Although the PlayStation 2 has played host to a number of
amazing games in its nearly six years of life, the first-person shooter is one
genre that has eluded Sony for one reason or another. The Xbox saw most of the big exclusives, from
Doom 3 to Half-Life 2 to a pair of top-selling Halo games, while the
PlayStation 2 featured disappointments like Killzone and Warhammer 40,000. But Sony fans did have one series they could
always fall back on, a series of online games that were nearly as good as
anything produced for Microsoft's
Xbox. I'm talking about SOCOM: U.S. Navy
SEALs, a tactical shooter that gave PlayStation 2 owners a glimmer of hope that
there would be a bright online experience in their future.
Now PSP owners get a little glimpse of that hope with Fireteam Bravo, a portable SOCOM title
that surprisingly never feels like a shrunk down experience. This PSP SOCOM manages to do just about
everything its bigger brother can, including offering a full offline campaign
and so many online modes, levels, and weapons that it will take you months just
to see it all. Even though you can find
it on a portable, Fireteam Bravo is
just as deep and complex as those PlayStation 2 games.
This is not the first time a company has attempted to pull
off a shooter on the PSP, Koanmi's Coded Arm springs to mind thanks in large
part to its terrible game play mechanics.
Thankfully Sony learned a few things from the companies that went before
them, nearly every aspect of this game feels finely tuned and ready for
you. Although some of the game play
issues can be troubling at first, it won't take long before Fireteam Bravo feels perfectly
natural. SOCOM is one game you won't be
taking out of your PSP for a long time to come.
But before I spend too much time praising it I should talk a
little about what makes Fireteam Bravo
is such a find. For one thing, it
features a lengthy story mode that not only teaches you the tactics of being a
SEAL but also comes with a fairly interesting plot that will keep you playing
until the very end. You control a squad
of two SEALs operatives, you (Sandman) and your backup (Lonestar), who be asked
to perform various objectives in a number of unique countries, including Chile, Morocco,
South Asia, and Poland.
Veterans of the PlayStation 2 SOCOM games will already know
what kind of missions you're being asked to take part in, most of them involve
securing information, saving hostages, taking down high ranking officials, and
defusing a whole bunch of bombs. You
know, it's all that stuff you hear about on the news and see in the
movies. The single-player missions are
all extremely interesting; they don't last too long and always offer a lot of
targets to take down and tasks to complete.
After awhile you will notice that some of your tasks feel like things
you've already done before, but then a group of enemy terrorists will pop up
and you'll forget all about this minor complaint.
On the console you had complete control over your
computer-controlled helpers; making them stand guard, defuse bombs, open doors,
and other odd jobs. For the most part
this aspect of SOCOM remains in this portable rendition, only this time around
you won't get three extra helpers, you only have one, Lonestar. Lonestar is a fairly smart partner; he's
pretty good at taking down enemies on his own and rarely gets in the way. In fact, having only one person to contend
with makes Fireteam Bravo oddly less
frustrating than its console counterparts.
Although the story is well put together and does a great job
of keeping you interested, it's the
online stuff that most people are excited about. At its core SOCOM has always been an amazing
multiplayer experience with a single-player campaign tacked on for good
measure, and Fireteam Bravo is no
exception. This may be SOCOM's for foray into the land of portables but you
would never know it by looking at its stunning online presentation. With a dozen levels, tons of weapons, and
more game types than you know what to do with, Fireteam Bravo may be the only portable shooter you need.
Despite being on a portable game system, Fireteam Bravo features everything you
know and love about the console SOCOM titles.
And when I say everything, I really do mean it … this game seems to have
all the based covered. Perhaps it comes
from years of Zipper Interactive refining the game play, level designs, and
game types. Or maybe it's just dumb
luck. Either way, this portable SOCOM
manages to shrink everything you love about the series into a handheld form. You get a fun 16-player experience, plenty of
unique levels to fight in, player ranks, and even your own friends lists,
everything you expect from a modern day online shooter.
Both veteran SOCOM players and novices alike will be
impressed with Fireteam Bravo's
twelve multiplayer levels, each offering completely different challenges and
hiding spots. Much like the other games
in the series, this PSP version rewards you for exploring the environment and
using it to your advantage. Your tour of
duty will have you running all over the world; we're talking about forests,
deserts, mountains, and even a few urban environments. The levels themselves are all extremely
large; a 16-player game never feels too crowded and you'll almost always have a
place where you can take go and take cover when being shot at.
Along with the 12 new levels, Fireteam Bravo is ready to hit you over the head with two new ways
to play the game. There have always been
a lot of different game types in SOCOM's online mode, everything from
protecting hostages to all out eight on eight battles to the death. But this time around Zipper has managed to
develop a couple of game types that make this game feel fresh and different
from the console versions. Of the two,
Captive is easily the most popular new mode.
