Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: City Interactive
Developer: City Interactive
Release Date: July 29, 2008
Code of Honor 2: Conspiracy Island could have used Jean-Claude Van Damme's Legionnaire character from "Lionheart" to kick some life into its first-person shooter formula. The title casts the player as a member of the French Foreign Legion who's been sent to an island off of the coast of French Guiana to deal with some very bad people. While it packs in plenty of guns, bad guys, and linear levels, it won't do much to stave off the impending feeling that waiting for Half Life 2: Episode 3 might not be as bad as you thought.
It seems that some trouble is brewing on Ile Royale, a former penal colony that is also home to a French research laboratory, when members of an outfit called the Global Revolutionary Front drop by for an unexpected visit. Apparently fleeing from the mayhem caused by Pandemic's Mercenaries 2 elsewhere in South America, the bad guys who hit the island are after something more than a few flu shots or a brush-up course on elementary physics. That's where you, as Sergeant Claude Boulet, come in to crush your enemies and see them driven before you faster than you can say "Commando."
Although the story might seem to have been ripped straight out from a scriptwriter's leftover B movie book, the technology behind the game has nothing to do with the '80s. Powered by the JupiterEX engine, the same Lithtech code running in the veins of titles such as F.E.A.R., Condemned and the upcoming Project Origin, it's one of the few saving graces that the game enjoys, but you would be hard-pressed to know it without the logo splash on the startup screen. Thanks to the integrated physics, enemies react to every bullet before tumbling back, even if their arms tend to splay out in mostly the same way every time.
Code of Honor 2 also makes use of a few cool lighting effects by casting long shadows against photographic textures. Additionally, occasional cover can be picked apart by your shots, and most of the weapons have a good amount of detail to them, but there's not much else that makes use of the potential that the engine has demonstrated elsewhere. Enemies tend to look blocky despite the high detail level settings, blurry low-res textures occasionally blot the screen, skin looks plastic, and the levels are more practical than they are pretty. For a budget title like this, though, City Interactive has managed to squeeze enough out of the engine to at least keep you from falling through the map, although there are places where you can get stuck. This is especially true in multiplayer, where a player had to chat with everyone on the map before he could get unstuck. As I watched from spectator mode, one of the other players discovered where an enemy had gotten stuck, killed him, and then promptly fell into the same spot. It was both funny and sad at the same time.
The story isn't helped by the ham-fisted dialogue that is delivered at the beginning of every stage or during the in-game cut scenes and pre-rendered cinematics. The voice actors sound like they are doing their best to work with what they've got, even though a lot of it sounds lifted from a bad movie, and the bad guys' Spanish adds just the right amount of exotic surprise to the action, as long as you don't mind that most of them sound like the same voice that's been worked through a voice changer. It almost sounds like they're pranking you from the battlefield. Subtitles struggle to keep up with all of the vocals, but they will drop out whenever they feel like it. It's best to just keep shooting and leave the story behind. Fortunately, while the speaking stuff may not be that great, the weapon sounds are; my speakers filled with the distinctive tap dance of bullets from the Legionnaire's weapon of choice, the FAMAS assault rifle, or the thunderous boom of the Mossberg shotty. Code of Honor 2 boasts a number of weapons considered to be the signature tools of the French Foreign Legion, including the H&K MP5 and a PAMAS-G1 handgun, and you can also snag what the bad guys are using, as long as you're willing to give up one or two pieces in your arsenal to make room for them.
The basic controls are the same in Code of Honor 2 as they are in every other FPS, so you won't have to break out the folded sheet of instructions that's masquerading as a game manual. The title makes use of the usual WASD keyboard setup, leaving players to simply go in and start blowing away bad guys while following the linear objectives from point A to point B. The regenerating health system also keeps you in the game as long as you can avoid getting shot up. You can also crouch, bunny hop over obstacles, and clamber up low-lying ledges, which is actually more than I can say for certain other titles that aren't in the budget range. The box also advertises something called "the Covert Fire System," which sounds like it might be related to the cover system in Gears of War, but it looks like it's nothing more than hiding behind an obstacle and leaning out to shoot the enemy. Extra points for City Interactive's marketing department.
An interesting twist to the controls is with the FAMAS assault rifle, which can be modified into a sniper and taken apart again in the field. Thanks to the high accuracy that most weapons seem to have, however, using it as a sniping alternative isn't that useful, and there are only one or two targets where it really feels effective. Most of the game feels as if it's been designed for you to storm right through the levels while looking out for the next exit or lever.
As Claude, your team leaders will radio over instructions, and most of the game is spent in following one objective after another in pursuit of the enemy. Players will get to explore dark caves, swim underwater, stab snakes along the way, head into a crumbling prison filled with new inmates armed with automatics, and eventually make their way through a factory and the research laboratory just beyond it. Your teammates will also back you up on occasion and provide help in taking down the enemy, who are smart enough to make use of cover and keep on the move to avoid lead poisoning. Seasoned FPS veterans won't find much of a challenge here, and the shortness of the game makes it a budget title in more ways than one, as this combat mission lasts less than two or three hours.
The included multiplayer might have helped, though you will be challenged to find more than two servers or anyone else online. Most of the games that I had participated in were populated far below the 16 maximum player slots offered by the sparse selection of game modes. To its credit, the game was pretty stable and ran smoothly without any lag, but I couldn't tell how well it would have fared under a full load because there were hardly any other servers or players to try this with.
There are your typical Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Capture the Flag modes, all taking place in levels straight from the game's main campaign. Code of Honor 2's multiplayer delivers a bare-bones experience hearkening back to the early days of online match-ups, only not as exciting. This is strictly a budget-priced, no-frills fight trying to draw in those that have already had experience with titles such as Unreal Tournament (the first one), Quake III, F.E.A.R., or even Crysis. I could probably see this title being useful for players who have never experienced an FPS before, but in today's gaming age, that's like trying to find an action gamer who has never heard of Call of Duty.
Not every shooter has to be a triple-A title of the first order, but there really isn't much to Code of Honor 2: Conspiracy Island's shooting-gallery action that hasn't been done better by today's discounted specials or even by the venerable classics. With its short single-player campaign and hardly anyone on the Internet playing this, there isn't much of a compelling reason to sign on with the Legionnaires on this mission when more exciting venues await elsewhere.
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