SOCOM: U.S Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo 3 Review

SOCOM: U.S Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo 3 (Only available on PSP)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1 to 16
Genre: Shooter
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Slant Six Games
Release Date: February 16th, 2010

PSN – Online Multiplayer

Can you believe that Fireteam Bravo 2 came to us in November 2006?  I actually thought the series was finished, so imagine my surprise when FB3 was announced last year for a 2010 release.  I was excited though.  Here we are, just over three years after the previous game, and the series has aged well to our pleasant surprise.  The modifications have greatly improved things, and the online portions are as fun as ever.  It’s nice that a fully-featured PSP game arrived this early in the year.  There’s hope that Sony will put its best food forward with the platform, and deliver a steady stream of solid software throughout 2010.

Fireteam Bravo 3 stars Wraith, a bad-ass SEAL squad leader tasked to carry out a black-ops mission in the Soviet territory to find a missing US operative.  He isn’t alone however; Wraith has assembled four of the toughest SEALs alive.  Together, they head behind enemy lines, where there’s no back-up, HQ, or rules.  Survival depends on commanding all situations with tactics and brutality.  In other words, this isn’t the SOCOM you remember from a few years ago.  Even so, don’t expect to be enthralled by the experience.  You’ll feel like Kratos in uniform, but the story takes a nosedive about halfway through, which is when your interest may also start to falter.   The climax is even more short-changing.

Nonetheless, FB3 is core tactical SOCOM.  You’re the squad leader and issue commands.  You can order your subordinates to fall back, push ahead and silently kill patrolling guards, etc.  What’s special is how well these elements come together through the nine-mission campaign.  With no HQ, you’re calling all the shots, determining how everything unfolds.  If you want your squad to approach a door, kick it in and blast everyone inside, that’s your prerogative.  They can also be stealthy, toss a flash bang, or whatever else you desire.

The control in these games is always important, and thanks to refinements, FB3 plays as well as I hoped it would.  We all know by now of the challenge a lacking second analog stick presents.  I’ve criticized it since the PSP’s launch, and will continue to until a unit shows up with one.  Slant Six’s work-around amounts to limiting movement horizontally (only L/R).  You may stand still and use the D-pad to pinpoint a target, but movement is controlled with the nub.  The R button locks onto targets, while L strafes.  Once you’re comfortable with the latter, there’s little need for anything else given the way FB3 is designed.  If you encounter a gun fight and require immediate assistance, press Circle button and your squad comes to the rescue…or, provide assault support.  Holding Circle opens up other generic commands.  The more advanced input requires practice, as I died several times trying to wrap my head around how to take and use a turret for example.  These instances are few and far between, but present.

One of the best features is the Command Equity point system.  You earn CE points by fulfilling objectives, and enough can be exchanged for multiplayer costumes, new weapons, and weapon upgrades.  How does a thermal scope for that rifle sound?  Many options open as you play, but I’ll touch on those in a bit.

I am a little disappointed by the game’s difficulty.  The strategy I used worked just about every time: letting your squad do the dirty work.  Even if someone falls, the opportunity arises to heal him.  That’s extremely handy.  The AI even takes charge of situations if you don’t lead properly.  Say you’re under fire and just sit there without asking for help.  After some time, your mates charge the area and shoot everything in sight.  I know you can increase the difficulty, but playing on ‘normal’ may be too easy for most gamers.

The main campaign isn’t too bad.  The rest of FB3 is fun by yourself, but everything is better with a friend or two.  Up to four can play together, which increases the difficulty and makes things all the more interesting.  I urge anyone who picks up Fireteam Bravo 3 to head online with some buddies.  Cooperation also increases the custom missions’ enjoyment.  Those allow you to replay any previously-completed mission with vastly different conditions.  You can choose the enemy count, their skill level, their appearance, and so forth.  After playing custom missions, your group could very well find the campaign no longer as attractive as it initially is.

Earlier I mentioned CE points, and how they open options up for veterans.  This is thanks to the custom missions.  While setting one up, you’re shown how many CE points are available for victory.  Thus logically, the easier you make it, the fewer the points.  This is an incentive to crank up the difficulty needle.  Given the relative ease of the campaign, Slant Six found a nice balance to encourage players to challenge themselves by rewarding tons of new gadgets and goodies.

Co-op isn’t the only multiplayer available either.  You can also try 16 player competitive modes.  There are five total, several maps available, and the action is your typical shooter fare: Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, etc.  My time online was lag-free too.  The game supports ad-hoc and infrastructure mode, for those curious.

Technologically, the PSP is aging.  It’s not a spring chicken anymore.  Fireteam Bravo 3 looks nice, but the soldiers animate a little rough around the edges, and most textures are low-res.  Compared to other PSP games released late last year and recently though, I admit that there’s a polish here that we usually don’t see.  The environments are surprisingly detailed and the amount of action happening at any given time impressively doesn’t hurt the game’s performance.  Audio-wise, there’s a very nice soundtrack accompanied by well-done voice acting and strong sound effects.  Sometimes audio cuts out, but I’ve yet to witness the glitch repeat itself.  Fireteam Bravo 3 is one of the better-looking PSP games I’ve seen and heard in some time.

SOCOM: Fireteam Bravo 3 is worth looking into as a shooter, and especially if you’re a franchise fan.  The issues prevent the title from blowing the other entries out of the water, but this is the first really fun PSP game I played for 2010.  Whether you purchase the UMD or opt for the PlayStation Network download, I don’t think you can go wrong.

Scoreboard:

Story: 6.5/10

Gameplay: 8/10

Controls: 7/10

Graphics: 8/10

Sound: 8/10

Value: 8/10

Overall (Not an average): 8/10

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