SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo was a remarkable game for a number of reasons when it was released. The game delivered a great tactical shooting experience on the PlayStation Portable as well as excellent online play, two accomplishments that, unfortunately, have been elusive on Sony's handheld. On top of that, Fireteam Bravo introduced new features like real-time voice chat and PSP and PlayStation 2 connectivity. The sequel, aptly named Fireteam Bravo 2, contains all of the same features of the first game, along with a brand-new single-player campaign, slightly refined gameplay, and new and enhanced online multiplayer content. The result is a game that isn't quite as initially impressive as its predecessor, but is still easily one of the best all-around shooters available for the PSP.
Fireteam Bravo 2 once again puts you in the fatigues of Sandman, an elite US Navy SEAL. The single-player campaign takes place in the fictional country of Adjikistan, where paramilitary forces are up to all kinds of no good, including drug and weapons trading, slave labor, and more. It's up to you and one computer-controlled teammate to sneak and shoot through 14 different missions in the campaign. Each mission requires you to complete a handful of objectives such as securing an enemy official, rescuing hostages, collecting intelligence, and destroying enemy assets. In addition to the primary objectives, there are numerous secondary and bonus objectives that you can complete to earn points, which grant you rewards such as new weapons.
This points system provides incentive for you to be thorough and cautious rather than simply rushing through a level blasting everything that moves. The way it works is you earn command equity points for completing nonprimary objectives in each mission. As you rack up the command equity points, you'll have access to some useful bonuses that you can use in the midst of a mission, such as supply drops to replenish your stock of medikits, and air strikes, which can be called in to clear an area of enemies. The counterpart to command equity is local influence. You earn local influence points for safely rescuing civilians during each mission. In exchange for treating the locals well, they'll help you out by giving you black-market weapons and helpful information such as the location of all of the enemies in an area. The local influence and command equity systems work well in Fireteam Bravo 2 because the rewards provided are immediately useful--much more so than the usual unlockable extras that you'll find in other games.
Another interesting and useful bonus feature comes in the form of the cross-talk functionality. Since the story in Fireteam Bravo 2 and the recently released Combined Assault on the PlayStation 2 are intertwined, there are missions that occasionally overlap. In these cases, you can complete special cross-talk objectives in one game, and then sync up the data to alter the course of the same mission in the other game. It's a novel concept but it works well, and it's fun to discover the cleverly designed connections between the two games.
The basic gameplay in Fireteam Bravo remains the same as its predecessor. You play as the commander of a team of two SEALs. You have to make your way through each level completing objectives, but of course you'll encounter plenty of enemies who will do their best to foil your plans. If you prefer, you can try to be stealthy and sneak past enemies, or you can take a more direct approach and just run in, guns blazing. Even if you try to use stealth, you'll eventually have to resort to using force because of the way the levels and mission objectives are designed.
Whether you're sneaking or shooting, the controls are easy to grasp and they work well for the most part. You move around with the analog stick, and when an enemy is within range you can press the R button to lock on to him. Once you have a lock you can start blasting away using the X button, or you can cycle through alternate targets by tapping the L button. When you're locked on to an enemy you'll automatically circle-strafe around him as you move, and he'll stay centered in your view. This control scheme works well because it doesn't require you to fumble with awkward controls or precision aiming. It does take some of the challenge away from the game, but you still have to be careful about how you move and position yourself, because even with the lock-on targeting you won't survive long if you rush into a room full of half a dozen enemies armed with shotguns. You'll also get some backup from your teammate. You can issue commands using the team command menu, which you can access with the circle button. Sometimes you'll need to order a teammate to complete a mission objective, such as sabotaging a piece of equipment, but the standard orders involve actions like "follow," "fire at will," and "hold position." Your teammate is usually pretty good about following orders and generally keeping out of harm's way, but you still have to keep an eye on him, because if he dies, your mission is over.
The single-player campaign spans 14 missions, and even though they're all set in a single small country, the terrain and level design is varied and interesting. You'll creep through underground tunnels, huge industrial complexes, windy mountain paths, and secluded villages. The maps are all quite large, but the progression through each level is very linear. You'll start at one point and work your way across a level (and sometimes back), completing objectives as you go. The path through each level is usually very narrow, but at the same time, that focus keeps the action moving rather than requiring you to wander across a huge map in search of something to do or someone to kill. If you do get sidetracked or turned around somehow, there's a handy tactical map that tells you exactly where you need to go, as well as an onscreen compass to guide you along. The frustrating thing about the way the levels are designed is that there are no checkpoints, so if you die you have to start all over from the very beginning of the level. With large levels and multiple objectives it can be extremely frustrating when you die just before finishing your final objective and have to go back through the entire level all over again. Luckily you get enough medikits to usually avoid death.
With SOCOM in the title you can expect Fireteam Bravo 2 to have a strong multiplayer component in addition to the single-player game. Fireteam Bravo supports ad hoc and online play for up to 16 players. There are 12 maps and seven different gameplay modes to choose from. Among the new game modes is tug of war, a timed match in which each team fights to capture control points scattered around the map; target, a free-for-all game that has you find and control a target for as long as possible; and intel grab, a team match that works just like capture the flag. The multiplayer is quick to connect and runs smoothly, with minimal lag in most matches. Of course, your mileage will likely vary depending on your connection. Like the previous Fireteam Bravo game, this one supports the PSP headset (sold separately) for real-time voice chat. Other online multiplayer features include friends lists, clan support, and leaderboards. With so many features and a fair amount of content, the multiplayer game in Fireteam Bravo 2 is sure to keep you busy long after you've finished up the single-player campaign.
Fireteam Bravo 2 looks much like last year's game, which is both good and bad. The levels are all large and varied, and they all look good, with impressive draw distances that allow you to observe and snipe enemies from afar. The backgrounds and structures also look good, with seamless transitions between expansive outdoor battlefields and close-quarters interior areas such as buildings. And although the maps cover a lot of ground, they take only a few seconds to load before each mission. The character models look good, too, although because there aren't very many of them, you'll end up seeing the same enemies over and over again. The frame rate remains steady as you move through each level, even when you're fighting one or two enemies at a time. But if you're ever fighting three or more enemies the frame rate drops dramatically. It's usually quick to recover, but the slowdown is annoying nonetheless. The sound in Fireteam Bravo 2 is great, with a range of distinct gunfire and explosions that sound loud and forceful even on the PSP. There's also a ton of voice work in the game from civilians, teammates, and enemies. All of the voices sound good, and, more importantly, they don't get annoying or repetitive. The music is all very grandiose and dramatic, with loud orchestrated tracks that triumphantly blast your ears each time you complete an objective.
SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo 2 is a great all-around package for any shooter fan with a PSP. The single-player campaign will take you six or so hours to complete, but you can go back and replay cleared missions with different objectives and try to earn more points. The online multiplayer works well, is full of features, and has plenty of varied maps and game modes to keep you playing. Add it all together, and it's apparent that Fireteam Bravo 2 goes a long way to close the gap between console and handheld games, which is impressive in and of itself--but it also happens to be a really fun game.