Code 51: Mecha Arena was a hard game to review. We received our review copy last week, and I’ve been playing—and having fun—since it downloaded. What am I whining about, you ask? Despite rumors I heard about a single player campaign, Code 51 is multiplayer game only. Yes, there is a tutorial that acts a five-minute linear campaign mission, but it falls flat and is frankly a bad first impression. But I’ll get to that in a minute. Let us first dispense with the pleasantries and find out if Code 51: Mecha Arena delivers the mech-on-mech crime that we so desperately desire.
This is a PSVR game, folks, so grab that expensive, plastic headband and strap on. Put down the Move and Aim controllers; this is DualShock 4 deal. As it boots up, four mode options slap you right in the face. The Tutorial, Practice, Multiplayer, and Settings. Before I get into these, I have to mention the developers at Smelly River did a nice job here. The Mech animations and sound, even in this opening screen, offer a great first impression. What doesn’t offer a great impression, however, is the tutorial. It plays as an early development first player mission that, despite a cool boss battle at the end, feels half-baked.
The Practice mode is just a multiplayer match that is populated with bots. This is a fairly standard staple in multiplayer games and this one performs admirably. I actually felt that the bots AI was above average and offered a decent challenge, at least initially. I’m sure some players will get in there and instantly destroy and wonder what my problem is [Ed: Leave that to our very own Kyle] but I felt it offered a nice intro to the gameplay and probably should have been the only intro until they fleshed out that tutorial mission.
Before I get to the multiplayer, I want to mention one of the things that made this a difficult game to review. The final option on the main screen is Settings, and it is strangely non-operational at this point. When you click on it, it says “coming soon”. This poses a problem unique to VR games. I don’t spend much time explaining or exploring the settings options on traditional flat games, but in VR, the settings can be a game breaker for some. What are the comfort settings to keep newbies from blowing chunks and passing out from extreme vertigo, and which comfort settings can we turn off, for those who’ve put in the time to earn those “ VR legs”? I can’t tell you much at this time, but what I can say is that the game features full locomotion, meaning teleport fans, if they exist, need not apply. If you follow this game, or any VR games online, you may know that there was some consternation about the blinders (the black shades on the outside of your vision to curb nausea) that could be seen in the early videos of the game. Just this weekend, the developers have promised that they are working on a patch that will allow you to remove said blinders. I can tell you, watching my niece play from the social screen, the blinders were completely annoying, but inside the headset, they were practically a non-issue. But regardless, the option to remove them is coming, so the internet war on comfort settings can stand down until the next national emergency.
The other problem with reviewing this game early was the fact that nobody was playing the multiplayer because the game isn’t out yet. When I first received the game, the multiplayer option wouldn’t even boot up. Friday evening it allowed me to play, but it populated each map with 3 other bots. But by Sunday, I was consistently getting at least one sometimes three other players in a round. Pretty good, considering it was probably just me and the other reviewers. But was it any fun? Am I going to go on for another 700 words before I mention if the game was fun or not? I’m happy to say that I did enjoy stomping around these maps destroying everything I could find.
Speaking of the maps, they were pretty standard, but they all looked good and offered a decent variety. The real star here are the mechs. I played for several hours and unlocked 9 different mechs. Each one unique and each one looked really cool. You start off with one of the larger ones. It’s extremely slow but the defense is high. With above-average firepower, it felt like it gave you a slight advantage. As you progress through the multiplayer and unlock some of the smaller, more nimble mechs, your play-style has to change drastically, unless you like being thrown out with the recycled beer cans. Being the biggest, baddest guy on the block is fun, but playing as the smaller, faster mech offers a completely different experience. Instead of stomping headfirst into the action, it was fun just flying around the map, cleaning up skirmishes and picking off the already wounded prey. With a press of the X button, each mech can jump (and double jump), but the smaller ones can pretty much stay in the air all day. I’m not talking COD Advance Warfare here, but there is some flying around. Speaking of, no motion sickness here. The first time I jumped, my stomach tumbled a little, but by the end of the first match, it was over and I never again noticed any discomfort. I play a lot of VR, so this isn’t much of a surprise, but some games, including the similar Rigs, can cause me some jittery guts that I don’t enjoy too much. I’m happy to say that is not the case with Code 51: Mecha Arena.
- Developer: Smelly River
- Release Date: April 24th, 2018 – North America (European release to follow within “2 months”
- Price: $19.99
My biggest disappointment with the game is the lack of unlockables. So far, the only things I unlocked were new mechs. No weapon upgrades, no armour upgrades. There is actually no customization at all. That surprised me and left the grinder in me a little disappointed. What’s to keep me playing match after match even after I’m late for work, just to gain those last few points I need to unlock that new armour grade, homing missile or some silly new camo? Maybe I didn’t get far enough into the multiplayer, or maybe that’s coming in a future patch. The developers seem like they are actively working on improving the game and listening to input from the fans.
As it stands now, Code 51 is a decent looking game that plays really well. The announcers are a little off, and it’s obvious that English isn’t their first language, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment at all. However, I will always call a “killing spree” a “kaling spray” from now on. But most importantly, the gameplay is tight. The mech’s attacks are all different and powerful and the controls feel just as they should. I would prefer to control the turning with the right stick instead of head tracking, but here’s to hoping that may be an option down the road. In the end, this game will live and die with the multiplayer base that they can attract. The bots offer some flexibility, but you can only trash talk a computer for so long. If you like giant mechs, virtual reality, or multiplayer shooters, Code 51: Mecha Arena is probably worth your time.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using base PS4.