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Coded Arms

Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Release Date: July, 2005
ESRB Rating: "T" for Teen
Genre: First Person Shooter
Price: $39.99
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Review posted August 2005 by Alex Lifschitz

Coded Arms may be one of the most high-profile titles for the PSP. As a first person shooter, many people have speculated that it simply couldn't work on a system like the PSP, if only for the lack of a second analog stick, a staple for any FPS. Adored by users and assailed by critics, it has drawn a line in the sand - Either you love it, or you hate it. Konami decided to take a chance on bringing this genre to the PSP, but should you take a $40 chance on it?

Gameplay

The story of Coded Arms basically involves a combat training simulator that went haywire and took on a life of its own. Hackers see the game as a challenge and go in for rare files, despite that death in the simulator means death in real life (think the Matrix), and there are large cash prizes for stopping the program, which has now spread through earth's online infrastructure. There are hackers who furnish themselves with special weaponry and decide to take on the unbeatable system, getting to its kernel and restarting it. These hackers are known as the Coded Ones.

So, naturally, you play as a Coded One. The whole game is presented as a computer program. When you play through the game, you can take on three different zones: A city, a temple, and a mine. Each of these locales features their own enemies and obstacles. As you play through these stages, you collect new weapons and armor, as well as power-ups to boost your offensive capabilities. Each zone consists of a little more than 10 stages, which are randomly generated. At the end of each zone, you face a boss that is similar to the enemies you fought throughout the zone in terms of weaknesses. Once you defeat all three zones, you unlock Infinity mode, in which there are an unlimited number of stages, as well as new guns and power-ups to collect.

These stages are well designed in their aesthetic properties and their enemy inhabitants. However, they are randomly generated, meaning that no two runs through a level are the same. While this allows for a semblance of diversity - which could be understood in infinity mode - it into a grind, in which you can't tell the difference between two levels. No specific area truly stands out, which detracts from the original intention of mixing up the designs. There are no epically designed, stagnant levels, like in most FPSs. First person shooters for the PSP like Ghost in the Shell utilize an open, unchanging level design, which helps give a sense of progression and difference to the game. Coded Arms does try to add a few identifying features to the randomly generated levels with the occasional timed objective, but it can be more tedious then helpful. If anything, the random generation should have been saved for the Infinity mode alone.

A heavy part of the gameplay involves the acquisition and upgrading of weapons, or "plugins". You start out with a pistol, and then begin to gather weapons like the Shotgun, Assault Rifle, Sniper Rifle, rockets, etc. There are also several "elements" that are used to exploit the weaknesses of certain enemies, such as electricity, fire, light, etc. Different versions of the basic weapons are available in these forms. For instance, a Pistol may not be effective on a robot, but the Bolt Pistol, an electric version, would be better suited for that particular situation. As you progress, you can also pick up upgrade keys to increase the damage output of these weapons, adding to the longetivity of the game by way of something of a collecting game. These weapons are also carried with you into the multiplayer mode, which gives a further incentive to keep upgrading your weapons. The enemies are also varied enough to warrant the specialization of certain weapons. The only problem with this is that you may only upgrade certain weapons for general use, and because there are so many weapons, it may be hard to come upon ammunition for your specific weapon type.

The presentation of the game is a very futuristic, cyberpunk iteration of a software program. Weapons and upgrades are even presented as files. For instance, ammunition is presented as .blt files, weapons as .arm, grenade launchers as .lch.... The list goes on and on. For instance, if you picked up a plasma grenade, it would be presented as a plasma.gre file, or if you picked up shotgun ammo, it would be a shotgun.blt file. Enemies even disappear into code when you defeat them. The general environment is very well thought out and presented in terms of the presentation and reused palettes and scenery (the temple areas look like a temple, etc.). It helps with the immersion that the random level generation draws the player out of. It's the small details that are so gratifying about the game.

Combat also works quite well. Usually, it will involve clearing an entire room of enemies, moving on, clearing another room, etc. Though it may get repetitive, the combat itself is quite frantic. You will often find yourself confronting a decent amount of enemies while moving along at a speedy pace, dodging shots and eliminating opponents one by one. This especially holds true in later levels, when stepping into a room with powerful enemies suddenly becomes a gauntlet of gunfire. The difficulty is there, all right - If you don't know what you're doing, you'll get fried in no time flat. But once the shooting starts, it doesn't stop until everyone is dead. The resulting calm gives you time to cool down, regroup, and prepare for the next onslaught.

