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Jeremy Henderson
29 Apr, 2006

SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo Review

PSP Review | Bravo, Bravo, Encore, Encore.
For months now SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fire Team Bravo has sat on the Australian release list, tantalisingly out of reach, all the while garnering critical acclaim and commercial success in the US. Finally,Fire Team Bravo is shipping out down under, alongside older PS2 sibling, SOCOM 3. Was the game over-hyped? Is it really the killer PSP game we’ve been waiting for or just another ordinary PSP shooter set in a different killing field?. PALGN loads out with the two-man SEAL team and puts them through their paces.

The first thing you’ll notice when you fire-up Fire Team Bravo, if you’re familiar with the [i]SOCOM universe and if you’re lucky enough to also be playing SOCOM 3, is how similar it looks, feels and plays to it’s older, bigger brother. Cut scenes and intro movies are some of the best we’ve seen on a console. When it comes to presentation and features, this game is no SOCOM Lite. This is a full-featured SOCOM game that’s perfectly at home on the PSP. It’s menu system looks great and is near identical to SOCOM 3. If you are a fan of SOCOM, (I am) then like me you’ll likely experience a ‘wow’ moment when you appreciate how fully and faithfully the SOCOM universe has been recreated on your PSP. This is the first game that gives you a glimpse of what the PSP is capable of.

SOCOM in the palm of your hand.

SOCOM in the palm of your hand.
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So how did Zipper Interactive pack all the SOCOM goodness into a portable package? Well the short answer is they didn’t. Zipper Interactive have made two major changes to the franchise in order to tailor it to the PSP. In a departure from previous SOCOM games, you are now in charge of a two man squad. You play the part of ‘Sandman’ (thankfully not ABC comedian Steve Abbott), and control your partner, ‘Lonestar’ (while his American accent may grate over time, he thankfully doesn’t break into song like his country music namesake). While your squad has been depleted, you still have as much control over Lonestar as you had over your squad in previous SOCOM games. The second change is Zipper Interactive’s solution to overcoming what many perceive to be the PSP’s achillis heal; the lack of a second analogue stick.

Play SOCOM on the PS2 with the dualshock controller and you have one stick for movement and the second stick to aim with. Fireteam Bravo uses a ‘lock-on' system to get around that problem.
I’d be lying if I said the 'lock-on' system didn’t change the way the game plays and feels, but importantly, it doesn’t dumb things down the way we may have feared. Significantly, 'lock-on' isn’t a free pass to guaranteed, trouble-free, mission success. In fact ‘lock on’ is misleading in as much as being locked on does not actually guarantee that any of your bullets will hit the intended target. Here’s how it works. The single analogue nub takes care of movement. When you wish to aim and fire you have 3 options. You can simply press the right shoulder button to enter 'lock-on' mode. You will instantly lock on to the nearest enemy in your direct field of vision. While this does make it easier to hunt your enemy down, your success while locked-on will still depend on factors such as distance from target and your position, moving, standing, prone or crouched. Lock on while close to your target and lying prone and you are more likely to dispatch your victim quickly. On the move, standing and at a greater distance and you will expend more ammunition and time bringing your target down. You can also go into free look mode by pressing right on the D Pad. While this obviously restricts your movement, you are now free to aim manually. Thirdly you can hit up on the D pad to use your scope. In all likelihood, when playing through the single mission mode you’ll naturally choose to use a combination of the three modes depending on the situation. Some missions lend themselves to a frantic run and gun ‘lock on’ approach, while other stages demand a more stealthy approach. It may sound a convoluted solution on paper, but in practice the control system is intuitive and you’ll have no problem switching from one mode to another.

Say goodnight.

Say goodnight.
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The single mission story runs alongside SOCOM 3’s single mission campaign. Unique to Fire Team Bravo however; you begin the single player campaign in Chile. Before the campaign ends you will have traversed the globe, from the sands of Morocco, the islands of South Asia and on to Poland. The shared locales and story line was a deliberate attempt by Zipper Interactive to tie the games together. You’ will in fact be linking your PSP and PS2 together, quite literally, with a USB cable to take advantage of the new shared function dubbed ‘Crosstalk’. Is it a clever ploy to ensure you buy both SOCOM 3 and Fire Team Bravo? Absolutely. Is it a reward for SOCOM fans that purchase both games? Absolutely? Does it work as intended? Almost. Complete missions, together with specific secondary objectives in one game and you’ll unlock weapons and skins in the other. You’ll also have a bearing on how certain missions pan out; a great idea in theory but there were times when the ‘increased intelligence’ I’d managed to gather had a detrimental bearing on my gaming experience. A case in point. Thanks to Fireteam Bravo’s success in Morocco, I was given advance warning of the exact location of an ambush on the road ahead while playing SOCOM 3. Forewarned about the danger, my Navy Seals had no difficulty dispatching the enemy. But it all felt a bit flat, like I’d somehow cheated, or been robbed of what should have been a challenging and surprising set piece. 'Crosstalk' certainly has potential, but it’s implementation this time around seems a little rough around the edges. It’s not immediately transparent when you should be synching your files between the PS2 and PSP. Nor is it obvious, what, if any order you should be playing the missions on each respective device in order to unlock rewards in a way that will provide the biggest reward. Since the game’s launch, etailer EB Games let it slip that SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo 2 is already in the works, offering a more robust 'Crosstalk’ system. It will be interesting to see what progress is made down the track.

