With the massive popularity of the SOCOM games on the PlayStation 2, it was only a matter of time before the series found its way over to Sony's portable platform, the PSP. The platform's wide-screen view and online capability seem to make it an ideal showcase for the tactical shooter series from Zipper Interactive. With Fireteam Bravo, the SOCOM series has established a firm beachhead on the portable front. The game offers hard-hitting offline and online gameplay, impressive map sizes, and a pleasantly intuitive shooter interface, all while maintaining the feel and intensity of combat that is so familiar to fans of SOCOM.
Fireteam Bravo puts you in the role of "Sandman," the leader of a two-man SEAL duo. This is a bit of a departure from the PS2 versions of SOCOM, which gave you control of a four-man squad of SEALs (but in practice, this doesn't appreciably change the experience of playing the game). You can still command your partner, Lonestar, in much the same way as you did in other SOCOMs. Pointing your crosshair at certain hot spots, like a bomb or a doorway, will bring up context-sensitive commands, such as "defuse" or "breach," which you can issue to Lonestar by holding down the circle button. You can also issue other commands via a menu system by tapping on the circle button. These commands include changing Lonestar's disposition between defensive and aggressive, having him follow, or issuing more-complex breach maneuvers like bang and clear.
The control you have over Sandman should also feel pretty familiar to SOCOM veterans. You can change your stance between standing, crouching, and prone, which affects your accuracy and speed. You can't jump, but you can climb over low objects or open doors with an action button. You can also zoom your view in if you have a scoped weapon, and change between night vision modes with the up and down arrows on the D pad. Switching between weapons is accomplished by tapping left on the D pad and then selecting. Also, you can quickly select grenades by holding down the triangle button. Of course, the big question that remains is: How do you aim and fire your weapons without a second analog stick? The answer is that Fireteam Bravo relies largely on a lock-on system in both the single-player and multiplayer modes. Toggling the right shoulder button will lock your aim on to any enemies within your sight line. You can cycle through multiple enemies by hitting the left shoulder button while holding the right one down.
Locking on isn't just a free pass to a headshot, though. For one thing, the distance at which you're able to lock on varies depending on the weapon you're carrying. If you have a sniper rifle, you can lock on just as the enemy figure comes into view. If you're carrying a submachine gun or a shotgun, however, you'll need to get up pretty close to engage a lock on. Just because you're locked in doesn't necessarily mean you're going to hit anything, though. Your accuracy seems to vary depending on range, your stance, movement, your weapon, and the enemy's awareness of your presence. If you sneak up, while kneeling and carrying a rifle, to an enemy sentry who is a couple of yards away, your odds of getting a headshot just by locking on to him are pretty good. However, if you're in a firefight at the extreme range of your submachine gun while you're running around and circle-strafing your target, then it's likely that you'll need to unload a few bursts before you can connect. It is possible to fine-tune your aim by zooming in and going into free-look mode. In fact, if you're sniping, you'll probably end up doing this. But for the most part, the action moves fast enough, especially online, so that you'll mostly rely on the lock-on feature. It does take some skill out of the equation, but not entirely--you still need to be very aware of your surroundings and try to get the drop on your enemies. In the end, Fireteam Bravo still feels and plays very much like a SOCOM game.
The single-player campaign stretches across 14 missions in four different areas--Chile, Morocco, South Asia, and Poland. The latter three areas overlap with the campaigns from SOCOM 3 on the PS2, which plays into the cross-talk functionality of both games. By completing missions and bonus objectives in each game, you can unlock multiplayer skins and new weapons for use in the single-player modes of both games. You can also affect how certain missions play out, opening up new objectives or making certain areas easier. You unlock all this stuff by connecting your PSP to your PS2 via a USB cable, and by enabling the sync functionality within each game. The process is a little convoluted, but not too difficult to figure out. As for the missions themselves, they run the usual gamut of military-style objectives, such as clearing out bases, gathering intelligence, rescuing hostages, or destroying vehicles and weapon caches. One of the more interesting missions has you tailing an enemy operative, requiring you to photograph him as he meets with people and record conversations without being detected. The missions tend to be on the easier side, at least at the default difficulty, because the awareness and reaction time of the enemy artificial intelligence isn't all that great. Even with that caveat, the missions are still pretty fun, offering multiple objectives on maps that can be surprisingly large for a PSP shooter. Once you're done with the campaign, you can go back and play any of the single-player maps in instant action mode, setting them up for hostage rescue, terrorist sweep, or sabotage objectives.
