Coded Arms Review
So why on Earth would someone create a video game, particularly a first-person shooter, where all of the levels are made up of hallways, closets, elevators, and other similarly rectangular enclosures?
That's my main beef with Coded Arms.
The combat is solid, if a little pedestrian, and the sexy 'bot models and crisp texture work sure are a joy to gawk at, but the level designs are so maliciously dull and claustrophobic that playing through Konami's inaugural FPS often feels more like work than play.
For the most part, the game's FPS aspects are right on target. This is a "kill everything that moves" shooter along the same lines as games like Quake and Doom 3. By default, the controls are set to use the analog stick for movement, the four main buttons for aiming, and the shoulder buttons for jumping and shooting. That setup works, although it's certainly not as comfortable or intuitive as the PC's traditional keyboard and mouse setup. On the upside, you can remap the buttons however you like in the options menu, and turn the auto-aim feature on or off.
The types of enemies you'll run into vary (small landmine droids, flying mini-guns, walking mutants, missile-packing soldiers, etc.), but the goal is always the same... destroy them before they deplete your health and don't forget to take whatever weapons and items they leave behind. CPU A.I. programming is acceptable. Larger enemies are programmed to jump, dodge, and sneak behind you, whereas smaller enemies are more apt to attack kamikaze style. There are 33 different weapons to pick from, which are gradually added to your arsenal as you defeat enemies in the single player mode. Some enemies have weaknesses toward certain weapons (physical, electric, light, etc.), which also helps quite a bit.
Probably the most interesting aspect of Coded Arms is the way upgrading weapons is handled. Sometimes, when you destroy an enemy, it'll leave behind a key. Collect a certain number of keys and the weapon you're currently carrying will be upgraded to the next level. If you've ever played a role-playing game or a dungeon hack, you know how this works. The more you upgrade a weapon, the more keys you'll need to collect in order to upgrade it further. And, just like a dungeon hack, it's a good idea to go back and replay "old" levels so that your weapons will be strong enough for the beefier enemies that lay ahead.
As far as the presentation goes, the audio is nothing to write home about--typical high-explosive fare coupled with stereotypical sci-fi music--but the plot and graphics should grab cyberpunk fans and Matrix lovers right where it counts. The story goes like this--you've been inserted into a military computer system where all of the circuits, programs, and viruses have come to life as corridors, soldiers, and gun-packing killing machines. That explains why weapons are referred to as "files," and why it's possible to upgrade them with translucent purple arrowheads called "keys." Each level begins with a Matrix style green fade-in, and then, if you're indeed human, you'll immediately be floored by how sharp and rich the graphics look. Every level looks like something ripped out of Star Trek (Next Generation or Deep Space Nine). The textures are literally so clear that you can make out the fine print on walls and computer readouts. The enemy character models are large and intricate, and, in the case of the bipedal ones, fully articulated. Sometimes it's neat to take potshots at a soldier just to watch him roll out of the way or duck behind a crate. Meanwhile, the explosions and lens flare effects are thick and satisfying.
Unfortunately, this technical marvel of a polygon engine is mostly wasted on environments that are the sheer definition of lifeless. The sector selection map refers to the three main settings as "city," "base," and "ancient ruins," but apart from a few decorative decals, you'd be hard pressed to describe each of them as anything other than randomly generated sequences of hallways, closets, elevators, and other rectangular rooms. Not once do we get to go outside, peer outside, or end up in an area with any sort of open design. There's no architecture to gawk at and admire. Worse, the only environmental interactivity, besides the automatic doors, comes in the form of destructible crates and fuel canisters. Whoopdie-doo. Combat seems fun at first, but thanks to the dull environments, the game soon starts to feel like it's dragging on and on. That feeling is deepened by the fact that you frequently have to backtrack to earlier levels in order to upgrade weapons.
I can't stress enough how dull and tedious the levels are. They totally suck the fun out of what would otherwise be a solid game. On the one hand, Coded Arms has decent FPS chops, sharp graphics, and plenty of lasting value (thanks to 60 single player levels and a 4-player ad hoc multiplayer mode). On the other hand, the overall experience comes off similar to what would happen if you roamed the halls in a hospital making "ratta tatta" noises. Sure, it'd be fun for five or ten minutes, but then you'd get bored and start to feel extremely self-conscious.
7/20/2005 Frank Provo