Review: Up next: The SEALs hand out candy and kiss babies
Seeing that SOCOM is Sony's biggest (and arguably only) online-centric PS2 franchise, it was inevitable that Zipper's popular game would eventually deploy on the PSP ? though unlike the original SOCOM game, there's not the same pressure to deliver an online killer app. Dubbed SOCOM: US Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo, this pocket sized version of SOCOM packs in almost everything you'd find on PlayStation 2, be it a fun campaign mode and a host of online options; the game even connects with SOCOM 3 to unlock bonuses each way. A few corners had to be cut simply due to the design of the PSP, making it a bit more action-oriented and less reliant on tactical strategy ? though for some, this will be a welcome change from the norm. It suffers from a few of the same flaws the franchise has dealt with for years, but mostly offline; if you want an online experience comparable to playing at home, Fireteam Bravo is the closest thing you'll get at this point in time. And for many, this will be enough.
Fireteam Bravo's campaign places you into the same sorts of counter-terrorism scenarios that you'd find on the PS2 SOCOM games, with one special mission strand taking place in Chile, a spot the SEALs have never entered in video game form. Unlike the console versions, FB puts you into a 2 man team, rather than 4. So instead of three borderline retarded teammates, you get 1 decent teammate who you can order around in usual fashion. Unlike the PS2 version you can't use voice to order him around, but instead there's a well-designed menu that opens when you press Circle that puts all the commands in one place; something easier to do when you have just one person to worry about. When you get a special objective (like breaching a door, defusing a bomb, etc), it will pop up in the command menu as well. Everything has been revamped to fit the 'quick fix' mentality of the PSP; though there's usually a lot of mission objectives, the maps are smaller so progress is quicker. Unfortunately you must finish a whole mission in one shot; there's no checkpoints like SOCOM 3 where you can save, or even the ability to save anywhere. But since the missions take 10-15 minutes most of the time, it's not too bad.
However while a campaign has always been a part of SOCOM, it's never been the central focus. Instead, the franchise has always been about multiplayer, and Fireteam Bravo is no exception. When playing locally, you can have up to 8 PSP systems connected via Ad Hoc or local LAN playing a wide variety of gametypes familiar to fans of the SOCOM franchise. However that pales in comparison to the online options. Supporting up to 16 players, Fireteam Bravo captures the same action you would find in the first two SOCOM PS2 games, though not quite the same as SOCOM 3's 32 player hijinx. There's not a whole lot of lag (something that came up far too often on PS2), though on the other hand, precious battery life is sucked up very quickly, especially if you have WLAN save turned off, so you might just as well get used to playing with the AC adapter plugged in. Most importantly for most, Fireteam Bravo also supports full voice, thanks to a $20 headset released by Sony at the time of SOCOM's release. Without it, communication with other players is impossible...and that pretty much sucks.
By now you're probably wondering the most important thing ? how does it play. Naturally, unless you live under a rock, you know the PSP lacks certain things from the PS2 version. After all, there's only 2 shoulder buttons. Oh, and there's just the one analog stick, which would likely cripple a game like SOCOM which uses both sticks to move, aim and look around. Thankfully, in Fireteam Bravo, it's not all bad. Unlike Coded Arms which used the N64-style setup of one stick for movement and face buttons for aiming and looking around, SOCOM employs an auto-aim for all weapons other than the sniper rifle. Though this might make fans of the series groan, Zipper did some things to make sure that it isn't just as simple as aiming and firing. Basically, the farther away you are, the less accurate your shot is, so it's possible to sit there and fire and hit nothing. On the other hand, if you can get close, the aim will usually head for the...err...head and attempt to hit the ol' brain for a one hit kill. It works pretty good, though it does make the game a more run and gun affair compared to the required tactics of the PS2 games ? especially online.
The only time you don't need to use auto-aim is when you use a sniper rifle and zoom in, which works just like it does on PS2. Aside from that, the controls are usually not bad, with a couple exceptions. Firstly, getting the 'sneak' motion is difficult due to the lack of range with the PSP analog stick. So it's too easy to accidentally start running even if you're in the sneaking pose unless you hit the stick perfectly, alerting your presence to your enemies. