Socom has come a long way hasn't it? In such a short span the game has now seen six releases to date! Four on the PS2 and two on the PSP; the second being the one reviewed here. Socom seems to be the trendsetter for Sony when it comes down to online gaming. As many may recall the first Socom was one of the very first online games to appear on the PS2 with the launch of the Network Adapter (technically, Tony Hawk 3 was *the* first). Zipper hasn't forgotten the roots of the game, as they've faithfully brought over the shooter onto the PSP with a pretty snazzy online component, as well. Much like the original Socom for PS2, Fireteam Bravo made waves last year on the PSP. It supported up to 16 players simultaneously (online or LAN) and best of all…it played like butter. Sweet! Now, as 2006 approaches an end, Sony releases a follow-up. So what's to be expected?
Well, aesthetically…Fireteam Bravo 2 looks pretty much the same as the first one did. I do have one gripe with the game's visuals; the image ghosting. As the camera shifts left and right, you'll notice a consistent haze – that's the image being left behind and creating a ghost-like/hazy appearance very briefly. Now, as brief as the ghosting may be, it's still noticeable because you're constantly changing directions and constantly creating the haze. It doesn't hinder the visuals overall, but it does put a damper on things. Otherwise, this is a fine looking handheld game that runs like butter. The textures are solid enough for a handheld and exhibit some pretty decent details here and there; but they do also show some weak spots in certain areas. The draw-in distance is quite superb — as it was previously — and it still baffles me that the PSP is capable of rendering that much all in one shot. What's more is that not only is the PSP rendering a great draw-in distance, but the game maintains a smooth frame-rate (with the occasional hic-cup) — and that goes for the online battles, as well. Obviously, there isn't much bad to say about Fireteam Bravo 2's graphics; it's a solid looking shooter overall, even though it could use slightly better texture work in some spots.
If you've primarily stuck to playing Socom on your PS2 and have yet to venture into the PSP versions, I'd suggest just picking up Fireteam Bravo 2 since it does feature slightly better gameplay mechanics and more online modes. Basically, to get one thing out of the way…if you've grown tired of Socom games and are looking for something new, this isn't it. Not to say Fireteam Bravo 2 is redundant, but it does feel a bit more like an expansion pack than anything else– though regardless, this is still a tried-and-true formula and it works well. Once again the campaign features 14 missions, all of which can be played through with various different approaches. But here's the kicker, Fireteam Bravo 2 has a new Dynamic Mission generator that will create new goals and objectives for every previously completed mission. For instance, once you finish the first mission map, you can re-visit the locale by regenerating a mission. You can do this as many times as you want for each stage, which causes the length of the game to expand dramatically.
Much like every Socom game, this one is packed with features. You can now purchase weapons and armor by earning Command Equity points. CE points will encourage you to thoroughly and carefully play through a mission, as your reward is based on how well you perform. And not only do the points entitle you to purchase armory, but you can also buy satellite intelligence, supply drops and of course…air-strikes! Additionally, you can earn rep points with the civilians by obtaining Local Influence. During your missions, the more you interact with the civilians of villages, the more street-cred you'll earn with them…and the more influence you garner, the more goodies you'll receive. Locals have the ability to sell you black market goods, and also give you underground intelligence information that will really benefit your campaign. Between both markets, there are 40 weapons you can acquire — so you've got a bit of hunting to do.
The story brings you back to Adjikistan (a fictional country, mind you) where corruption has overflown once more. You're running in the boots of the Sandman again and a partner who will aid you throughout the campaign. By now I'm sure you all know how a mission in a Socom game works — run around, eliminate bad guys, get to point-B, apprehend some guy, find important intelligence documents, and so on. Progression is fairly linear throughout the maps — you'll mostly have to reach the end of a map (as you complete a few objectives along the way) to finish the mission. It's pretty standard stuff, really — and if you've played any Socom game before, you know what to expect.
Ideally, many of you probably won't even play Socom's campaign and are going to head straight into the online mode. Well, there's lots of good news here. There are now three new online modes – Tug of War, Intel Grab (sort of like Capture the Flag), and Target. In addition to that, Zipper has included support for Tournaments, Clan Challenges, and Ladders. When it comes down to organizing, the friends list and instant messaging features have now been updated for the better. Just by experiencing the improved online component, it's obvious that Zipper has spent quite a bit of time on fixing the issues that plagued the first game's online gameplay. Logging in was quick and easy and playing was quite a bit of fun. I never thought back in my online-days of Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear that I'd be playing an equivalent game in the palm of my hands, and online too. Without a doubt, if you're on the go and enjoy your shooters online, you must pick up Fireteam Bravo 2.
But there still is one lingering issue that I can't help but hate…the camera positioning. Because the PSP lacks a second analog-nub, I can't position the camera the way I want it. I find the default view aimed too high. I feel like I see more of the sky than I see anything else. I prefer to have my camera tilted downwards so that I can concentrate more on what's directly ahead of me and I simply see no feature to correct this issue within the game. Freelook only allows me to look around while I'm still, and once I start moving, the camera resets automatically. This is one of my biggest issues with the game…and I hope that Zipper finds a way to cure it somehow.
The controls are limited yes, but auto-aim does ail the problem of frantic aiming. The R button will automatically target an enemy as soon as you see him, and all you have to do is shoot. While to many PS2 Socom players this is a loss of challenge, it's quite really the only way to properly aim and shoot in the game. Also, whereas in the console versions auto-aim is disabled when online, that isn't the case on the PSP. Regardless, give the game's controls about an hour and you should be fine from there on.
Lastly, the game's audio is the standard stuff you've come to expect from Socom. There is a lot of recorded dialogue that is most often heard during a mission briefing or the occasional cut-scene. There are some vocal cues thrown in during gameplay, but nothing extravagant. The soundtrack is composed of brass instruments to a marching beat, and so on. Like I said, the audio is rudimentary stuff…it's everything we've seen before. It's not a good thing or bad thing, it's just nothing new.
I anticipated nothing less when I dove into Fireteam Bravo 2. It's the same quality that I've become used to seeing from Zipper. Obviously there is only so much you can do to a series before it begins to become a bit tiresome — but the Socom franchise does continue to tick, regardless. Zipper has invested a good deal of time on fixing up and adding more to the online component, and thus creating a more welcoming online experience. Visually it does the job, albeit with a few minor quips here and there – but it does have a good frame rate to be thankful for, and that's imperative. If you enjoyed the first Fireteam Bravo, then by all means pick up the second if only for it's freshened up online mode.