SOCOM: Fire Team Bravo

SOCOM: Fire Team Bravo

Written by Cyril Lachel on 1/24/2006 for PSP  

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 hardware.

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!

Rating: 8.9 Class Leading

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.

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About Author

It's questionable how accurate this is, but this is all that's known about Cyril Lachel: A struggling writer by trade, Cyril has been living off a diet of bad games, and a highly suspect amount of propaganda. Highly cynical, Cyril has taken to question what companies say and do, falling ever further into a form of delusional madness. With the help of quality games, and some greener pastures on the horizon, this back-to-basics newsman has returned to provide news so early in the morning that only insomniacs are awake.
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