Coded Arms Updated Hands-On

Konami's upcoming virtual-reality action title will give early-adopting PSP owners a new shooter to sink their teeth into.

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We had a chance to get our hands on an English-language version of Coded Arms, Konami's new virtual-reality-themed first-person shooter, at the company's San Francisco press event today. The PSP FPS market is a pretty bare one at the moment, so Coded Arms could establish an early monopoly on shooter fans' portable gaming time without a whole lot of effort. Fortunately, it looks like the team at Konami is crafting a pretty neat little shooter that definitely has an interesting premise going for it.

Coded Arms casts you as a hacker battling your way out of a VR program gone wild.
Coded Arms casts you as a hacker battling your way out of a VR program gone wild.

Coded Arms takes place inside a giant virtual-reality program that was created for the purpose of training soldiers who would take part in a war against invading aliens. But when a critical flaw was discovered in the program, the system's creators shut it down--or so they thought. The simulation kept running in the background, developing on its own into a highly complex and living digital world. Hackers plumb this system in an effort to find tantalizing new strings of code, and you'll take control of such a hacker as you explore the digital depths, evading dangers and finding new treasures. You'll face off against three kinds of enemies in the game: bugs, which are unnatural code errors (and literally manifest themselves as giant bugs, from what we could tell); soldiers, which are alien intruders; and bots, which are the original security drones left over from the creation of the VR program.

All the weapons, armor, and items in the game actually take the form of pieces of code that you can use as weapons. The designers have managed to provide a few hooks that will tickle the fancy of anybody who's spent a lot of time messing with DOS or Unix. For instance, weapons have file names that end in .arm, while things like armor have a .dfn extension. That's about the extent of the code-as-weapon gimmick, though--you'll still pick up new weapons as power-ups in the gameworld, and they'll quickly be decoded into a tangible weapon that you can start blasting with. But even if the difference is only cosmetic, it's still pretty cool.

In terms of gameplay, this is a pretty standard first-person shooter--you run from point A to point B, blasting everything that gets in your way, picking up new items, and so on. By default, the game uses an interesting control setup whereby you look up and down and turn side to side with the face buttons and use the analog control to walk around. Another control config was available that swapped the turning and strafing functions, and more configurations will reportedly be available before the game comes out. We found the default scheme to be a little awkard at first but it got easier as we went along, to the point that we didn't really think about it after just a few minutes. Thankfully, the game also provides an aiming-assist feature that helps your crosshairs snap to enemies when you've almost got them in your sights.

Coded Arms will feature a wireless multiplayer mode for up to four players. Right now, deathmatch is the only mode that's been implemented, though the team hopes to include three or four more multiplayer modes before the game ships. You'll be able to take new weapons you've gained in the single-player game into the multiplayer mode, providing an obvious incentive to spend some time by yourself collecting the better arms so you can gain an advantage against your friends. The developers are considering various ways to balance this multiplayer to keep players with more playtime from completely dominating those with only the default weapons, but they weren't ready to divulge their plans just yet.

The random map generator and four-player wireless mode should keep you playing Coded Arms for quite a while.
The random map generator and four-player wireless mode should keep you playing Coded Arms for quite a while.

The look of the game is pretty interesting. In the demo, the levels had a weird sort of mechanical Chinatown vibe, with industrial-looking metallic walls and girders everywhere but also with lots of lit-up signage bearing Chinese characters all over the place. The enemies die by dissolving with a brightly colored effect that looked pretty cool and was appropriate for the game's story. The weapons were pretty standard, though--they're not made out of light or anything weird like that, just good old metal.

Konami just announced today that Coded Arms will ship with a random level generator, so people who really enjoy the game will be able to play it indefinitely and keep experiencing new maps to kill stuff on. Between the random levels, the selection of more than 30 weapons, and the four-player wireless mode, Coded Arms looks like it's packing in a respectable amount of content as the PSP's first FPS. The game is scheduled for release in the summer of this year; look for more coverage in the coming months.

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