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Coded Arms

Platform(s): PSP
Genre: Action
Publisher: Konami


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PSP Review - 'Coded Arms'

by Agustin on July 19, 2005 @ 1:07 a.m. PDT

Coded Arms is a fast-paced and aesthetically stunning first-person shooter set within a hastily abandoned Virtual Reality system. The VR universe was originally conceived as a training device to prepare mankind for an alien invasion, but was hurriedly shut down when the system became self-aware and created a brutal world populated with virtual, yet hostile alien races. Cast as a hacker, the player is equipped with an array of hi-tech weaponry and must cleanse the VR world of its unsavoury denizens.

Genre : Action/FPS
Publisher : Konami
Developer : Konami
Release Date : July 7, 2005

There are many types of first-person shooters: Story-based, tactical, “Doom-like.”

There are the “good” FPS: Quake with its masterful ambiance and straight-forward action, Half-Life’s story-driven brilliance, Doom and Serious Sam bringing their special brand of bare-knuckled take-no-prisoners action, the Unreal series and its constant leaps in terms of gameplay and graphical prowess.

Then there are the others. The rest.

Shogo: Mobile Armor Division (barring the Squishy mod). SiN. You know the type. In recent times, the quality of these releases has worsened; give Chicago Enforcer a whirl if you don’t agree.

With the announcement of Coded Arms, I was anticipating an extremely polarized response. The application of randomly generated levels – the most controversial point of the game, outside of its lack of dual-analog controls – annoyed me as much as the next FPS fan, but left me with one, simple wish: To have a new Doom/Serious Sam-style FPS with a straight-up kill-hordes-and-hordes-and-hordes-of-baddies mentality.

With great anticipation, I slid the Arms UMD into my PSP. It booted up. I prayed. It was not at all the game I was hoping for. What I got was a watered down version of a post-Halo console FPS, complete with horribly implemented freelook controls that are completely inappropriate for the PSP’s button setup. I could have stomached the repetitive “point A-to-point B” puzzle solving, and maybe even the randomly-generated levels (terrible idea for an FPS, at least when implemeted in the slipshod manner Konami did with this game), had the experience been more in accordance with the best of Doom’s overwhelming battles. But the action is as toned down as in a more story-driven FPS, minus the fantastic AI patterns associated with those games. Coded Arms is a failure on all fronts; not a pointless release, but a clear letdown to those expecting a better FPS to take on the road after meeting with the disappointment that was the Metroid Hunters demo.

But I digress. It still feels cool as freakin’ hell to boot up a portable system and run through a FPS that doesn’t look like the bastard child of Wolfenstein and Rise of the Triad. That is the best thing I can say about Coded Arms. Just after the initial shock of playing the game for an hour straight with the statement, “I am doing this because I have a review to type up,” running through my head like a broken record, I had this moment of enlightenment that led me to write the statement that introduced this paragraph. That moment quickly faded, and we are left with a game with, quite literally, no direction.
The story is unabashedly aimless. Simply put, it waxes Reboot through and through, with only the weakest attempts at reaching for a deeper, Matrix-esque concept. The player is a hacker. The player kills glitches and eliminates viruses, and all that hooey that kept us watching Reboot for far longer than we should have, except Coded Arms lacks any real character development to keep us interested. Of course, the presence of a story is only to appease those who feel every game should present some small motivation for the slaughter. Konami presents the story through the most meager means, with clear hopes to put the focus on the gameplay. Gameplay which has even less vision than the story behind it.

The previously noted control issues are the main problem. (I cannot say this enough, this game needed to be optomized for the PSP’s control setup!) However, the randomly-generated stages are no less than embarassing for the developers. (Shame on you, Konami!) While most of the environments are useable enough, the appearance of a rogue dead-end is far too common. A small indent on the side of a main room is not what I am referring to; some of these hallways are long. If this was a review of a roguelike (a type of action RPG that is similar to the early PC adventure Rogue, for the uninitiated), I would be much more lenient about this sort of thing. After all, those games are based on exploration, discovery. While there would be little design purpose for such a hallway, at least some item could possibly be found there, some escape from a charging enemy, something useful. In Coded Arms, there is no excuse for such occurrences.

Another “no excuse” situation is basically anything involving the weapons system. Ammo consistently scarce, which often removes any strategy dependent on the use of a certain weapon, since most of the ammo “plugins” seem to have a penchant for a single weapon in the arsenal throughout each stage. This problem is not a case of “better luck next time the map is generated,” but a consistent problem that plagues the entirety of the experience.

The saddest “feature” Arms brings to the table are the missions. They are never more than “defeat all enemies” or “defeat all enemies within X amount of time.” Even the likes of Doom pulled more problem-solving thought patterns out of players.

Members of the Blue Blue Cult will thoroughly enjoy Coded Arms’s presentation, however. (Unless the great hero Ness puts a stop to it, that is.) Bluish-grey, dark blue, and yes, the good old stand by, plain ol’ blue, coat everything, to the point where many enemies are difficult to see even when the PSP is set to the AC only fourth-level brightness setting.

Outside of art direction, Arms manages to win a few technical victories: Surprisingly stable framerate, better-than-average lighting, and, best of all, minimal load times – an impressive feat for a PSP release.

But a further glance outside the technical world proves only that more, unmined depths of disappointment can be found. Bumpin’, and by that I mean completely unnoticable, electronic tunes drone vapidly in the background, mostly drowned out by trite, listless sound effects that scream “generic shooter” even moreso than the bleak state of the game’s storyline.

PSP fans should be getting a little worried by this point. While many genres have been covered on the console thus far, only a few releases have been of true high-caliber quality – fewer for games that don’t involve racing or aren’t titled Lumines. While many previews expressed marked doubt over Konami’s abilities to produce a passable FPS in Coded Arms, PSP owners the world over still held their fingers crossed – though sometimes behind their backs, to avoid backlash from pig-headed peers – in hopes of a truly enjoyable new PSP game to release. While Coded Arms will definitely give PSP fans something to keep busy with, it is the very definition of a certain connotation brought about by that very phrase; it is a game with which the player can stay active and engaged, but not one which the player will enjoy with more than the slightest note of glee.

Score: 5.0/10

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