Controls

The critics' main point against Coded Arms would be the control scheme. On the default setting, the analog stick is used to move and strafe, and the face buttons are used to look around. Since the face buttons are not depression-sensitive, and only have four-way support, many reviewers have criticized this choice in control scheme.

THE CONTROLS ARE NOT THAT BAD.

The analog stick works very well for movement, which helps with basic targeting. Thankfully, Konami made all the hard enemies ground-based, meaning that you won't have to be looking up and down to get to them, much like in Doom. Square and circle are competent turning buttons, albeit a little slow, and allow you to take out the tougher enemies first. Even still, when you do fight airborne adversaries, after five minutes of playing, you'll find that it isn't hard at all to target them with the face buttons, and any minor aiming trouble can be fixed by moving to the right position to open fire. I noticed that many people saw their shots missing; this is because you need to let the crosshairs settle before firing, or you might as well just be firing at the wall. Like in most FPSs, burst fire is the key to success. True, the lock-on leaves something to be desired. Unlike Ghost in the Shell, in which the lock-on follows the target, you are required to have your reticule near the enemy to lock on. This can cause frustration up close, when a slight enemy movement knocks them out of your crosshairs. There's no worse feeling than missing a point blank shotgun blast. Still, with basic FPS skills, this poses no problem.

Aside from the aiming and moving issues, everything is standard control. Pressing down on the D-Pad will reload your weapon, left and right will switch between up to five weapons (the hot swap selection can be customized in the start menu), and up will zoom your vision (or scope if you have the Sniper Rifle equipped). L will jump, and R will fire. After only a few levels, you'll be moving, strafing, and aiming like a pro, thanks to the somewhat simple learning curve. You can't go into this game expecting perfect controls with one stick, but if you learn to live with what you have, it will do you good. Left-handed players are lucky, though - They get to use the stick to aim.

 

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Graphics

Coded Arms has stunning graphics, plain and simple. It looks like a console shooter on the PSP. Enemies and bosses are very detailed, and much of the environment is destructible. The guns themselves look absolutely fantastic, with looks tailored to their element and purpose. The animations are smooth and fluid, with special attention paid to the function and handling of the gun. Enemies move realistically, and even simple things like electricity and mist effects look great. The only graphical drawback of the game is that some of the textures - Mainly on the walls - look a bit muddy. Other than that, the artistic style fits in very well with the overall game theme, and the models are surprisingly solid. One of the better looking games for the PSP.

Sound

The music of Coded Arms is specially tailored to the cyberpunk theme, with trance/techno style action music blasting during firefights and action sequences. The calm sections are particularly silent, though, giving off an impersonal vibe while not engaged in combat. The sound effects for your guns, footsteps, and enemies are strikingly realistic, and there are the standard boops and beeps while collecting any files. If you listen close enough, you can even hear your enemies curse you out. The music serves its purpose and fits the motif of the game, but could be a little more moody or immersive during passive segments of the game.

Conclusion

So, whom should you believe? The users, or the critics? I, for one, side with the users. Coded Arms, while rough around the edges, is still a fast-paced and engaging game that proves that first person shooters can work on the PSP. The graphics are beautiful, the controls are tolerable, and the action is top-notch and frantic, albeit slightly repetitive. The multiplayer is decent fun, and the weapons are varied enough to satisfy your needs. True, this game could be much more. If you come in looking for fault, you'll find it in spades. But if you are willing to just sit back and enjoy the ride, you won't regret it.

Playing Hints and Tips

- Max out the shotgun immediately. It will become your best friend very quickly, thanks to its insane offensive power.
- Always stay on the move. Staying still makes you vulnerable to enemies. Circle strafing is your best bet.
- Use burst fire. Firing wildly just means missed enemies and wasted bullets.

Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):

Graphics

Absolutely incredible graphics and animation, but a few textures could use some work.

Sound

Very nice composition and good effects. There could be more ambient music, though.

Fun Meter

Great action, but repetitive level design. Kind of like riding a roller coaster - You can ride it again and again, and it may be familiar ground, but it's still pretty fun.

Addictivity

Maxing out your weapons can keep you hooked for a while, but can get tedious later into the game. Still, it's fun to pick up and play, and multiplayer extends the game's life dramatically.

Total Score= 4 Dragons, 80%



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