Did you know there have been almost as many SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs games released on the PSP (four) as there have been on both the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 combined (five)? It would appear Sony’s portable handheld system has become the platform of choice for the long-running tactical shooter franchise. It would also appear that developer Slant Six Games has taken command of the series from original developer Zipper Interactive. With Zipper off making MAG, Slant Six has produced the last three SOCOM installments: Tactical Strike for the PSP, Confrontation for the PS3, and now Fireteam Bravo 3 for the PSP. Considering Tactical Strike and Confrontation both got lukewarm receptions at launch, will a return to the roots of the franchise be enough to get SOCOM fans to re-enlist?
Fireteam Bravo 3 is the most cinematic of the SOCOM PSP titles to date. Besides the usual mission briefings, there are numerous in-game cutscenes throughout the campaign that help drive the story and develop the members of your SEAL team. Unfortunately the plot, which sees your four-man SEAL squad embark on a mission to track down and interrogate a former KGB agent who is believed to be withholding information about a major WMD attack against Western interests, is clichéd, predictable, and the ending is a little flimsy. The cinematics also cause occasional gameplay continuity issues. The cutscenes are triggered when you reach certain waypoints. In a couple of instances, I was engaged in a firefight when I reached a waypoint that triggered a cutscene. When the cinematic was over, the enemies I was skirmishing with mysteriously disappeared. So while I applaud the intent of the cinematic approach in Fireteam Bravo 3, the overall presentation could have been a little smoother.
When it comes to shooters on the PSP, in this case a third-person shooter, controls are often a bone of contention. If you’re one of those gamers who has never been able to get past the PSP’s lack of dual analog sticks, the configuration in Fireteam Bravo 3 is unlikely to sway your opinion. The analog stick is used to move right and left, and the left shoulder button is used to strafe. The right shoulder button target locks enemies and the face buttons are used to fire and reload your weapon, change your stance, and give orders to your squad. How do you look/aim up and down, you ask? To do that you have to enter Zoom mode, which is assigned to one of the directional buttons. You can still move in Zoom mode, by holding the left shoulder button, but you do so at a snail’s pace and so it’s not exactly ideal in close quarters combat. The funny thing is you never really have to enter Zoom mode, you can just about get through the entire campaign using target lock. You’ll expend more ammunition that way, shooting enemies in the gut rather than the head, but the end result is the same.
In fact, aside from a couple of “boss” battles, the single player campaign is a breeze to run through. I finished the campaign in a little under 5 hours on the second hardest difficulty setting. The AI is hit and miss. Sure, friendly AI will save your ass at times, but they’ll just as often cost you the mission when they take cover in front of an object instead of behind it. Losing a SEAL team member qualifies as a mission failure so you have to keep a constant eye on your squad in case you need to revive a downed teammate. Enemy AI is an equally mixed bag. For the most part they know well enough to take cover, but from a tactical perspective they prefer to rush your position rather than flank it. Against your four-man squad, that tactic rarely ends well for the bad guys. The campaign mingles open and close quarters combat, and there’s a number of instances where not only are stealth kills possible, they’re integral to the completion of various objectives. At the end of each mission you’ll be awarded Command Equity (CE) points based on your performance, points that you can use to purchase weapons, weapon attachments and other equipment for use in both single and multiplayer.
There are two key additions in Fireteam Bravo 3. The first is a Custom Mission editor that allows you to edit any of the game’s eight missions by toggling settings like enemy type and density, grenade use, revive count and objective type. You can even choose to leave your squad behind and go at it Lone Wolf style. You’re definitely going to want to take advantage of the editor to make the missions more challenging. Hand-in-hand with the mission editor is the addition of co-operative multiplayer. Available via Ad-Hoc and Infrastructure, up to four players can tackle the entire campaign (with support for drop in/drop out play) or a custom-created mission. Together, the mission editor and co-op multiplayer help extend the life of Fireteam Bravo 3 tremendously.
If you prefer to compete against your friends, competitive multiplayer offers a fast-paced and lag-free experience for up to 16 players spanning 5 game modes, including a pair of new entries: Leader Mode and Tug-O-War. In Leader Mode, players designate a squad leader and spawn alongside their captain to reach objective points. In Tug-O-War, teams fight for control points similar to the Battlefield franchise. A trio of classic modes in Free for All, Demolition and Suppression round out the package. Just like in the single player campaign, you’ll earn CE points at the end of each multiplayer match, points that you can use to purchase gear and customize your online avatar. With leaderboard, clan and voice support, competitive multiplayer in Fireteam Bravo 3 is just as robust as its console counterparts.
Fireteam Bravo 3 is the best SOCOM title Slant Six Games has produced thus far, but it’s a much better multiplayer experience than it is a single player game. Single player is hampered by a weak storyline and a campaign that’s far too easy by default. The ability to customize missions certainly helps add replay value, especially when paired with the other new addition, co-operative multiplayer. Toss in the competitive multiplayer component that’s become a staple for the franchise and you’ve got a game that’s best enjoyed with or against friends. I’m still holding out hope that the SOCOM franchise will see a true sequel on the PlayStation 3 but until that day arrives, Fireteam Bravo 3 is a tasty appetizer.