SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo 2 Update: Modern Mobile Warfare
Zipper's Navy SEALs are staging a return mission to Sony's portable with an original story-driven campaign and a number of new gameplay features. We check out the latest build.
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Last year, the hugely popular SOCOM series debuted on the PlayStation Portable with the critically acclaimed Fireteam Bravo. The game marked the first appearance of real-time online voice chat in a multiplayer PSP game--an impressive enough feat in itself--but more importantly, Bravo proved that SOCOM's relatively complex, tactical military action could be replicated on the handheld system's constrained controls and smaller screen. Later this year, the developers at Zipper Interactive will put the finishing touches on the improved sequel, Fireteam Bravo 2, and we got to find out more about some of the new features that will be going into the game, which we last got our hands on at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo.
Primarily, we got to find out more about Fireteam Bravo 2's interesting experience system, which is embodied in the concepts of command equity and local influence. You'll accrue both through your performance in each mission, though the former is tied to your core tactical operations, while the latter is more related to how well you carry out your objectives with regard to collateral damage and so on. The two types of experience confer radically different benefits. Command equity unlocks new abilities directly tied to your official military support structure: You'll be able to call in air strikes to clear an area or request a supply drop when your medical supplies are exhausted. You'll also be able to access nonlethal weaponry--such as a beanbag shotgun, tear gas, and stinger grenades--which will come in handy when you want to neutralize your targets without killing them (an act of mercy that will figure into your mission performance).
Naturally, local influence gives you shadier, under-the-table sorts of bonuses than command equity. As you gain sway with the local populace, you'll start to receive inside information on your upcoming missions--some enemies' positions might be given away before a mission starts, for example--and of course, the more influence you have, the more intel you'll receive. Then there's the black-market weapons trade, which you'll begin to explore as you rank up on local influence, and you'll be able to score a number of less-conventional weapons ranging from a crossbow to everyone's favorite trench broom, the Thompson submachine gun.
The designers intend to give Fireteam Bravo 2's single-player campaign a more detailed, surprise-filled storyline than in the last game. Fourteen missions will be available in a semilinear fashion, since you'll be presented with missions in sets of around three and will be able to tackle that set in any order before moving on to the next set. Interestingly, as you move through the core campaign, enemies will dynamically move back into territories you've previously cleared and present new objectives. These dynamic missions are entirely optional but will provide extra replay value and (perhaps more importantly) additional opportunities for you to build up extra local influence and command equity.
This plotline will even interface with the upcoming fourth SOCOM installment on the PlayStation 2, Combined Assault, since both games take place in the same area of operation. For instance, in the mission we saw, the player in the PSP game was tasked with remotely eliminating hostiles who were hanging around a helicopter crash site. Not coincidentally, Combined Assault on the PS2 will feature a related mission in which the player will have to investigate this same crash site up close. If you manage to snipe all the enemies at the site within the allotted time on the PSP, you can sync up your save game with Combined Assault to render the area free of opposition when you then play the mission on the PS2. The designers refer to this interconnectedness as "crosstalk," and you'll get a "crosstalk content unlocked" message whenever you complete one of these objectives. (Presumably, this process will work both ways, but we haven't heard any specific examples of new content that will be available on the PSP side yet.)
Zipper is also refining several aspects of the gameplay seen in the first Fireteam Bravo. For instance, enemies' artificial intelligence in the single-player will now behave more realistically based on the weapon each entity is carrying. A foe armed with a heavy machine gun will be intelligent enough to go to a prone position for steadier aim, while one with a lesser submachine gun will cautiously try to close in on you. Meanwhile, those with standard, longer-range assault rifles will hang back and make smarter use of cover than they did last time around. And on the interface side, you'll now be able to hold down left on the D pad to pop up a quick inventory heads-up display that has all your gear mapped to various buttons for quick access.
Of course, this wouldn't be SOCOM without solid multiplayer support--so luckily Zipper is working to extend the already-significant online offering in the first game. Twelve multiplayer maps will be available--eight of which are new, the other four of which have been given a face-lift since the first game--and three new modes will join those seen last time around. Tug of war sets two teams after a number of control points, Battlefield style; intel grab is much like capture the flag and tasks your team with getting sensitive information back to your base; and target tasks you with retrieving a bomb to score points for your team. Zipper is also beefing up the game's community features in a major way with support for clan matches and tournaments, more detailed stat tracking, and player-skin customization, among other enhancements.
The PSP has taken some criticism as a receptacle for hastily ported PS2 games poorly suited to the handheld's more limited control scheme. But the original Fireteam Bravo was among the best-received shooters on the PSP to date, and this sequel is looking like it will build on all the winning aspects of its predecessor when it hits shelves in the first week of November.
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