Oct 10, 2007
Despite their proliferation on consoles on PCs, the FPS genre is still sorely underrepresented on the portable systems. There are good reasons for this (inherit limitations of the portable format), but it hasn't stopped developers from trying to make a good on-the-go shooter. Konami steps up to the challenge again with Coded Arms: Contagion, a sequel to the modestly successful Coded Arms. Unfortunately, all Contagion shows us is that portable fragging has a long way to go before it can compare to its older brothers.
Coded Arms does do a few things well. For starters, the PSP-customized control scheme, which maps your character's view to the face buttons, manages to work surprisingly well. Since it can be difficult to aim with precision, the game gives you a lock-on button that points your crosshairs to the nearest enemy target when pressed. It's nowhere near as intuitive as a mouse-and-keyboard or dual-analog setup, but given the hardware limitations, it's very well thought out and implemented. There's also a weapon and armor upgrade system that lets you spend modules you collect throughout the missions to upgrade things like weapon potency, reload time, and armor strength. Finally, throughout the game you'll need to "hack" things like doors and security systems by solving number puzzles. You remain vulnerable to enemy ambushes while hacking, adding an element of suspense to the process.
While these are all nice features, they're wrapped up in a package so wholly uninspired that it may as well be the definition of "generic first-person shooter." Missions lack any sort of interesting objectives or gameplay twists. Environments are stereotypical dark, grimy metal buildings that become virtually indistinguishable from one another. Your weapons are the standard-issue FPS arsenal - shotguns, machineguns, grenades, and so forth. Enemies are uninspired and incompetent, both in terms of visual design and AI. And if you're expecting an engrossing story to make all of this a bit more interesting, you're out of luck - all Coded Arms has to offer is a "defeat the evil cyber-terrorists in virtual reality" plot. Ho-hum.
Multiplayer is a bit more exciting than the solo game, but it still feels lacking. Players can play either ad-hoc or by using a Wi-Fi connection. Either way, finding other people to play against can be difficult. When we jumped into our first multiplayer game, we found ourselves immediately frustrated by the removal of the single-player game's lock-on option. Adding to our annoyance was the map design - oftentimes, the multiplayer stages prove to be large, confusing, and most annoyingly, glitchy as hell. Despite all of its problems, we did have fun with Contagion's multiplayer - but seeing as how public Wi-Fi still isn't common, we can't see any reason why you'd want to play this online when you could play a better multiplayer FPS on your PC or console at home.
Contagion isn't a terrible title by any means. If all you want to do is pass the time on a dull commute with a simplistic FPS, it'll be sufficient. Unfortunately, in a genre where players expect the newest games to completely blow them away (pun intended), Coded Arms: Contagion's run-of-the-mill FPS action just doesn't impress.