Back to the single player campaign. There are 14 missions to complete offering a variety of challenges. You’ll be extracting hostages, collecting intell, disabling bombs and blowing up arms supplies and securing chemicals. Levels are large and well designed. Unlike SOCOM 3 there is no checkpoint system, but in fairness, the PSP sleep mode works equally well for those times when ‘real life’ intrudes before you are able to complete a mission. While not lengthy, there’s enough gameplay here to satisfy even those not interested on what’s on offer on-line. An adhoc and infrastructure coop mode would have added to the games longevity, but Zipper have included an ‘instant action’ mode which allows you to replay any of the completed mission maps, with differing objectives (Hostage Extract, Stealth Extract, Sweep and Clear, Sabotage, and Stealth Sabotage) and completely random AI placement, offering greater variety and longevity to the title.

Speaking of online action, the SOCOM franchise is Sony’s online flag carrier and the PS2’s most popular and praised online game. It should come as no surprise then that Fire Team Bravo follows in that fine tradition and gives us the most complete online offering we’ve seen on a PSP release. There’s Ad-hoc support for up to 16 players, but it’s the infrastructure online (which also supports 16 players) that we’re really interested in here. Both ad-hoc and infrastructure boast five match types, extraction, suppression and demolition, captive and free for all. Like SOCOM 3, Zipper have provided friend lists, leaderboards, news feeds, message boards, updates, game searches, and the big one - live voice chat.

I was unfortunately able to put the PSP headset through it’s paces, so the start and end of pretty much all conversations with my fellow gamers was ‘he doesn’t have a mic’ Early reports from those online and playing the game on the EU servers (the one Australian gamers will be playing on if they buy the local version of the game) is that the headset and mic work flawlessly. Anyone who has played a game with voice support knows how much it adds to the gaming experience, and it would appear that Fire Team Bravo is no different in that regard.

Fire Team Bravo isn’t going to win any beauty contest but nor is it the worst looking PSP game out there. In fact what it lacks visually in some areas it makes up for in others, together creating a very acceptable visual package. Levels are huge and the graphics take a hit as a result. The polygon count is generally low and there are times when things don't look great up close, but the character models are reasonably detailed and the character animation is equal to the superb animation in SOCOM 3 and looks great whether characters are on the run, taking cover or taking a bullet. Any visual short comings will be overlooked when you marvel at the sheer scale of the maps. Truth is, your more likely to be impressed than dissapointed when you see what Zipper have accomplished first time round on the PSP.

Things can look a little blocky up close and personal.

Things can look a little blocky up close and personal.
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The audio stands toe to toe with its SOCOM 3 counterpart. All PSP games sound better through a good set of headphones and Fire Team Bravo is no exception. In-game audio is superb. You can pick up on the direction sounds are coming from, explosions and gun fire all sounds impressive, Lonestar's dialogue is varied. If you’re a fan of SOCOM you’ll be familiar with the theme music. Perhaps as a result of how much I heard it playing in the background while in the menu screens, I find myself humming it while writing this review.

Fire Team Bravo isn’t a perfect game by any measure. The environment on a couple of levels is quite dark, and don’t lend themselves overly to gaming on the go, in the car, bus, or outside. They play a lot better when you are tethered to a power socket with the screen brightness up on it’s highest level, which of course defeats the whole point of portable gaming.

The wireless online gaming is great. It’s the real deal in every way. But it will make you more aware of the lack of cheap wireless infrastructure in your neighbourhood. Sure you can play at home, and it’s great to have the freedom to go from bedroom to lounge and out to the back garden. But if your tethered to your house, and have few options for wireless gaming outside your house other than the expensive Telstra offerings at your local Starbucks and Maccas then it begs the question (if in fact you have a PS2) whether you wouldn’t just be better off playing SOCOM 3. Of course that overlooks the fact that you can take the single player game on the road and play it to your hearts content. But these are relatively minor gripes

While there’s often a correlation between hype, expectation, and eventual disappointment. PALGN is happy to say that this is definitely not the case here. Fireteam Bravo is a slightly flawed gem, but it’s a gem nonetheless and its gameplay online and off shines bright enough on the PSP’s widescreen to capture the hearts and minds of the SOCOM faithful and all PSP gamers who have been long starved of first-class gaming entertainment. What are you waiting for. Move out. Secure the Fire Team Bravo UMD now!
The Score
At least until Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror hits in June, Fireteam Bravo is the best PSP shooter your money can buy.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo Content

Sony discusses PSP SOCOM details
11 Aug, 2005 SOCOM and see what the fuss is about.
Pre E3 2005: SOCOM FireTeam Bravo PSP details and screens
15 May, 2005 We've got the images and the first information.
Street Fighter Alpha 3 Max Review
29 Mar, 2006 Maximum pain or maximum pleasure?
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  Out Now
European Release Date:
  Out Now
Publisher:
  Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.
Developer:
  Zipper Interactive

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