The SOCOM series had been a showcase on the PS2 for multiplayer gameplay with a military theme. The series is on its 3rd iteration on the PS2, however Zipper Interactive has recently developed a version of this game for the PSP. SOCOM: U.S. Navy Seals Fireteam Bravo has been unleashed onto Sony
Developer - Zipper Interactive
Publisher - SCEA
1-10 Players (ad-hoc)
1-16 Players (infrastructure)
Memory Stick Duo (800 KB)
The SOCOM series had been a showcase on the PS2 for multiplayer gameplay with a military theme. The series is on its 3rd iteration on the PS2, however Zipper Interactive has recently developed a version of this game for the PSP. SOCOM: U.S. Navy Seals Fireteam Bravo has been unleashed onto Sony’s portable machine with robust multiplayer features that once again show why this series is such a workhorse for any Sony branded console.
The PSP is a strong machine in terms of processing and graphics ability. Add to this a great looking 16x9 TFT LCD Widescreen and you have the possibility to show a great looking game. Unfortunately for SOCOM Fireteam Bravo the graphics do not do the game justice. SOCOM 3 on the PS2 looked pretty good, even on the aging hardware; however SOCOM on the PSP didn’t look as good as I hoped. The game is relatively low in terms of polygon count and some of the in-game objects look a little blocky. There is some minor clipping when you find yourself in tight quarters but this is not a game breaker and happens very infrequently. The maps are also varied ranging from areas in swamps, desert towns or snowy villages. Textures in these maps are generally flat but they don’t look as bad as one would expect. Something of a bonus is that buildings in levels are not only for show as one can walk in and explore various structures. Each level is quite large and this is also a plus when considering the graphics in this game.
Character models in SOCOM Fireteam Bravo are not bad, however they are just like the rest of the game, low poly count. That being said they animate quite well and move fluidly. Enemy characters are also simple looking but as with your own character they animate just as well and the death animations are pretty cool. Overall I would have to say that the looks are average but the animations are great. Zipper made sure that the lack of a high polygon count was subsidized by great movment in the game, and I believe the trade off is ok for now, but any sequel for SOCOM on the PSP could use a polygon overhaul.
Unlike the average graphics in this game the sound in Fireteam Bravo is well done. What really stands out are the sounds of the various rifles found in the game. Every gun sound distinctly individual and anyone who has played a game with military rifles (e.g. Tom Clancy Rainbow/Ghost Recon Series or other SOCOM titles) will recognize the powerful sound of an M60 machine gun or the distinct sound that an M16 rifle makes. Add to this mix explosions, great music, in-game chatter of your partner or enemies and the voice acting during the cut scenes, and you have a great sounding package. Of course should you be playing your game through headphones or computer speakers and the sound is even better, but for those just playing using the standard PSP speakers, it sounds good too.
One of the major concerns I had with Sony brining the SOCOM series to the PSP was how it would control. Any SOCOM veteran is used to playing the series on the PS2’s dual analog controller whereas the PSP only has one analog nub. However, after some playtime I can say that games like SOCOM can be developed for the PSP and control for such is modified but in a very playable way. This time around the analog nub is used to move forward and backwards and looking left or right. The L button is what now allows you to strafe as you hold it down and use the nub in conjunction with it. Also available in the PSP version of SOCOM is ability to change stance as you can stand, crouch and lie prone. The right d-pad will put you into the freelook mode and depending on what weapon you have equipped you can zoom in on your view. Changing weapons is as easy as hitting the left button on the d-pad and then selecting which gun you wish to use.
New to the series control is the use of the R button which locks your sights onto an enemy. This seems to be Zipper’s method of compensating for the lack of a second analog stick. Some purists of the series may not like the lock-on feature as it makes the game somewhat easier as you only need to hit the R button while walking and it will lock onto enemies that are fairly well hidden. Even with this being the case you are not guaranteed an instant kill as the distance for the lock on varies depending on certain aspects like what weapon you are carrying at the time (e.g. long range (sniper) vs. short range (assault rifle)), your stance, your movement, etc. I found the control in SOCOM to be pretty well done given the limitations of the PSP buttons when compared to the PS2 controller. I believe any future games like this (3rd person or 1st person) that may require the control found in the traditional PS2 controller should copy the scheme created by Zipper Interactive.
With the main issue of control being handled quite well, it is time to focus on the game itself. The single player campaign covers 14 missions including those in Chile, Morocco, South Asia and Poland.
The game tells its story through a series of well done cut-scenes. This was evident from the opening scene and I was happy to see that Zipper put some effort into not only the game, but the story as well. Gameplay ranges from missions where you have to find pieces of intelligence to saving hostages or destroying specific terrorist items. This time around it is only you and your partner, not you and three more squad members. Controlling your partner (Lonestar) is quite easy as well as all you need to do is point your crosshair at certain spots (e.g. item or doorway) and a context sensitive menu will become available with commands available for that situation (e.g. move, breach, suppress, etc.). You also have the ability to change Lonstar’s mode from defensive to aggressive as well.
Anyone who has played SOCOM 3 on the PS2 will immediately recognize most of this games areas overlap with the console version. This is important as Sony has always touted the PSP’s functionality with the PS2 and this game demonstrates what they had in mind. By completing missions and bonus objectives in each game you unlock other bonuses such as new skins for multiplayer or new weapons for single player. Furthermore you also open new objectives or areas in each game making certain missions in each easier. It was nice to see Sony take advantage of the link-up functionality of these two machines and it actually gives some incentive for those with both to really hunker down with the PSP and open up all the items. Overall the missions in SOCOM Fire Team Bravo are quite fun and I had a blast playing them.
Sony and Zipper have also made sure that SOCOM Fire Team Bravo is a multiplayer beast. It is funny that the original SOCOM on the PS2 demonstrated how online multiplayer could be and now SOCOM on the PSP does the same for ad hoc and online modes. This is the most featured game I have yet to see on the PSP in terms of multiplayer. 16 players can battle it out via the online mode and up to 10 players ad-hoc. I did some online gaming and found that it ran quite smooth. The menu system is quite simple and after talking to Frank N (who reviewed SOCOM 3 for the PS2) I concluded that the menus are quite similar. There are around 12 maps for online play and there are 5 play modes available. Not all maps allow for all game modes either, but regardless it is nice to see different types of gaming available. Modes of play range from Suppression (eliminate the enemy), Extract (move hostages to extraction point), demolition (self explaining) and last-man standing (again, self explaining). I guess the only negative is that you can’t communicate with your teammates via a mic and headset to strategize. A game like this could have only been made better with this option. Maybe sometime down the line in the future Sony will offer a mic and headset for the PSP.
I had my doubts when Sony sent my copy of SOCOM: US Navy Seals Fireteam Bravo to my office. I actually wondered if the transition to the smaller PSP would hurt this game knowing how well it has developed on the PS2. However, Zipper has once again shown the gaming world why SOCOM is their baby. I have to admit though the graphics did disappoint me all was made better as the game has great sound, a creative control scheme, a good single player campaign and a robust multiplayer mode. This game is a definite right step in the future of 3rd or 1st person military action game for the PSP.