Fireteam Bravo's multiplayer modes are arguably the most impressive aspect of the game. You can play up to 16 players in both ad hoc and online modes. The online interface is strikingly similar to the one used for SOCOM 3, offering leaderboards, clans, message boards, news, friends lists, and more. Online modes include standard team deathmatch (called suppression), extraction (hostage rescue), free for all, demolition, and the oddly named captive mode, which is like suppression except that teammates can revive you. The online play works very well. It's smooth and responsive, with little noticeable lag even with a full 16 players in the game. The maps are basically the same ones used for the single-player missions, but they're definitely roomy enough to comfortably hold 16 players. You'll, of course, be able to outfit your character with a variety of different weapons, like sniper rifles, assault rifles, submachine guns, and shotguns, as well as accessory weapons like grenades or antitank rockets. Attachments like scopes and silencers are also available for your guns. All the bases are definitely covered, but the selection isn't quite as wide as you might hope for, and not nearly as wide as it was in some of the PS2 SOCOM games.
The lock-on mechanic isn't as cheesy as you might expect it to be in online play. Skill still definitely comes into play to separate the men from the boys. Aiming and twitch skill may not be as big of a thing, but those with the highest scores tend to be the players who have the best awareness and make the best use of the nuances of the maps. Voice chat is also possible if you buy the headset device, which is sold separately. A surprising number of people online are using the device--it works very well and the voices come over the line pretty clearly. Our teammates didn't seem to have much trouble understanding us, either. We did notice some glitches in online play, though. For example, some of the extraction games we played resulted in cheap wins for the SEAL team, because a hostage rescue would be falsely reported from time to time. But, overall, the online experience in SOCOM Fireteam Bravo makes it one of the best multiplayer experiences yet for the PSP.
Fireteam Bravo offers good-looking graphics to round out the package. Character models are pretty detailed, with weapons slung over their shoulders and bags and other accoutrements hanging off their clothing. They also have decent, but sometimes choppy, animation while moving around, shooting, or when getting shot. The maps are varied depending on the setting, whether it's a swamp, a snowy village, or a dusty mountain town. Environmental textures can look pretty flat up close, however, and there isn't much foliage to speak of. But the ability to walk in and out of buildings, as well as the general scale of the maps, is impressive nonetheless. There are even cutscenes to introduce each of the four different areas in the single-player campaign. The game usually runs at about 30fps, but it can chug when there are lots of enemies and other action onscreen. Sound effects and music are also fantastic, whether it's the guttural rumble of an M60 machine gun, or the subdued clicking of a silenced M4 carbine. There's a good amount of voice also, both in the cutscenes and through the in-game radio chatter. You'll even hear enemies calling out and yelling in their native languages.
Taken as a full package, SOCOM Fireteam Bravo is easily the best shooter available on the PSP, as well as one of the best games available for the system. The single-player campaign is fun and compelling, and the ability to play multiplayer matches with up to 16 players online is amazing. If you've been a longtime fan of the SOCOM series, then Fireteam Bravo definitely lives up to its name, as its quality is very much in line with past games on the PlayStation 2. The fact that you can use voice chat online with a headset, and connect the game to SOCOM 3 on the PS2 for bonus unlockables, makes for even greater value. If you were looking for a great online and offline action game for your PSP, then SOCOM Fireteam Bravo is the one to get.