I have had a somewhat interesting history with the PSP SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo games. When the first one came out in late 2005, I was skeptical and rented it, and soon thereafter used it as an example in my ‘New Year Gaming Resolutions’ article earlier this year. Here is what I said:
“The SOCOM Confirmation of the Coded Arms Games Principle – SOCOM is the type of game I don’t like too much – small single player but mostly multiplayer (see Star Wars Battlefront Principle). So I rented it. Halfway through I was thinking I should have bought the game, but by the time the rental was over, I had played all of the offline modes at least once and had put enough online hours in that I felt done. So I returned it with no regrets.”
The third installment in the Fireteam Bravo series, SOCOM US Navy Seals Fireteam Bravo 3 is a third-person tactical shooter for PSP that drops the player, as leader of a four man squad of Navy Seals, in the middle of an internal conflict in a fictional, former Soviet republic. Featuring a brand-new story exclusive to the PSP, over 70 weapons and items, outstanding graphics and online multiplayer options — including 16-player versus and 4-player co-op — it is a worthy addition to the Fireteam Bravo series.
Key Game Features
* Continue the Action — An almost limitless combination of custom missions, gear, weapons and difficulty settings.
* Team Focused — Allows new ways for players to interact, expanding on the team orientated, authentic, military action that the SOCOM US Navy Seals Fireteam Bravo franchise is famous for.
* Lasting Appeal — Unlock gear and weapons, earn medals and ribbons as you complete objectives, either offline or by teaming up online.
* Compelling Story — Strong contemporary narrative supported by cutting edge presentation.
* Online Multiplayer — Engage in online versus fire fights of up to 16 players, as wells as 4-player co-op battles.
* Weapons — Enjoy access to over 70 weapons and items.
* Customization – Weapons can be customized for use in the game’s 4 loadout slots, as can the three available squadmates available in single player mode.
By the time a year had passed and the second Fireteam Bravo game arrived, I had already traded for a copy of the original and decided to buy the new release. Between the first and second game the focus had shifted squarely to multiplayer; the main campaign was much shorter than the first, and the interface for online matches was much easier to navigate and more robust. Fireteam Bravo 2 also improved the tightness of the controls and the lock-on system.
Yet once again after a short time the limited and very linear single player had worn on me, and the endless array of ‘R-button campers’ in multiplayer took the fun out of that as well, and while I have played on occasion over the years, that is as much due to a lack of alternatives as anything else.
Now, more than three years later, SOCOM returns to the PSP in Fireteam Bravo 3. Two immediate thoughts: first, don’t expect that this game is much different than if it was released in 2007; and second, this is the best SOCOM PSP game yet. So let’s dig into the details.
Technically, the game is incrementally better than the last one, which was incrementally better than the first. Visuals are all solid – not the best on the PSP, but smooths out some of the glitching and indistinct textures that plagued the first two. Framerates are solid throughout regardless of the level of action or number of enemies on screen, and there is a decent variety of settings represented that help reinforce the feeling that this is a global mission game. The music and voice acting are acceptable, but fairly generic and forgettable – but nothing you wouldn’t expect and no different than the earlier games in that regard. Explosions, weapon sounds and so on are all very detailed and well done – there are a number of different weapon sounds that help give the feeling of variety.
Of course, a few different sounds wouldn’t help if the weapons all felt the same when firing. Fortunately, each weapon has strengths and weaknesses. Some are great for longer distance, others are made for quick close-range bursts. There are different magazine sizes and ammo carry capacities, and each area is populated with enemies with different weapon types, so finding replacement ammo for your chosen gun can be easy or difficult accordingly.
The main campaign focuses on you as a Navy SEAL leading a squad of four split into Able and Bravo teams. The story itself is fairly throw-away – your squad is deployed in Russian territory to locate a missing operative who no one else seems to be able to locate … or return alive. After a couple of missions you uncover new information that leads your squad on a totally new course – something at least the game acknowledges in one of the clumsy cutscenes. The cutscenes also help convey a general sense of what is going on, since your squad is mostly out of contact with your commanders, so you need to pore over maps and confer with each other to develop strategy.
Your squad is your life. You can give direct orders to each team or to your entire squad, or just let them make their own choices. This hands-off strategy typically works out fine since the enemies are generally not very smart once they have been dropped into their starting positions. Typically, things are scripted so that the enemy will have a slight strategic advantage on you, but once the shooting starts they lose any sense of self-preservation and simply weave around and give your squad plenty of exposed area to target.
As I said, since the very start, the Fireteam Bravo games have been focused on delivering the best possible multiplayer shooter action for the PSP, and once again they have kept what worked and tweaked the rest to improve it. There is a co-op mode to play through the story campaign with up to four players, and also 16-player competitive modes, with support for both ad-hoc (local) and infrastructure (online) connections. The modes – albeit with fancy names – include standard deathmatch (Free For All), team deathmatch (Supression), king of the hill (Leader), capture the flag (Tug of War), and Demolition, and there are plenty of maps across interior and exterior areas to provide a nicely varied experience.
I was surprised the first time I played that respawning is off by default, which means that once you drop you’re done – it makes the stakes much higher. During the time I played multiplayer there were never more than four others on a map at a time, and they were likely all other reviewers, so I can’t tell what impact the typical flood of folks looking for exploits will have on the multiplayer experience.
Even more fun for me was the ‘Custom Mission’ mode, which brought me back to the fun of ‘Random Map Generator’ in Soldier of Fortune II. With this mode you can take any mission you’ve completed and replay it with a whole list of variables to choose from in terms of the objectives, enemies, challenges and so on. You get Command Equity points from these maps as well as normal missions, which are nice because they help you unlock collectibles like new weapons and avatar customizations. But the real fun is just playing through the areas again and again. I know that in a few months THIS will be what puts me back on playing the game again.
Of course, there are some issues with Fireteam Bravo 3. As I mentioned, the campaign is very short, and even in that time period the story gets scattered enough that it isn’t very compelling. The enemies you face are not very intelligent, meaning that you seldom *need* to use any strategy. As for load times, on occasion the screen would be black and I was glad I had a PSP Go so I didn’t have to listen to the UMD spinning as data access took place. Finally, after more than three years I would have hoped for even more improvements – in particular a true cover system.
But in spite of those complaints, I like this the best of any of the SOCOM PSP games. Each one has improved upon the last, and between the refined controls and targeting, the robust multiplayer, and particularly the Custom Mission generator, I found this the most compelling of the bunch. Good portable shooters are few and far between, and this franchise has consistently delivered some of the best handheld shooter experiences available for nearly five years. So if you are a PSP owner and a shooter fan, this is an easy recommendation.
Where to Buy: Amazon.com
Price: $49.99 (currently on sale for $39.96)
What I Like:
+ Nice combat
+ Excellent multiplayer
+ Even better control scheme and targeting
+ Great Custom Mission generator
What Needs Improvement:
- Campaign is very short and scattered
- PSP controls will never really be up to the task of frenetic action
- Would have loved a real cover system
- Enemies are really dumb
Developer: Slant Six Games
Release Date: 2/16/2010
Genre: Third-Person Shooter
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-16 (2-4 co-op, 2-16 competitive); Supports Ad Hoc and Infrastructure
Source: Review code provided by publisher
Originally reviewed for