Reviewed: January 12, 2006
Released: November 8, 2005
Having just come off from a recent tour of duty with SOCOM 3 on the PS2 I guess I was the likely recruit when it came time to review SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo on the PSP. And the timing couldn’t have been better, since I had just picked up a PSP a few weeks earlier.
While I’m not a huge fan of portable gaming, I do travel a lot so I needed to get something to pass the time on the plane, and there does seem to be an impressive amount of military-style games headed for the PSP this year. Plus, the inclusion of wireless Internet support also means I can enjoy some multiplayer action; something previously reserved for the home consoles.
Fireteam Bravo is an “economized” version of SOCOM 3 on the PS2, in that it looks just as good (even better in my opinion), sounds just as good, and plays…well…almost as good. As always, Fireteam Bravo is light on story, instead offering a series of loosely related missions interspersed with cutscenes in its single-player mode that typically serves as training for the online portion of the gameplay.
There is still more story here than any other SOCOM game before it, but it just never seems all that important. Events in the game run parallel to those in SOCOM 3 and you can actually unlock new content in SOCOM 3 by discovering intelligence items in Fireteam Bravo, and vice versa. Some of this is pure fluff, like unlocking a new character, but some intelligence items actually are mission specific, and you can find valuable intel that will make your life much easier in the other game.
This “Crosstalk” feature requires that you connect your PSP to your PS2 to exchange data with a USB cable. It’s fairly easy and a great bonus for those who own both versions of SOCOM. My only complaint is that you really don’t know when you have something the other game can use, so you have to routinely try a data exchange and see if anything new is unlocked or available.
The first and obvious question is “how are the controls”. After all, the PSP is one stick shy of a traditional game controller. Some FPS games make use of the face buttons as your free-look, but there are just too many commands in SOCOM to waste four buttons on head movement. Instead, the game opts for a lock-on system using the right trigger and a strafe mode using the left.
The D-pad gives you quick access to a free-look toggle and also cycles through the third, first, and scope views. Obviously, the lock-on gives you the illusion of an unfair advantage, and while it’s true that you can unnaturally spot enemies in your field of view with a squeeze of the right trigger, actually hitting them is far less accurate than manual targeting.
In additional to giving the game some much needed balance; it also allows the SOCOM to be played by two different types of gamers. Casual weekend warriors can now jump in for a near-arcade action shooter while the more serious types (me) can rely on stealth and free-look and manual targeting.
The rest of the control scheme as been ported over with special care to make sure the game is playable by PS2 veterans as well as raw recruits. You can even adjust the sensitivity and dead zone for the analog input for maximum accuracy.
Fireteam Bravo is certainly targeted toward the multiplayer crowd with support for 10 players locally or 16 online. And if you have already been playing SOCOM 3 you’ll feel right at home with an almost-identical online interface and setup screen.
The game even supports voice chat using a PSP headset system sold separately. One wasn’t provided with my review copy and I have yet to find the communicator sold in my area, or even online for that matter, so I cannot comment on its functionality. I do know that NOT having the same voice communication I enjoy on the PS2 version certainly impairs the online experience, at least in the team games.
There are a dozen multiplayer maps and five modes to choose from when setting up your multiplayer games, although some modes are restricted to certain maps. You have traditional deathmatch games, hostage rescue, and last man standing modes, all with clever military names. Multiplayer is just as exciting and intense as ever, although the strategic edge suffers slightly from the lock-on system, where, with a simple tap of the right trigger, you can reveal any targets in sight.
The Instant action mode is a great feature that allows you to jump into any previous area you have unlocked in the main game and play specialty missions like Stealth Sabotage or Hostage Extract. The game randomizes objectives and enemies giving this mode endless replay value. It’s basically a great way to re-explore the single-player campaign without the movies and linear mission structure.
Instant Action and the Campaign modes are still marred by some perplexing AI issues, mostly in the areas of awareness. The enemy is either oblivious to your presence or knows where you are before you do. It’s certainly not bad enough to ruin the solo game modes, but you might be in for a rude awakening when you finally go online and play real humans.
Fireteam Bravo kicks off with some amazing cutscenes and a slick, polished interface that is juxtaposed with some simplistic game graphics. In all fairness, the levels are huge, nearly as big as the PS2 version if not the same, so some sacrifices have to be made to get all that on the PSP.
Structures and objects within the game are simple geometric shapes with low polygons and not that much detail when it comes to texture maps. Terrain is simplistic and barren for the most part with the occasional tree or bush thrown in to make you remember you are outside.
The game does excel at character modeling and animation. Even though the soldiers feature far fewer polys than the PS2 game the animation is still outstanding with numerous death animations that will put a satisfactory smile on your face.
The in-game audio ranks right up there with the PS2 version and I highly recommend you play the game with a good set of headphones or even better, run the output into a stereo or home theater.
Everything from the music, sound effects, and voice work is outstanding. The voice acting is serious and fits with the well-written script, the sound effects are crisp, loud, and believable, especially the unique sounds for each of the weapons, and the soundtrack, while atypical of most military games these days, is still really good.
Fireteam Bravo is one of those few games that can conceivably be played forever. There is enough single-player content to keep you busy for 20-30 hours and the online element is good until something else comes along to distract you.
The Crosstalk feature is an added bonus for SOCOM fans who own the game on both the PS2 and the PSP. If you thought you were done with SOCOM 3 you might want to think again. Some new intel just arrived that might tempt you back into active duty.
The new lock-on feature is admittedly a necessity with the limited controls of the PSP. Why couldn’t Sony have put a second analog pad on their handheld? Regardless, while it does make the game a bit too easy at times, nobody is forcing you to use it, and true warriors will suck it up and use the free-look and manual targeting options.
As with any SOCOM title, comes the standard caveat; this game is targeted toward the online crowd. While there is a strong solo experience and some impressive CG movies that tell an unimpressive story, if you don’t have a bunch of local friends with copies of the game or wireless Internet to play online, you might not get as much fun out of Fireteam Bravo as the rest of us.
SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo is only my third PSP game in my growing collection, but what a way to start. This game has it all. Fantastic solo gaming, endless online options, a console interface, SOCOM 3 connectivity, and even the promise of voice chat if I can ever find that PSP headset.