Coded Arms Preview

We hax0r the campaign and multiplayer modes in the PSP's first FPS, coming soon from Konami.

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In the months since its release, the PlayStation Portable's game library has slowly grown to cover all the essential genres. Well, almost all of them--the system's first-person shooter lineup has been conspicuously nonexistent up to now. Konami is aiming to change that in just a couple of weeks with Coded Arms, a new virtual reality-themed FPS that will ship with a random-level generator, some light RPG-style upgrade elements, and a bevy of multiplayer modes. We just got our hands on some nearly final builds of the game to see how it has shaped up at this late stage of development.

Coded Arms' story supposes that at the tail end of this century, mankind will finally gain the ability to meld its consciousness directly with the virtual realm by creating a revolutionary neurodigital interface. This radical development gives rise to the A.I.D.A., a military training program that budding warriors can enter and use for combat simulation. As with all scary computer networks, the A.I.D.A. gets a little out of control and development of the system is abandoned. For a period of years, chaos reigns within the A.I.D.A., as its own inherent programs battle with system bugs and even external alien intruders. Now only the bravest hackers dare to enter in order to plumb the depths of the simulation, searching for digital riches in the form of new weapons, armor, and other fun goodies. Naturally, you're one such hacker, and you'll begin the game by jumping straight into the A.I.D.A. and dealing with the indigenous digital life-forms with extreme prejudice.

This is a pretty original and intriguing setup for a first-person shooter, though from our experience so far, it's merely neat window dressing on an already tried-and-true formula. The game presents you with a vast number of levels that you can tackle in sets, and each specific sublevel is randomly generated, so you'll never have exactly the same experience twice. We've seen pretty nice variety so far, for a computer system: one area looks like a Blade Runner-esque futuristic cityscape, while another appears in the form of dilapidated temple ruins. You'll encounter various obstacles as you progress through each level. For instance, occasionally a room will seal off due to a "system overload," which requires you to kill all the enemies within before you can escape. Other areas make you destroy certain gatekeeper enemies to activate a portal that will let you move on to the next level.

The game has a neat virtual-world aesthetic that's a little Tron, a little The Matrix.
The game has a neat virtual-world aesthetic that's a little Tron, a little The Matrix.

As you move through Coded Arms' virtual worlds, you'll uncover some useful nuggets of code by "deleting" certain enemies that you can use to power up your offensive and defensive capabilities. You can grab a .wpn file, for instance, to create a new weapon, and we've found such FPS standbys as a shotgun, assault rifle, rocket launcher, and sniper rifle, along with an energy pistol that can be charged up for more-powerful shots. Likewise, .dfn files correspond to defensive items, like chest armor and helmets that will help protect you from enemy attacks. You can also gather upgrade keys as you move along to beef up particular attributes of your weapons, such as making them more powerful or letting them hold more ammo. Again, the power-up-as-computer-file is just a cosmetic thing, but it's still a nifty way to tie into the game's subject matter.

It might take you a while to get used to Coded Arms' controls--the PSP isn't the most FPS-friendly system, after all--but we've found that with a bit of practice and some button remapping, the game is quite playable. There are four predefined control schemes that put your movement and turning functions on just about every combination of the D pad, analog stick, and face buttons you can conceive of. You can go further by dissecting a particular control scheme and remapping every button to suit your tastes. So while this isn't quite the smooth dual-analog Halo experience you're used to, Coded Arms plays surprisingly well, all things considered.

The game also contains what looks to be a pretty robust wireless multiplayer experience for up to four players. You can host a game using the PSP's ad hoc mode and use game types like deathmatch, last man standing, and keep the mark (which is a sort of kill-the-man-with-the-ball game in which you accrue points as long as you have the mark, and the player who possesses the most points is declared the winner at the end of the round). You can set up a number of parameters, such as map size, time limit, frag limit, and weapon availability. Another interesting option is to limit the players to only the weapons they've collected throughout the single-player game, upgrades and all. That can make the game a lot more interesting, since you have a big incentive to go back and keep playing the single-player levels to continue finding new weapons and upgrading your existing equipment.

Coded Arms has a nicely featured multiplayer mode that will keep you going after the campaign is put to bed.
Coded Arms has a nicely featured multiplayer mode that will keep you going after the campaign is put to bed.

Coded Arms' presentation has really matured in the months since we first saw it, and it's full of cool little touches that really play up the cyberaction theme, like pixel-style screen wipes and power-up effects. Enemies sort of de-res or dissolve into what looks kind of like digital information when they die. Even when you shoot a wall, you get little electric-looking trails fanning out from the impact point. The visual style mixes elements of Tron and The Matrix with light blooming and some other graphical special effects to create a cohesive design aesthetic that we're interested to see more of in later levels.

Based on our early experience, Coded Arms is a respectable first FPS for the PSP, and its multiplayer, character-building, and random level features ought to keep people playing it even after the system has more than its share of entries in the genre. The game is due out in early July, so stay tuned for a full review soon.

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