Drop your weapons.
You bought a new PSP, brought it home and showed it off to all your envious friends. You've played hours of Lumines, but despite the release hype, there haven't been many other must-haves. So you've waited, figuring that eventually developers would release - I don't know - a first-person shooter for the tiny system and finally show the world what the PSP can really do.
Sadly, you'll have to keep waiting. Konami's Coded Arms is the PSP's first fragfest, but first doesn't mean best. Or decent, even. With wonky controls and a wealth of other problems, this isn't going to be your first first-person PSP purchase.
In the future, a virtual reality military training system goes mental and takes over the Internet. Rather than fix the problem, people decide not to use that mainframe any longer, effectively quarantining it. But then some entrepreneurs hack into the hostile system, fight off the creatures and baddies inside, and return with highly valuable files to sell on the black market. You are one of these entrepreneurs and you're hacking into the system by playing the game.
It sounds like a real premise, but it isn't. There is no currency in the game, no shop, and no valuable files to retrieve. Which means that there remains not a single motive to your actions, except perhaps to try to retrieve the value of the game you just bought, or to write a review of it for malt liquor money.
Coded Arms is a first-person shooter, but whether or not it passes as such depends on which hand you use to hold said malt liquor. The default control has movement assigned to the analog nub and aiming assigned to the facepad buttons as if they were a directional pad; imagine if the PC mouse/keyboard format was flipped and you get the picture. In turn, moving the targeting reticule around with the digital facepad buttons instead of the analog nub is clumsy and inaccurate even with the help of the game's slight auto-aim, especially since pushing more than two buttons at a time, even accidentally, resets the reticule to zero. D'oh? Yes, d'oh.
Theoretically, you can fix this by switching the aim to the analog nub and assigning movement to the face buttons. Unfortunately, most of us are like trained monkeys when it comes to handedness; if you're a lefty, you might be able to do it, but righties will find it hard to aim with their left and move with their right. I suppose with enough time they could learn, but once they get into the rest of this sinker, they'll realize there's no reason to bother.
At least the game allows you to configure the controller in almost any way. I found the best setting substituted the D-pad for the analog nub's movement controls. By tweaking the "sensitivity" and "acceleration" of the aiming controls, I eventually was able to find a playable setting, but the default controls were miles off. Being able to tweak and configure the controls is the one big plus in this swamp of mediocrity.
Once the controls are set and the premise ignored, you get around to shooting things. Incessantly. The monsters vary from flying robots to swarms of bugs to gun-toting soldiers. When you shoot them enough times, they explode and disappear. That, by the way, is the smartest behavior they exhibit. Most bad guys stand out in the open and shoot whatever they have at you. You could be standing a foot away from a guy with grenades, and he would continue to lob them fifty feet behind you.
Not that you'd be in much danger if he lobbed 'em closer, because your arsenal never runs dry. Between the pistol, assault rifle, bolt pistol, shotgun, and numerous "launchers" that hurl everything from plasma to napalm, the armament is thick with death-dealing. Some weapons, like a grenade that distracts opponents, are inventive, and others, like the sniper rifle, don't make sense in such a claustrophobic game. Still, Coded Arms isn't as bad as it is for a lack of firepower.
Which is a lot more than can be said for the environments. Coded Arms is a dungeon crawl through room after room of bad guys, health, and power-ups. The rooms are randomly generated, but this means less than you might expect since each floor comes scripted with a certain amount of bad guys and pick-ups. Everything is square, tight, and pixilated; the dungeons can only be told apart from one another by the designs on the doors and the shapes of their respective obstacles. It's repetitive and boring, a throwback to throwaway shooters from the mid-90's.
To add insult to injury, after you defeat the last boss you're simply shuttled back to the title screen. The lack of any kind of reward or even acknowledgment that you have beaten the game is pretty heartless, even for a game about killer computers.
Perhaps in an effort to camouflage its visually repetitive nature, Coded Arms features a dark, muted color scheme. The lighting effects are definitely a bright point - the glow from oriental lamps and the flickering of torchlight are pretty against the Lego-like rectangular surfaces. For all its faults, Coded Arms still looks pretty good.
Do you ever listen to hyper-arcade techno music in your spare time? Wish you did? Well, Coded Arms will appease your appetite for insane, computerized din. Think of the sounds a Casio might make after eating Extreme-Cheese Doritos chugging a Full Throttle and you're on the right track.
If the game feels crowded, it's sure to feel like a line at a keg party once you hop into the standard array of multiplayer matches. The game has a four-person multiplayer that can be accessed Ad Hoc (not Infrastructure), and the arenas can either be generated randomly, like the single-player areas, or accessed via codes. This was an interesting decision on the part of the developers, and you have to give the game credit for at least having a few different game modes like Deathmatch and Last Man Standing. Still, getting your friends to buy the game might be difficult given that reviews like this one are free to read.
Coded Arms is such a weak rendition of a first-person-shooter, it makes us wonder whether such a thing is even possible on the single-analog PSP. But regardless of what triumphs and failures the future holds for the system, this is one game that should never be held at all.