Interconnectivity. This past E3, this was the buzzword that was constantly bandied about the (at the time recently released) PSP. In particular, we were told about how you’d be able to take a game wherever you wanted to on the PSP, get home and not only have made progress on the handheld, but also affect the action of a console title. We were sent away from the conference with ideas of just how cool this function could be, but no idea if we’d see this feature with the PS2 or if we’d have to wait until the PS3. What a difference a few months makes, with SOCOM’s arrival on the PSP. Does it accurately fulfill this technical promise? Lock and load, soldier, because we’re enlisting with SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo.
Unlike its console counterpart where you control a four man squad, Fireteam Bravo places you in control of a specialized two man strike team. However, the SEAL that you control, codenamed Sandman, and his teammate, Lonestar, control much the same as the console version. You’ll still issue team commands to Lonestar via button presses, such as disarming bombs, covering hostages and other tactical maneuvers. Some of these will require little more than telling Lonestar what to do and letting him go to work. Others, particularly disarming bombs, will force you to actively provide cover for your teammate while he completes his job. Similarly, while you can issue breach bang and clear orders to Lonestar, you'll need to take a more active job in backing him up on the entry of a room thanks to the loss of the extra two teammates.
For the most part, if you've played any of the previous SOCOM titles, then you won't have a problem picking up the translated control scheme, which utilizes the analog nub for constant movement or strafing in conjunction with the L button. While you aren't allowed to jump in the game, you can mantle or hurdle low obstacles. Also, while there is a free-look option available to check your surroundings with the right directional arrow, the majority of the weaponry and equipment control options are relegated to the rest of the pad. By pressing up on the directional pad, you can engage the scope on your gun (if you happen to have one equipped) or other vision enhancing items, such as binoculars, heat or night vision. Pressing down starts zooming the scope back away from its stages of magnification or turns off these vision modes, and the left button helps selects the weapons or equipment that you'll use in the field.
Obviously, the PSP isn’t as accurate as its console brethren thanks to its lack of an additional analog stick, which is key for shooters. Fireteam Bravo gets around this disadvantage with a bit of a “cheat”: it provides an auto-lock feature for threats. The system is relatively simple to understand and get accustomed to – by pressing the R button, you essentially put your soldier on alert for any potential threats to the team, highlighting them with a red thread box if they are in range of your selected gun. In the midst of fast-paced firefights with multiple enemies, you can switch opponents by pressing the L button. While this might sound like it makes the game easier, the lock mechanic is actually balanced smartly: just because you have a lock on an enemy doesn’t mean that every bullet fired automatically hits; depending on the accuracy and kick of your gun, you may inevitably wind up with a spray and pray attack rather than an instant kill shot. Obviously, using your gun’s scope could help you for distance attacks, but if you wind up being too close for comfort, you can nail an enemy with a rifle but or a well placed knife to the stomach to take them out.
The single player campaign of Fireteam Bravo takes place across 4 separate world hotspots, three of which mirror the missions in the console version of SOCOM 3. The concept is that both Sandman and Lonestar are deployed to the same region, but they’re given separate missions. The one exception is the first campaign, Chile, where you try to track down a group of freedom fighters launching attacks upon the government. By accomplishing your missions, along with secondary and tertiary objectives, you can unlock additional bonuses that can provide you with new characters for multiplayer play, extra weapons and other items. Here’s where the interconnectivity that I mentioned earlier comes into play: by syncing up Fireteam Bravo with SOCOM 3, you’ll be able to release one of the 65 lockable extras scattered through the two games. What’s particularly interesting about this feature known as cross-talk is how each tasks winds up affecting the game: For instance, finding some information on weather patterns allows you to better protect the first lady of Poland in the console version. Similarly, gathering roster reports in the console version intensifies the resistance of the enemies in Bravo. It’s an extremely cool feature that hopefully many other games will take advantage of in the future.
The size of the levels aren’t near the size of those found in the console version, which is understandable considering the size of the UMD disc, but apart from that, you’ll take on similar jobs. Blowing up weapon caches, destroying communications and disarming bombs are just a smattering of the jobs you’ll be involved with. Plus, once you finish each mission, you can jump back into them and take on one of five separate mission types, such as Hostage Extraction, Sweep and Clear, and Sabotage. This is somewhat of a warm-up for the multiplayer mode, which can be played over Ad Hoc or Infrastructure mode for up to 16 players. There’s a different set of 5 multiplayer mission types that you’ll be able to fight in over 12 maps, and much of it takes a page from its console counterpart. Gamers will have the option to set up clans, enter message boards, set up friend’s lists and other standard multiplayer mainstays. The Multiplayer that we tried was extremely stable and lag free, even with the maximum players logged onto a map, and while the tactics of the game were somewhat different thanks to the lock-on aspects of the game, it still managed to provide an enjoyable experience. Plus, you have the opportunity to communicate with your teammates via a separately sold headset that sounds just as good as the headsets from SOCOM 3, which is a technical feat in itself.
There are a couple of hang-ups that do crop up here and there, and the degree of how bad it affects your title does vary. To that extent, some players may disregard certain issues in favor of others. The first, and perhaps most obvious one is the included lock-on feature. Some players will love the ability to track and find any enemy in the area, while others will consider it to be cheating. Personally, I didn’t go around constantly searching for an area lock, only engaging it when I found myself in a short range gunfight and otherwise using my gun sight to try to snipe opponents. This worked just fine for me and I was able to enjoy the title. Some purists may consider this to be too easy though. Another extremely apparent glitch is the extreme hit or miss nature of the enemy AI. It’s possible to sloppily “creep” up on an opponent and knock him out, or even walk in plain view of an opponent and still be safe from detection. Then again, you may try this on another soldier and be completely busted. This random behavioral exhibition can complicate the realism of each mission.
Similarly, there are a number of collision detection problems that may crop up here or there, particularly with Lonestar. Either he will get stuck on objects or have trouble actually maneuvering his way through a door that you’ve specified for a breach, for example, and this can sometimes hinder your progress (especially if he’s stuck and waiting to throw a flashbang shortly after you’ve “followed” him through the door). However, the visuals are excellent. Many of the animations from SOCOM 3, ranging from your squads varied positions in standing, crouching and crawling advances to the numerous death animations are spot on, and there’s a lot of attention paid to minor details, such as switching between weapons. Cutscenes are excellent, and have production values on par with that of the PS2, although the PSP’s screen makes them look even better. Sound is no different, with plenty of radio chatter from Lonestar, voiced briefings and enemies shouting or talking in their native tongue. Add to that the same orchestral score during certain mission moments, and you have a cinematic presentation throughout play.
Simply put, SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo is the best shooter on the PSP to date, if not one of the best titles on the system itself. A solid single player campaign and a robust multiplayer experience round out Fireteam Bravo, but it’s the added bonus of the cross-talk features and unlockables between the PSP and the PS2 that make this title stand out as an extremely special game. If you own a PSP, you should check this out at least for an idea of a great feature that should be coming to more UMDs in the future, and stay for a hell of a military shooter.