SOCOM: Tactical Strike and Confrontation developer Slant Six Games gives the franchise another go, picking up where Zipper Interactive left off with SOCOM: US Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo 3 for the PSP.
There are weapons of mass destruction in the fictional country of Koratvia, and it's up to you and your crack team of Navy SEALs to track them down before it's too late. Players take on the role of Wraith (whom some will remember from Fireteam Bravo 2), in command of his own strike force this time around, issuing orders to his three teammates and generally trying not to get his arse shot off in the process.
Slant Six Games hasn't had the best track record with Sony's squad-based tactical shooter franchise so far, having delivered a very laggy and buggy PlayStation 3 version in Confrontation and a frustrating mess of a tactical strategy game in Tactical Strike for the PSP. Why the hell would Sony gamble the consistently solid Fireteam Bravo series by putting it in Slant Six's hands?
Perhaps the third time's the charm.
Strong Presentation: The first thing that struck me about Fireteam Bravo 3 was the presentation. Reflecting the rushed nature of your mission, the menus are presented on a rumpled field notebook; the maps similarly crumpled, with objectives circled in marker, handwritten objectives off to the side. The voice acting is solid, the interface uncluttered, and the music, although a little generic, nicely sets the tone for the battles to come. Perhaps this is a case where repeated delays actually resulted in a higher level of polish.
Quite Accessible: My main issue with the SOCOM series is accessibility. I've played several other SOCOM titles, both on the PSP and PlayStation 2, and I always found myself frustrated by the concept of issuing complicated orders to a squad in the middle of a firefight. Can't we all just run out and shoot each other, like we used to in the old days? Perhaps my mindset has changed over the past couple of years, but Fireteam Bravo 3 just seems easier to handle than previous entries in the series. The pop-up command menu is easy to understand, your AI squad mates react quickly to your commands, and situations where you should be using specific tactics are easier to spot, even if they are few and far between.
Taking The Battle Online: Online multiplayer has long been a focus of the SOCOM series, and Fireteam Bravo 3 certainly delivers the goods. While the title feels a little short on maps, the five different game modes make up for that, making for a nice variety of map and mode combinations. I love the ability to revive my teammates after they've fallen, the ease of communication, and the ability to hop into a quick and dirty 3-minute match whenever the mood strikes you. Those quick matches make Fireteam Bravo 3 perfect for a quick shot of online play when you're out and about with your PSP.
Mission Editor: Fireteam Bravo 3's replayability doesn't rest solely on the shoulders of online multiplayer. After completing a mission in the campaign, you can revisit it by creating a custom mission. A simple interface allows you to select enemy type, density, difficulty, and various objectives you'll need to accomplish in order to complete your custom run, paving the way for countless variations. Like online multiplayer and the campaign mode, custom missions also generate CE (Command Equity), which you can spend on weapons and equipment to outfit your character. The amount of CE you receive depends on how difficult a mission you create, so unlocking everything can go as fast or as long as your skills allow.
Unlockables And Customisation: The Command Equity system from SOCOM: US Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo 2 returns in Fireteam Bravo 3, awarding players with points for accomplishing goals or participating in multiplayer matches. CE is your key to unlocking costume customisation pieces for your multiplayer character, as well as new weapons to add to your arsenal. The game features more than 70 customisable weapons, so collecting the whole set should give players a lovely feeling of accomplishment. I'm a big sucker for collectibles and unlockables, so this feature is right up my alley.
Short Story: With nine missions that take all of three hours to complete, Fireteam Bravo 3's single player story mode leaves much to be desired, in terms of both length and story. I might have forgiven the short run had the story been something more than a cookie-cutter tale of a team of crack commandos tracking down the bad guy. Conversely, perhaps the story would have had more time to develop and breathe had there been more missions. One would normally say that in a shooter, the single player acts as a tutorial for the online play, but in this case, single-player is the only place where you get to command a team - at least a team that actually listens to you.
Easy Company: One would expect a game about squad-based tactical combat would present more reasons to use the advanced commands it puts at your fingertips. During my initial play through of Fireteam Bravo 3, I only had to order my team into position two or three times. I hardly ever had to suggest breaking out the grenades, or cover my target. Most of my commands were simple door breach requests, and even those were hardly necessary. Since my teammates could be revived at any time, my main tactic was to send them in and wait it out. If they fell, I'd come in and revive them before they expired. Even when I did show my face to the enemy, the game's auto-targeting took care of everything for me, to the point of swinging my body around in a camera-twisting fashion to face my foes. It's like having your hand held. Being a grown soldier, I take offence.
Boxed In: Outdoor environments in Fireteam Bravo 3 are passable, but once you slip inside a building you more often than not find yourself inside a giant box, lacking all but the barest features. Slant Six did manage to litter the ground in several areas with random crates and broken-down vehicles, but they don't do much to hide the fact. In fact, like an overweight person wearing vertical stripes, it just makes it more noticeable that you're trying to cover something up.
SOCOM: US Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo 3 is probably the first SOCOM title I've enjoyed on more than a surface level, but I fear that some of my reasons for enjoying it might be the wrong ones, at least in the eyes of a more passionate fan of the series. I found the game to be not quite as deep as its predecessors, which in my particular situation translated into a more approachable title overall. Because of this, players who've dabbled with SOCOM but found the experience daunting might want to give it another go in round three. As for the hardcore, there's always custom missions, and with the influx of newer players drawn to an easier game, you'll look that much better when you take the battle online.
SOCOM: US Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo 3 was developed by Slant Six Games and published by Sony Computer Entertainment America for the PSP on February 16. Retails for $US39.99. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through single player campaign on default Lieutenant difficulty. Played an hour-long round of online multiplayer, trying out each game type and each map at least twice. Played about with the custom mission editor for a few hours. Did not have a chance to play co-op.
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