Reviewed: July 11, 2005
Released: July 6, 2005
Handheld systems are growing up. It wasn’t so very long ago that you could only expect platform titles and 2D racers, but with next-gen handhelds we are getting closer and closer to recreating the console experience in the palm of your hands. Who would have thought it would have ever been possible to play an FPS game on a handheld? Even now, consoles are just finally starting to figure out how to get the controls and gameplay nailed down, but Konami is here to prove that you can do a FPS on the PSP and do it right.
Coded Arms is a brilliant game on numerous levels. First of all you have the ultra-cool storyline that deals with the cyber-punk universe where hackers can digitally immerse themselves into the computer, a concept not unlike Konami’s recent game, Cy Girls. Your goal as an elite hacker is to secure top-secret files from the government computers while destroying all of the military programs that are there to eradicate you from the system.
I am a hardcore FPS gamer, especially on the PC, and until HALO arrived a few years back I simply couldn’t stand to play an FPS game without a mouse and keyboard. Game designers finally figured out how to get the gameplay to work with dual analog sticks and I was finally converted, but just how in the heck do you play an FPS game with only one stick, or in this game, an analog pad?
Coded Arms offers you complete freedom to configure the controls anyway you like but I found the default settings more than adequate to play this game. You control your character’s forward and strafing motions with the analog pad and your viewpoint with the face buttons. Yes, I was skeptical at first too, but you’d be surprised just how well this works out. It only takes about half of the training level to master the controls and you will be disintegrating robot soldiers and mechanical insects in no time.
There is a targeting assist option that snaps the targeting reticle to the enemy when you are close, and it will even track minor movement, but you will lose the lock on faster enemies or when they jump or fly around faster than the lock can keep up. With a deft touch of the face buttons you can expertly pan and look up and down with nearly the precision of an analog pad.
Game design is quite basic and hearkens back to the old-school days of Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. You move from square room to square room and clear out any enemies in each. Your goal is to navigate from the jack-in point to the jack-out point collecting as many power-ups as you can along the way.
Enemies come in several flavors, each with their own weaknesses when it comes to your weapons. You have weapons that fire normal projectiles like the pistol, assault rifle, and sniper rifle, then you have energy weapons like the Bolt pistol and light weapons like the Laser pistol. There are more than 30 weapons in all and they can be upgraded by finding bits of code that increase their power.
You can also enhance your character by finding power-ups that increase your health bar and add armor to various parts of your body. While not exactly an RPG, the weapons and character enhancements innovate on the core FPS theme, much like TRON 2.0 did on the PC and Xbox.
Each environment is divided into six stages that increase in length and difficulty. The first few stages are ridiculously easy consisting of two or three rooms connected with short passages. Near the end of each mission the levels get larger with multiple paths and elevators that take you up and down several levels. While you aren’t required to totally clear out a stage, each exit gate is guarded by special enemies and all of these "gate keepers" must be killed before you can activate the portal and leave the level.
Enemies will almost always spawn a pick-up, even if it’s just some extra ammo. Health and anti-virus pick-ups are also quite abundant so it’s pretty hard to die if you play smart, but even when you do die the game checkpoints frequently, so you seldom have to replay very much to get back to where you were. Of special note, even though the game auto-checkpoints, you must MANUALLY save the game to your memory stick using the save option from the Start menu before quitting or switching to a new game.
The game is all pretty much in-your-face combat. You do get a multi-zoom sniper rifle later in the game but you seldom have the chance to use it. Usually when you step into a room the enemy is upon you, or even worse, some rooms seal you in as the “system goes into overload” and you have to fight off several waves of enemies before you can exit.
There are a few instances where you can stand in the door and snipe at distant enemies, or even better, when you are on a balcony overlooking another area. There is also a temporary invisibility power-up you can use to sneak up on the enemy. If you don’t kill your target on the first shot they immediately take evasive action, as they move toward you, forcing you to backpedal and switch to a better weapon.
Coded Arms mixes equal parts of The Matrix and TRON to create a visual experience unlike anything you have ever seen, especially on a handheld gaming system. There are numerous stages, each with three environments, City, Base, and Ruins. These environments give you unique backdrops to explore as well as unique groups of enemies that are matched to these environments.
There are some really incredible special effects, colored lightning and flashy explosions and everything explodes and evaporates into a cloud of 1’s and 0’s further reinforcing the digital immersion. Even your HUD is subject to visual corruption if you catch a virus, and the screen will wash over with green or purple squares when you find health or an anti-virus pick-up. Temporary enhancements are indicated with multi-colored borders around the screen.
Normally we complain about “draw-in” but Coded Arms does it intentionally and with such style that I looked forward to opening each and every door in the game and watching the next room or area digitally construct itself from binary bits and pieces. It was like a wash of Matrix code over a wireframe model.
From the opening title sequence to the time you turn off your PSP the illusion of being inside a digital realm is never shattered. Menus all appear in a classic system font and backgrounds are all composed of grid work and moving patterns. Power-ups are all referenced with authentic variable-like programming lingo, and the HUD is well designed with all the information you need kept to the borders. There is even a 3D mini-map you can toggle up in the corner.
The music is some generic, yet energetic rock and techno that fits with the cyber-punk theme. It sticks to the background until you are sealed into a room then the sirens sound and the room comes alive with flashing lights, arcing electricity, and energetic rock and roll that doesn’t stop until the last robot is dead.
Sound effects are excellent even if they only do consist of various sounds of gunfire, opening doors, and hissing steam vents. Each weapon has a very distinct and rewarding sound and the explosions and electronic fizzles of disintegrating enemies is awesome.
The single-player game will take you about 8-10 hours to finish and Coded Arms offers an innovative feature that randomly generates the simple yet heavily populated levels. This does mix it up for future replays.
There is also a substantial multiplayer component for up to four players in modes like Deathmatch, Last Man Standing and Keep the Mark. Even though the levels are square and simple the action is fast and furious and it takes a whole new level of gameplay to keep up with human opponents.
Konami has the luxury of having the first FPS game on the PSP, which definitely sets the bar for anyone else who decides to join in. Frankly, I was surprised they could even make an FPS game playable on a handheld, but this game is not just playable, it’s enjoyable.
With a great premise and a visionary artistic style to match, Coded Arms delivers a solid action-packed shooter for both single and multiplayer gamers. If you have a PSP then you definitely owe it to yourself to check this game out.