Coded Arms Contagion
The first PSP game I ever played through was Coded Arms by Konami. The sci-fi cybernetic FPS was a lot of fun, even though it very formulaic in its design. Well, I recently completed the long awaited sequel, Coded Arms Contagion, and while quite frankly little has changed from the first game, I still had a fun time playing through it.
Coded Arms Contagion has the player assuming the role of a generic futuristic solider named Major Jacob Grant who is plugged into a virtual reality program, very reminiscent of how people jacked into the Matrix. A typical ‘General’ figure (with cigar and all) is in the real world and has communication with your character to help guide him along his training and later in the game, your objectives. During routine combat training in AIDA, the VR computer that Major Grant is in, things go very wrong, and fast. A virus spread by an unknown faction is taking over AIDA with malicious intent. While the General offers you direction from the real world, it’s up to you to fight your way through some thirteen missions of combat, utilizing a dozen different weapons and upgrades along the way.
There isn’t a lot new in Coded Arms Contagion that wasn’t in Coded Arms. If memory serves, there was no upgrade system in the first Coded Arms; regardless, the upgrade system in Contagion is a good and welcomed feature. There are at least a dozen different weapons to collect ranging from your typical assault rifle to shotgun and rocket launcher to a rail gun, too. Upgrading these will allow for quicker reload times, bigger clips, and more damage. You can also upgrade your body armor to sustain more damage and to reveal more information on the map shown in the heads up display, not to mention increase your overall HP; by game’s end you can nearly double the amount of HP you have via upgrades.
Upgrading is done via Upgrade Points that you find in the game world, and they can only be spent at save points, which are also the only points in the game where you can switch your weapon load out. Major Grant is capable of carrying five different types of weapons, which are typically going to be your infinite-ammo pistol (which is very useful throughout the game if you upgrade it), an assortment of heavy weapons, and a grenade type or two. This system works fairly well as it doesn’t get you overloaded with a ton of weapons to switch through while you’re in the heat of battle. At the same time you have to choose your weapons wisely; at least a couple of times I had left a save point with a certain load out only to have run completely out of ammo (with the exception of the pistol, which you must always carry) by the time I got to the next save point. The nice thing, however, is that in a lot of cases you can back track to save point if you need to make adjustments, but this isn’t always the case.
I also thought the quick ‘hacking puzzles’ were neat; at least for the first dozen times or so that I did them. These puzzles are just a row of numbers, usually three or five rows. On the left side of the screen there are a series of numbers that you have to look at and find the one common number that is on the same row of the right side of the screen. So it’s a simple matching game, where you go row by row, looking at numbers while a timer ticks down. By the time the game ends you will have had at least the option to try your hand at thirty or forty of these puzzles. They are really quite simple, but until you find a quick method that works for you, you may make it harder than it really is, at least I did. And, as a bonus, if you fail the hack some enemies will spawn in. Successful hacking yields rewards, like, being able to continue the game, or in less critical ways such as giving you some Upgrade Points or ammo.
So for those who haven’t played Coded Arms before, what can they expect in terms of a typical level in Coded Arms Contagion? It’s actually very straightforward; with the exception of the last couple of missions, there is very little backtracking and you’re likely to never get lost. One of the nicest features in the original Coded Arms was the 3D map in the HUD, and it is back in Contagion; so with that and the linear nature of the level design, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding your way to the extraction point; of course the dozens of enemy soldiers and creatures that spawn in can provide a challenge. Additionally, it’s worth noting that the controls work very well on the PSP; you use the face buttons as you would a mouse on a PC FPS – to adjust the view of your character while the analog nub is used to move about; simple, but effective.
By The Book & Just In Time
I mentioned at the outset that Coded Arms followed a very basic formula from level to level, and frankly there was little deviation from this formula. Coded Arms Contagion “suffers” I guess you could say, from this too. It’s not that formulaic design is necessarily bad, but I think it does make it challenging to keep the player’s interest after some number of hours of play. That said, each level is noticeably linear in regards to having you battle your way through from save point to save point (there are usually two or three per level) and then culminating in a large room firefight to activate the extraction portal. Some stages feature boss fights, which are pretty exciting, but by and large there are no flashy, suspenseful surprises in the game which does make it wear a little thin late in the game.
Fortunately, Contagion ended right where it should for me; don’t get me wrong, and I can understand how you would given the overall feel of this review thus far – Coded Arms Contagion was a fun game. As I got to the end, however, I was ready for it to be over. The repetitious missions were getting to be tiresome as I passed my tenth hour of play, and the game was running out of steam. The final boss fight was tedious as well, but finishing him off was sweet justice.
Coded Arms Contagion also features a multiplayer mode that has yet to impress me. The biggest and most immediate detractor of the experience is the removal of the oh-so-important lock-on feature for targeting, well, targets. In multiplayer, it’s a wild free-for-all but everyone suffers from the inability to lock-on to an enemy. So, you have to use the manual face button method of trying to get your crosshair on a target, and unless you’re using a weapon with major splash damage or you are charging someone, it’s a pain. There isn’t really a great deal of strategy to it and its tough if you are going from single player that features lock-on to multiplayer, where it does not. Couple that with boring level design and a small online presence and you won’t find much to be excited about.
Coded Arms Contagion definitely has its ups and downs. For a Coded Arm fan like myself, this new title provided a nice ten to twelve hour break from my other reviews and it managed to put together a very generic, but fun, single player experience, complete with typical story and formulaic design. As for the multiplayer experience, while its nice they added it, it’s severely hampered by the lack of lock-on aiming and it isn’t likely to keep you playing for long. Despite its flaws, if you are a Coded Arms, or even a FPS fan and you have a PSP, give Contagion a real chance and don’t get fooled by some of the harsher reviews out there. Contagion has its problems, but overall I had a fun time playing through the story mode over the course of a couple late nights.