In Captive you play a normal eight vs. eight battle, but if somebody
dies a teammate can go in and revive them.
Not only does this give the losing side a chance to come back and win
the round, but it can keep those who died from having to sit and watch the
action for too long. Captive is one of
the best additions to the SOCOM universe, a mode that should have been
implemented a long time ago.
The other mode is also unique, but not nearly as much fun as
Captive and the other returning modes.
Free-For-All is exactly what it sounds like, a mode where it's you
against everybody else in the room.
There are no teams, no friends, just people to kill on your way to being
the last one standing. This isn't a bad
idea, it gives SOCOM more of a deathmatch feel, but there's something off about
its implementation. For one thing, since
you can't gain your health back it pays to just sit back and let the others
wear down your competition. It's also
far too chaotic for its own good in the bigger rooms. This is one mode I would like to see return
in future installments, only next time with a little more polish.
But not everything is new in Fireteam Bravo; one of SOCOM's
biggest stand-bys is coming along for the ride.
The easiest way to keep in contact with the other soldiers (and
terrorists) in the game is to use Sony's
own PSP headset, which can be picked up separately for around $20. I was surprised by the headset's impressive sound quality, and speaking to your
teammates is just as easy here as it ever was on the PlayStation 2. Although SOCOM is currently the only game
supporting this device, the headset is definitely the way to go if you're looking for the real experience.
Of course, none of this would matter if the game play was
terrible. It doesn't matter how many
levels you have, how striking the online mode is, and how cool it is to talk to
friends via your PSP, if you're always fighting the control then something is
seriously wrong. Thankfully SOCOM dodges
a bullet on this one, the controls in Fireteam
Bravo is very good … for the most part.
PSP owners have a right to be worried about a portable SOCOM;
so far all of the other shooters (such as Konami's Coded Arms) have been
miserable experiences with clunky controls.
There are plenty of good things I can say about Sony's PlayStation
Portable, but no matter how many wonderful things I come up with I am still
disappointed by its lack of a second analog stick. A game like this requires two analog sticks
to work (not to mention a whole lot of buttons), so how accurate could this
game really be to its console brothers?
Thankfully, the people making the game did an excellent job
of refining the controls to fit perfectly on the PSP. The biggest obstacle was that lack of a
second analog stick, so SOCOM now has a cool "targeting" button that
will help you aim at your enemies and take them down. At first the target button may seem like
cheating, but you'll soon realize that just because you're aiming at them
doesn’t mean you'll have an automatic kill.
In fact, there is real depth in Fireteam
Bravo's combat, making you take into consideration your surroundings, guns,
distance, and more. Some people might
not like the idea of a targeting button, but this is the best we're going to
get on a portable game system with only one analog stick. I found that this change to the game play
actually made the online games a lot more exciting, certainly more
action-packed than we're used to from those SOCOM games on the PS2.
Another big problem with porting SOCOM to the PSP was that
there just weren't enough buttons to do everything, so a few things had to go
(like jumping) or be mapped to another button (to reload your gun you have to
hold a button down until it does it).
All of these little quirks aren't really that bad when you get used to
them, but for the first few games you'll be constantly double checking the
instruction manual to make sure you're doing everything right. Once you're over that learning curve Fireteam Bravo becomes and amazing game
that is near-impossible to put down.
On the graphic side of things Fireteam Bravo is a solid looking game. You'll notice that some of the visuals are a
bit grainy and a lot of the big effects found in the console version are
missing, but otherwise this portable version looks exactly like the PS2 games
it spawned from. All of the environments
(be inside or outside) look spectacular, everything is highly detailed and
extremely easy on the eyes. This is far
from the best looking game on the PSP, but it's nice to see that a game like
SOCOM can be shrunk down with only a few minor graphic imperfections. I can't wait to see what the developers will
be able to accomplish with a little more time and a better understanding of the
The sound, on the other hand, is simply amazing. With the headphones on it really feels like
you're right there in the middle of the action, something I never thought I
would say about a portable action game.
Not only can you hear the sound of bullets whizzing by your, but each
level has its own unique ambience that makes you feel like you are really there. Everything from the voice acting to the most
mundane sound effects are all high-quality, everything just fits perfectly with
the general feel the developers were going for.
SOCOM's first portable offering may have some room to
improve, but there is not a better online shooter on the PSP or any other
portable games system for that matter. Fireteam Bravo manages to bring all of
the excitement from the console version and gives you to you in a small,
handheld form and for that they should be commended. If you've been waiting for the perfect game
to test out the PSP's online abilities then SOCOM is a must-buy, and even if
you never intend to play with others, this is still a game worth checking out.
Despite a couple minor complaints and a steep learning curve, Fireteam Bravo is easily the best game of its type on the PSP. If you're looking for a game to take your portable system online then SOCOM is the perfect game for you!