Zipper interactive has gone handheld with its extremely popular military shooter, SOCOM, and the PSP has welcomed it with open arms. Some may wonder how a game with complex controls and massive groundbreaking online play carries over to the PSP, and with good reason too, given some of the poor control schemes we've seen on the handheld. Well, some things had to change in SOCOM: U.S. Navy Seals Fireteam Bravo, but overall the developers did an outstanding job of making SOCOM enjoyable on the go.
First off, controls did have to change because of the lack of a second analog stick on the PSP. Without the second analog stick you are unable to run and aim at the same time. With this problem at hand R is used to auto-lock onto enemy targets, and holding L allows you to strafe left and right. Some people may be turned away by the ease of the auto-lock targeting system but it does involve a strong balance of skill to use well. A quick and easy kill is not promised simply by locking on. You must balance the stance of your character, the range of your gun, as well with recoil. For instance, running and shooting will take far more shots than laying down for stability. You can still use a gun with a scope to achieve maximum accuracy without the aid of auto-lock at the expense of movement. This does render a small problem, it allows you to use auto-aim on an enemy, zoom in, and already have the enemy in your crosshairs. The auto-lock system also lets you lock on to enemies even if you don't see them directly in view. So you can pretty much run around tapping R to find enemies even if you can't see them. These two minor problems aside the new auto-lock system works well. It surley does not ruin the SOCOM feel of gameplay but it does change it up a bit.
Weapon selection is very similar to SOCOM III as you pick a primary with the option of two attachments and a secondary weapon with the option of one attachment. You can also choose up to three other objects to bring to front line such as frag grenades, smoke grenades, ammo, and a rocket launcher. The controls remain complex but are easy to pick up quickly, and in no time you will memorize Zipper's srategic placement of buttons.
The single player campaign puts you in the shoes of the Sandman. It is up to you and your partner Lonestar to tag team through 14 different levels in South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Having one teammate to look after and command is a change from the usual three-man team, but it does not decrease the level of teamwork needed to complete a mission. You can still utilize the circle button to command Lonestar to do specific tasks such as clear an area, breach, follow, and deploy. Each mission varies in objectives and includes some tasks such as finding intelligence, photographing objects, releasing hostages, destroying vehicles, and even tailing an enemy operative. These missions run alongside the missions in SOCOM III; which is particularly interesting because in completing "crosstalk" objectives you can link up your PSP to your PS2 via a USB cable to collect certain bonuses. These bonuses range from unlockable characters to special intelligence that gives you a strategic advantage over an adversary and changes the way the mission plays out.
The missions are not particularly difficult as enemy A.I. is inconsistent and not quite up to par. You are sometimes able to sneak up within biting distance of an enemy if you approach from the side, but in some instances you can be spotted from a fairly long distance. When spotted at a distance the A.I. will fire inaccurately giving you plenty of time to get an easy shot. Cast the slightly unintelligent A.I. aside, the missions are still fun and allow you to complete multiple objectives over surprisingly large levels for the PSP. If you don't like the way they set up the level objectives, once you beat the level you can go to instant action and pick from any of the single-player levels you have beaten and play your own desired objectives.
Graphics are not the most impressive we've seen on the PSP, but they're not bad, considering most of the work went into creating the large levels. Textures on walls and on the ground are low-res but get the job done. Character models look very similar to characters in SOCOM III with their pouches, hats, and gear all intact. They have good animation too as you can run, crouch, lie down, and climb over objects. The sweet cut scenes between missions look very impressive, almost identical to the cut scenes on the PS2 version.
The voice-overs are also done extremely well as each of the characters speak their native language with good mouth dubbing to go along with it. The sound is great and crystal clear as you can distinguish each gun's particular sound. Music is the same as SOCOM III so there is nothing new there.
Clearly the most impressive and important aspect of this game is its multi-player mode. Since the SOCOM series is one of the only PlayStation 2 games to maximize the online capability of the PS2 it's only right that SOCOM Fireteam Bravo shows off the online capabilities of the PSP. It does prove itself quite worthy, as you can play with up 16 players in both ad-hoc and online play. You can choose from 12 levels to play from, which are all fairly similar to those you play in single-player modes. On and offline menus are also very similar to those in SOCOM III. The levels are very well laid out and hold 16 players very comfortably. Game modes include suppression (eliminate the other team), free for all, hostage extraction, demolition and a new captive mode. Captive mode is simply a team death-match that allows you to revive downed teammates. Online play is smooth with exception of a few moments of lag when engaged in a 16-player battle. A headset was even introduced for the PSP as a bonus for online players and hardcore fans. The headsets seem to have sold well as a good numbers of players have them equipped. All in all I would surely say SOCOM Fireteam Bravo demonstrates the online capabilities of the PSP very well, and is definitely the best online game for the PSP so far.
Zipper interactive has produced another winner that will keep fans busy until they unleash they're next project. The single-player modes are fairly fun to play, and the instant action mode will surely make for some solid replay value, but the true replay is in the quality of online play. SOCOM's forte has always been online play, and it remains its strong point in SOCOM: Fireteam Bravo. If you are a fan of the PS2 editions of SOCOM and you own a PSP I highly recommend you pick it up. Zipper continues to push the boundaries of online play and after the great SOCOM games on the PS2 and PSP I can't wait to see what they can do on the PS3.