Coded Arms: ContagionESRB:
Category: First Person Shooter
Memory Stick Duo: 352KB
Wi-Fi Compatible (Ad Hoc) (1-8 Players)
Wi-Fi Compatible (Infrastructure) (1-8 Players)
Published and Developed by Konami, Coded Arms: Contagion is the sequel to the popular PSP first person shooter ‘Coded Arms’. When the original Coded Arms first arrived on the PSP it was one of the first shooters available on the handheld machine at the time. Granted, Coded Arms had its share of ups and downs but overall it was an enjoyable game for gaming on the go and gave us a taste of how fun a first person shooter could be on the PSP. In this latest instalment of the franchise, Coded Arms: Contagion does away with the randomly generated levels and lack of storyline in favour of a single player story with in-game missions and an 8 player multiplayer mode. Do these apparent enhancements deliver a better product? To save you the suspense, I don’t believe they do. Since the launch of the PSP, the bar has been raised in the shooter department and Coded Arms: Contagion fails to meet that bar. Sadly, it almost appears the franchise has taken a step backwards.
Overall the visuals are not bad but they are not great either. When you first fire up the game you are greeted with a simple yet decent looking blue screen with game’s title. The overall presentation of the game is acceptable as the menus are straight forward and feature animations of guns, radars and pumping hearts. The single player mode starts up with a nice looking but rather short cut-scene of your character coming to form. In fact, the majority of the full motion videos are visually appealing but they are few and far between. I would have liked to have seen longer videos going into the storyline a little bit deeper than what was presented in the game.
Replacing the cut-scenes is some never-ending on screen text dialogue between your character and General Clark. Bottom line, there is too much text for my liking. It is not that the text is an eye-sore but it takes you away from game and hampers the flow of the gameplay. You are constantly cycling through the text as it never seems to stop. It really gives you the feeling you are playing a budget title. I mention this now in the visuals section, as the text should have been replaced with videos or at least some kind of voice dialogue between your character and Clark.
Coded Arms: Contagion features a number of missions which feature environments that are quite bland and repetitive. You almost get the sense you are trapped in a bad version of the game Doom. Where ever you go and whatever missions you do, the environments seem to look the same. The game features a variety of futuristic hallways, generator rooms, big box rooms, elevators, ramps and more rooms. Did I mention the game features lots of rooms? Granted they are detailed and on the surface and look pretty good. In fact, while I was playing on the plane (I was on a road trip), the passenger next to me commented on how good he thought the game looked. Unfortunately, the repetitiveness of the environments is a detriment to the game. After only a few hours you will be asking yourself, “Haven’t I been here before?” Furthermore, the characters are no different. They almost come across as bad imitations of the alien Predator or Storm Troopers when viewed up close. The enemy AI’s all look identical as you fight and progress through the missions. Bottom line, there is simply not enough variety with respect to the enemy AI’s.
The weapons animations on the other hand are very good. The weapons are detailed and look as any “futureristic” weapon should. Also on a positive note, the game suffers no noticeable slow downs or framerate issues. If there are some issues, I certainly didn’t notice any. I should also mention there are lots of destructible items showcased in the game such as boxes, crates and barrels. This was surprising feature and offered up a little variety from hacking and shooting enemies.
Overall, Coded Arms: Contagion delivers sharp weapon effects, booming explosions and good voice acting. Granted the weapon sounds are not as good as we have seen in other PSP games such as SOCOM and Syphon Filter, however they do the job. The explosions are also very effective and the little voice acting we get is quite decent. In fact, if anything I was often left wondering why we did not hear more dialogue than we did. During the in-game missions your character does not say a word. We only get to cycle through those previously mentioned dialogue boxes that I pointed out above. It really takes you away from the game and as I suggested above, it cheapens the experience.
The soundtrack consists of fast paced action tunes which ‘amp-up’ as the action becomes intense and enemies appear. It does the job but at the same time it can be very forgettable. Also, I did notice that sometimes the music appeared ill-timed. For instance, there are moments when you are done fighting a group of enemies yet the music is still going hyper techno. There are other instances when you have killed the enemies and the ‘amped-up’ techno beats haven’t even started. Not a major issue but it just appears that the music is not in sync with the action at times.
