Sunday, August 17, 2008

Code of Honor 2: Conspiracy Island Review

Code of Honor 2: Conspiracy Island, developed and published by City Interactive.
The Good: Single player campaign is almost entertaining, frequent checkpoints, clear objective locations, assault rifle can be modified with a sniper scope
The Not So Good: Only nine short linear missions, run-of-the-mill multiplayer options with only three maps, interruptive cut scenes, typical weaponry, AI needs work
What say you? If F.E.A.R. was a passable budget game: 5/8

By now, everyone’s probably heard of F.E.A.R. You know, that first person shooter that came out three years ago with slow-mo time and a spooky atmosphere. While we all wait for the sequel, it’s time to check out some games that use the same graphics engine that are not bad standalone expansions. Here’s Code of Honor 2: Conspiracy Island, a sequel to a game I never knew existed. Apparently, some French guys meet some bad guys and shooting ensues. No doubt there is some sweet conspiracy action, possibly of the island variety. Sounds good to me!

Code of Honor 2 uses the Jupiter EX engine, something the publisher mentioned like 30 times in the press release. The game is a notch below F.E.A.R. in terms of graphical quality, with normally bland textures (especially in the caved sections) and other obviously repetitive locations. While some animations are OK, others are silly looking, especially when characters are moving on uneven surfaces. Disruptive frequent cut scenes interrupt the flow of the game; I thought it was established a couple of years ago that cut scenes are to happen without cutting away from your perspective, but apparently this is not the case. Overall, Code of Honor 2 simply looks like a budget game. This goes for the sound as well: voice acting is decent and the weapon effects are fine enough, and the background music ranges from bad to OK. Interestingly, the menu sounds are straight out of F.E.A.R. (it’s weird what you remember about certain games). Code of Honor 2 purports “astonishing graphics” with “stunning detail” and “dynamic lighting,” but since all games have these features nowadays (and most of those descriptions are not true), the game is visually unimpressive.

Like most first person shooters, Code of Honor 2 features both single player and multiplayer action. The single player campaign follows the story of your French Legion compatriots (who, surprisingly, don’t sound French at all) who shoot bad guys on an island (no doubt full of conspiracy). The game takes place in a number of locations over nine missions and it took me only two hours to beat the entire game. Seriously. That’s short by any measuring stick, and although I did have fun while playing, it was over far too quickly. The campaign does have liberal auto-save checkpoints: a great feature. The game does not have a health counter: you just need to avoid getting shot a lot in a row. The almost completely linear level design features clear objective locations: I was only stuck once for a very short period of time. This makes it easy to progress through the game but it does remove some of the excitement associated with traversing through the unknown. The game is generally bug-free, although there is a lot of lag when you exit the control options and go back into the game: it killed me on several occasions.

In terms of multiplayer, Code of Honor 2 features the typical deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the flag options, accessible through the in-game browser. The game only comes with three maps and the gameplay is identical to F.E.A.R. Combat except with less weapons and poorly designed levels. The caves level has really poor collision detections: I have never gotten stuck on as many objects playing Code of Honor 2 than any other first person shooter. The map styles simply do not translate well to a multiplayer experience. The lack of health bars carries over to the multiplayer, although your tolerance for pain is greatly lessened to induce more killing. Simply put, the free F.E.A.R. Combat is sadly a lot better overall than what Code of Honor 2 has to offer.

The weapon selection in Code of Honor 2 is very typical (assault rifles, shotguns, sub-machine guns, et cetera) with one notable addition: you can add a sniper scope to the assault rifle. That’s an interesting feature that comes into play during the single player campaign several times. Weapons shoot very quickly during the game, resulting in a lot of reloading and switching to secondary weapons. Ammunition is hard to come by since it is only placed in plausible locations (like tables). It should be noted that there is what I would consider a bug with the rocket launcher: it doesn’t seem to count as a weapon, so if you switch away from it, you can’t reacquire it. Load most recent checkpoint!

Code of Honor 2 apparently comes with “blind fire” but it doesn’t explain how to do it: I see little arrows when I am near walls, but I could never figure out how to do it and the manual lacks any meaningful explanations. Code of Honor 2 is light on the puzzles: you’ll only need to throw the occasional switch or swim under objects (which, amusingly, is a lot faster than walking). The AI is simply passable: while they will scatter when a grenade is tossed in their direction, sometimes they will stand there as you face them and shoot their legs. The enemies seem to be heavily scripted, and they only use cover when explicitly placed there initially. This goes for your allies as well: they are not very smart, although they fare better than the enemy and can’t die. In general, enemy units will run right towards you, guns blazing. I wish they used the same AI engine as F.E.A.R. instead of just the graphics.

I did actually want to finish Code of Honor 2, so that says something. While certainly not the pinnacle of FPS excellence, I enjoyed my time on Conspiracy Island (now with more conspiracy!) with a couple of budget-related shortcomings: the sub-par graphics, linear level design, and disappointing AI. Since the multiplayer is worse than what’s freely available, we have to evaluate Code of Honor 2 based upon its single player experience, and it’s average. Really, you’re better off just getting F.E.A.R. for a reduced price than playing Code of Honor 2 in terms of overall quality, but I did have a moderate level of enjoyment during my two hours with the single player campaign. $20 for two hours of play time is a pretty steep price, though, so most people can avoid time on Conspiracy Island and stick with older, better first person shooters available at the same price.