Rating: T (Teen)
Release Date: 07/06/2005
There’s no question that first-person shooters (FPSs) are among the most popular genres of gaming. Originally relegated to PCs, the success of console FPSs like Halo, Timesplitters, and Metroid Prime has boosted the genre to new heights. Now that handheld systems have a lot more power, it’s only natural to assume that FPSs would begin popping up there in great numbers. Sony’s PSP console gets its first FPS in the form of Coded Arms, which is an admirable attempt, but overall, it falls far short of expectations.
During the 21st century, an advanced military combat simulator (AIDA) was created. It fell to the wayside as technology advanced, and eventually grew dangerous. By the end of the century, brave hackers would take on the system, risking their lives to win cash prizes. Risking their lives? But it’s just a computer program! Well, in order to the hack the system, you literally plug yourself into the computers and digitize yourself into the virtual world. You lose, you die in the real world. Get ready to fight!
Sound familiar? Of course it does. The story in Coded Arms is a mishmash of Tron, The Matrix, Mega Man Battle Network, and even The Lawnmower Man. There’s nothing original here in the slightest; while presented well, the story won’t be blowing anyone out of the water or surprising them.
While not the best the PSP has to offer, Coded Arms‘ graphics are among the smoothest. The framerate’s tight, with minimal load times between stages. Special effects look great, too.
Now for the big letdown. The character models, environments, and textures are so incredibly generic that it’s appalling. We’ve all seen the post-apocalyptic scifi look about one thousand times before, yet here it is all over again. There’s ugly aliens, spider-like robots, and so on. Nothing original in the slightest. Even the menu graphics aren’t that unique; they’re meant to look like a computer system, sure, but again, we’ve seen it before. Even more amusing is the fact that the “jack in” sequences (especially those seen in the intro movie) are lifted straight out of Mega Man Battle Network! Same greenish blocks, same motion, same noises. And when enemies are destroyed; they dissolve into glowing pixels…just like in the MMBN anime (commonly known as Rockman EXE or MegaMan NT Warrior). All they’re missing is a giant “DELETED” marker.
The technorock beats that fill the menu and options screens are quite good; the ambient music the levels themselves is nothing riveting, but fits the dank mood well. When enemies appear, the music shifts to a more upbeat tense theme, a la Metal Gear Solid. Kill all the enemies, and the theme fades back into the background tunes. None of these tracks are memorable, though, and they really do sound like the soundtrack to every other scifi FPS out there. It’s just bland and uninspired.
It’s no big secret that FPSs are best played with a mouse and keyboard. Obviously this doesn’t work with most consoles, and certainly not with a portable one. Coded Arms does an admirable job trying to emulate a good FPS control setup; there’s four default control schemes, none of which are very good…but you can customize each one to your liking, which helps out considerably. It’s no substitute for a keyboard and mouse combo, or even dual analog sticks, but Coded Arms tries its hardest with what it has.
After required training missons, you’ll enter the game itself. You’ll have numerous levels to choose from, each consisting of multiple rooms and tunnels crawling with baddies. These rooms and tunnels are randomly generated, but they don’t really look all that different. They’re all dingy and rusty, and layout variety isn’t as impressive as one would hope. The same enemies keep popping up, too, and none of them are too bright. Since you can auto-lock your weapons, taking out your foes is a piece of cake. The only time it gets a bit difficult is when you’re swarmed with enemies, but a well-thrown grenade can clear that up.
Speaking of which…weapons are relatively generic. You start out with your standard pistol, but you acquire .arm files which give you additional armaments, such as the ever-popular assault rifle, grenades, rocket launcher, etc. You can also hunt down plugins to boost the offensive capability of your weapons, or add elemental affinities (like electricity). Using plugins to your advantage is key in the later stages.
Naturally, since it’s an FPS, Coded Arms has multiplayer mode. However, it’s so boring and uninspired that hardcore FPS fans will wonder why they ever bothered starting it up in the first place; they’ll quickly plop back down in front of their PCs for another round of Counterstrike. The maps in Coded Arms are just terrible; we’re talking worse than Wolfenstein 3D here. There’s also some lag issues, and to make matters worse, there’s problems with the weapons; you can go with preset weapons in multiplayer, or use all the weapons you’ve unlocked in single-player mode. Naturally, if your opponent(s) is farther along in the game than you, then they’re going to have many more weapons, and you’re toast. Not very balanced, is it?
As with most FPS games, the replay value lies in the thrill of multiplayer. With Coded Arms, it’s actually more entertaining to replay the main game; as mediocre as it is, it’s better than multiplayer. Plus, there’s all of those plugins and extra weapons to find (though it’s not exactly rocket science to acquire them all). Still, if you’re multiplayer-inclined, then Coded Arms may amuse you, assuming you’ve got friends with their own copies of the game.
You’d think that the random level generation in itself would keep gamers on their toes. Nope. As I said before, the randomness isn’t even that random, and the poor enemy AI makes this game rather easy as far as FPS games go. Easy games have their place, but FPS fans want a challenge. Coded Arms isn’t it. The controls tend to frustrate after a while, too, no matter how well you customize them.
Assembling data files into weapons is interesting enough, but c’mon, the story’s lifted from just about every cyberpunk film and video game we’ve had pounded into our skulls over the last two or three decades. Couple that with the generic level design, and you don’t have a standout game on your hands.
The usual split applies here; if you’re a raging FPS fanatic, then Coded Arms might keep you busy, but I doubt it. If you’re a casual FPS fan, it’ll bore you to tears. I know I keep mentioning the terms “boring” and “generic,” but there’s really no better way to sum up Coded Arms. It’s not something you’ll want to play constantly.
Ironically, Coded Arms will appear to PSP fans not because it’s an FPS, but it’s because one of the few PSP titles to even be released lately. Much like the DS shortly after its launch, the PSP is absolutely starved for games. It’s ridiculous. If you’ve gotten sick of all of your other PSP games, then Coded Arms wouldn’t be a horrendous addition to your library…it’s better than nothing.
Why oh why does Coded Arms not have online support? That would’ve boosted the game’s replay value considerably; that, and any FPS worth its salt nowadays is online-capable. Most FPS players in general play online far more than offline! Twisted Metal Head-On had it; it’s frustrating that Coded Arms does not. Lastly, there’s a few translation problems in Coded Arms. Most of them are simple grammatical errors and spelling errors, but quality control should’ve caught them.
Overall Score: 55/100
FINAL SCORE: 5.5 (AVERAGE)