grenades, wait for him to hit them, rinse and repeat. It's not quite boring, but its feels like potential was missed.
The shooting is still there, obviously -- while the version I played at E3 was stuck with some unavoidable screen lag, it still feels fairly tight and quick. And the game's story, between two organizations called The Network and The Target, still feels like it has some meat to bite into. The woman speaking in your ear has a name now -- Ashley -- and while she isn't quite as fascinating as the first time we heard her, it's still unclear just how she'll play into the game outside of telling you where to go and what to do.
I'm not yet ready to dismiss Bodycount completely -- there's still some solid gunplay, and it'll be interesting to finally see the finished product when it hits stores in North America and Europe in late August. But even though I've only been able to see the game throughout its creation in demos of just a few minutes at a time, there's definitely a line here, and unfortunately it looks like it's mostly been away from the original vision that made the idea of Bodycount so interesting.