Reviewed: March 1, 2010
Released: February 16, 2010
As a longtime fan of the tactical military shooter genre, I have spent many an hour playing and replaying missions in the many various iterations of Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy franchises Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon, and Splinter Cell. I have also downed many a “Tango” in the Metal Gear Solids, America’s Army and Call to Arms, and Brothers in Arms. But the one series I have been remiss in following all these years is SOCOM.
The reason is simple – SOCOM was not on the Xbox. And while that might not mean much nowadays – what with the PS3 and Xbox 360 being so much alike in technical quality – back in the mid 2000’s there was a huge gap in the visual and technical quality of the Sony and Microsoft’s machines, and the Xbox was the clear winner when it came to outputting this style of gaming. Comparing the visuals of the original Xbox release of Rainbow Six to the PS2 releases of SOCOM or SOCOM 2, the visuals are night and day. And since the PS2 controller paled in comparison the Xbox – for shooter titles at least – there was little or no reason to “slum it” on the PS2 when the Xbox had all those great Ubisoft titles pouring out.
So maybe it’s not fair that I overlooked SOCOM based on silly things like visual quality and controller feel, but that’s exactly what happened. I admit that I have never played a SOCOM game in my life. Until now that is. And if the PSP’s SOCOM: U.S Navy SEALs: Fireteam Bravo 3 is any indication of what I have missed; I may just have to dust off that old PS2 after all.
Fireteam Bravo 3 puts the gamer in control of Wraith, commander of a four-man Navy SEAL contingency looking to find an ex-KGB informant. Along the way, the SEALs find themselves meeting and/or battling militant forces and hired military contractors (both good and bad) on their search. The storyline is a bit confusing and overly dramatic, but it all sets a pretty good tone for the proceedings.
The game is played from a third person perspective, and the controls are surprisingly intuitive for the lame PS3 controller layout. For yet another title that is screaming for a second analog nub (C’mon Sony, trash the PSPGo and give us a second stick, will ya!?!), SOCOM 3 does a pretty solid job achieving a semblance of dual-analog control using the D-pad and nub. Yes, rather than go with the typical nub and face button method, SOCOM 3 instead uses a bit of the old-school left-hand-only FPS control – but modifies it by allowing the gamer to shift between in and out of more detailed control by pushing up or down on the D-pad. It sounds confusing – and it is at first – but the idea is really quite ingenious.
Basically, the standard situation is to have the camera panned all the way back, which puts the nub strictly in control of character movement and basic L-bumper based lock-on shooting. By clicking “up” on the D-Pad, the camera slides in to a close over-the shoulder view, in which the character becomes stationary, and the nub is used to control the aiming. In this view, the L-bumper is used to go into a strafe. One more “up” click (depending on the gun of course) will put the gamer into scope view, for long range or precision shooting. The gamer can click “up” or “down” at any time to toggle between these views, to best attach any situation, and these can be used not only for targeting your own shots, but also for issuing move and attack commands to your team members.
This brings up another excellent feature of SOCOM 3 – the team based commands. Now we have seen some pretty amazing team control features from the Rainbow Six folks, especially considering the spot-on voice command. But one thing that the Rainbow feature has lacked over all these years is the ability to split an AI-based team up to breach multiple doors or attack multiple enemies. SOCOM 3 allows gamers to split their four-man team up into two separate two-man “A” and “B” teams (Alpha and Bravo), and issue commands separately to each. And while the execution is not without its shortfalls (I often sent the wrong guys to the wrong places, or accidentally issued command prior to getting fully set up), the fact that you can do it at all definitely adds a sense of authenticity.
Visually, the game is quite stunning on the PSP. The graphics are relatively crisp and clear considering all that is going on in the background, and the polygonal set pieces and character models are all top-notch for a handheld, and relatively similar in quality to that of a PS2 game. I know I was bashing on PS2 visuals earlier in the review, but squashed down on the PSP’s small screen, they look quite impressive. And the cutscenes are absolutely amazing in their level of detail – the character models, the shading and the textures are definitely current-gen console quality, and PS3 developers would do themselves a favor to see how this kind of quality can be pumped out on a handheld device.
As the visuals are, the audio quality is even better. The incredible voice acting, the realistic sound effect ands the inspirational orchestral background music all come together in a really impressive audio package for a handheld. Even my wife was interested in checking out what I was playing, simply based on the cutscene she overheard.
While the single player story mode is short by console standards, the overall experience is quite rewarding. Seldom are their any choke points that are too difficult to overcome in a handful of attempts, and even those that are end up being rewarding in their own right. After the single player is complete, gamers can choose to go online via wireless, and either tackle the game in 4-player co-op, or go at it mano a mano in the sharpshooter arena.
The multiplayer gameplay features a number of single and team-based shooting games for up to 16 players. The competition is stiff, and it will take most gamers a while to get comfortable with the control scheme under the pressures of the fast-paced online play, but the rewards are definitely worth it. SOCOM 3 even sports in-game chat, so you get to hear the 12 year olds berate you as they teabag your dead corpse. Kids will be kids.
SOCOM: U.S Navy SEALs: Fireteam Bravo 3 is available via both UMD and download, and the download will use about 1.2gb when all is installed. Even with the game resident on the memory stick, the load times are unusually long – but in-mission restarts are almost immediate, which makes up for the long waits. SOCOM 3 is a very impressive shooter for the PSP, and fans of tactical military shooters would be remiss in passing this one up. I’ll see you online, Tango.