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Coded Arms: Contagion (PSP) artwork

Coded Arms: Contagion (PSP) review

"Perhaps in an attempt to further the futuristic setting, the gameplay has fallen out of a time warp. From 1996."

If someoneís ever told you that youíll never be good at something, chances are that you tried to prove that person wrong. Unfortunately, thatís also what Konami tried to do after critics lambasted its PSP shooter, Coded Arms. More than two years have passed since that gameís release, but Coded Arms: Contagion makes it clear that Konami hasnít learned from its mistakes.

Contagionís story is laughably clichť, even by FPS standards. You are Major Jacob Grant, an elite special forces agent tasked with infiltrating a computerized combat simulation and assessing its effectiveness for the benefit of your superior, Major Clark. This is perhaps the most uninspired premise in years. Eventually, things go horribly wrong in the simulation and youíll discover that there are some terrorists involved. You really have to wonder why they even bothered writing this dreck. Unfortunately, the rest of the game doesnít fare particularly well, either.

This is the extent of Contagionís creativity

One of the gameís biggest sore spots is also the one youíll immediately be introduced to: the controls. The PSPís control layout isnít conducive to first-person games, especially considering the lack of a second analog stick. That didnít stop the developers from trying, though. You move with the analog nub and aim by using the four face buttons. The d-pad serves a number of functions including reloading your weapon, switching weapons, and zooming in with certain guns. If this sounds unintuitive, thatís because it is. Even after you take some time to get used to the controls, they never feel natural. This immediately hampers whatever enjoyment you might get out of the game.

Perhaps in an attempt to further the futuristic setting, the gameplay has fallen out of a time warp. From 1996. Seemingly every poor design choice that has plagued FPS games over the past decade is on parade here. Copy-pasted corridors, exploding barrels, enemies who stand still while being shot in the face Ė itís difficult to understand how all of these lame ideas made it into a single game. The level designs are utterly uninteresting and feel amateurish at every turn. The maps have no creativity or thought to them which makes the entire game horribly repetitive. Some shooters lack good level design but are saved by enjoyable combat. Unfortunately, the shooting doesnít do Coded Arms any favors, either. All of the standard weapons you expect from a shooter are present, ranging from a pistol to a sniper rifle, but none of them are particularly fun to fire. Your braindead enemies often take far too long to kill, and the complete lack of animation for when your adversary takes damage or dies leaves you with gunplay thatís devoid of entertainment value.

A couple of somewhat interesting wrinkles enhance the otherwise uninspired gameplay. The first is a hacking mini-game that youíll need to play to open certain doors. In these segments, you are presented with two columns that contain a set of numbers. Your goal is to find which number is in both of the columns before time runs out. If you succeed, the door opens, but if you fail an alarm sounds and an enemy will swoop in to attack you. While the effect appears to be unintentional, youíll really feel motivated to succeed at hacking simply so you can avoid any combat that isnít absolutely required. Hacking is more challenging than it sounds and itís a mildly amusing way to break up the monotony. The other attempt at adding depth to the gameplay is the upgrade system. As you explore the stages, youíll occasionally find an item that you can use towards an upgrade for your weapons or armor. Youíll then be able to alter a number of different stats including a given weaponís power, how much ammo is in a clip and how much health you have. The upgrade system is surprisingly interesting, but given how weak the combat is, it still doesnít provide much incentive to play through the game. Unfortunately, Contagionís core gameplay simply isnít fun or enjoyable and the developerís few stabs at originality, while amusing, canít save it.

New to Contagion is an online multiplayer mode. You probably wonít be able find anybody to play with, though you likely wouldnít want to play this game against other people anyway. The controls make it all but impossible to enjoy the game in a competitive setting, and the awful map design of the single player mode is retained here. The multiplayer is nothing more than an afterthought, and thereís no reason to bother with it.

This not-so-creative foe will stand right where he is until you kill him

From a technical perspective, Coded Arms also fails to impress. The graphics arenít particularly bad Ė they have ample detail and the character models look decent. Where the visuals falter is in the painfully generic look of every single level. The gameís vistas consist of dark warehouses and complexes that have the occasional neon light thrown in to provide a futuristic touch. Itís obvious that as little work went into the gameís artistic designs as its level designs. In motion, Contagion is a mess as the frame rate is constantly choppy and occasionally poor enough to render the game unplayable. Sound is almost nonexistent. The music has less character than that of a Game Boy game and there doesnít seem to be a single sound effect outside of the weapon sounds. As with the rest of the game, both the video and audio are clearly the result of a complete lack of effort.

Contagion isnít quite an atrocity, but there really isnít a positive adjective that can be used to describe it. Nothing stands out and itís never particularly enjoyable. This is the second failure for the Coded Arms series, and itís unlikely that anybody wants to find out if the third time will be the charm.

Daisuke02's avatar
Freelance review by C J (October 30, 2007)

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