Before I get into the nuts and bolts of the game, I will tell you a little bit about the storyline. Keep in mind the original Coded Arms did not have one. You were essentially a hacker going through a computer system with computer-generated guns while shooting computer-generated enemies. Coded Arms: Contagion on the other hand does features a story. Well, it at least tries to. The computer system from the first Coded Arms named AIDA has apparently been brought under control. You play as Agent Grant, a Special Forces officer who is ordered to jack into AIDA to see if it really is under control. Grant is tasked with several missions which involve mowing down computer-generated enemies with his computer-generated guns. The storyline almost reminds me of the movie the Matrix but nowhere near as captivating or interesting. It’s not a bad idea but the execution is flawed and only after a few minutes you will find yourself not caring too much about the characters or the plot.
As far as the controls are concerned, and given the limitations of the PSP, the developers did the best they could. There is no question you miss the dual sticks found on home console controllers when it comes to first person shooters on the PSP and Coded Arms: Contagion is no exception. Your basic set-up has the analog nub moving you forward and strafing, while the face buttons look around and turn. ‘R’ is to fire, ‘L’ is to jump, and the d-pad buttons let you reload, change weapons, activate zoom, and use a lock-on. It is the basic set-up for a PSP shooter and for the most part it works well. I hated using the buttons instead of the right stick which we typically see on controllers but your options are obviously limited on PSP. I should mention there are other controller layout set-ups to try out if you do not like the default settings. Bottom line, there should be something there for everyone.
Much of the game involves moving from room to room, facing one computer generated bad guy after another. If it was not enough that the enemies suffer in the variety department, they are not much of a challenge. You would think an advanced computer system could generate better soldiers for itself. Sadly, this is not the case. The enemy AI in the game comes running right towards you when they spawn, never taking cover as you unleash your weapons on them. The lock on system almost makes the enemies laughable. The only challenge in the game is when you run out of ammo or when you face an onslaught of enemies and an automatic machine turret from the wall is hammering away at you.
The auto-aim or lock-on feature of the game is problematic at the best of times. Pressing down on the d-pad activates it and will allow you to lock-on to whatever enemy you are pointing at. Sounds straight forward in theory however in may instances if there was more than one enemy on the screen it would lock-on to the enemy furthest away from you or an enemy which posed no real threat. As you fumble around to unlock your auto aim, you are generally getting blasted by other enemies which pose a serious threat. In any event, I found the locking on system not only problematic but made fighting the enemy AI’s little in the way of a challenge.
In terms of the weaponry, you start the game with a pistol which feels more like a ‘bb gun’ than a semi-automatic handgun. Fortunately, you pick up a machine gun early in the game and you rarely have to rely on your pellet gun. Throughout the game you will also pick up a shotgun, assault rifle, grenades, and a RPG. You also pick up some “futuristic” weapons such as a pulse rifle and lightning gun. During the game, you can find upgrade points that you can use to upgrade the performance of the weapons and your armour, however you can only upgrade to certain levels of power on your weapons at certain points in the game. I gather it is because the developers wanted the give the enemies at least a slim chance of killing you. At certain points on the game it actually works. There are instances in the game where you run out of ammo and you become overwhelmed by the enemies. You will die at times in the game but not because of an overpowering enemy but rather it is mainly due to running out of ammo. Hopefully you remembered to the save the game as you have to restart the mission from the beginning if you should happen to die. Sorry folks, no auto-save feature here. This can be incredibly frustrating if you get the 28 minute mark of a level, forget to save and have to restart the mission. The lack of an auto-save feature or in-game checkpoints is a glaring omission.
The hacking, which is a big part of Coded Arms: Contagion, is equally frustrating. Occasionally you will run into doors which require hacking. It’s easy to figure out at first but becomes a great source of irritancy later on in the game. When hacking a door you will have two display screens, with numbers on both the left and right side. Your job is to find the number that is on both sides of the screen under the time limit. As you progress through the game the rows increase and the time limit decreases. If you fail to hack the door, you will likely have to do re-hack all over again. It’s truly painful and pales in comparison the hacking system offered up in Bioshock.
Coded Arms: Contagion also offers ad-hoc and infrastructure multiplayer for up to 8 people. Good luck finding a game as the lobby was generally empty whenever I went searching for game. As such I cannot comment on this area of the game.
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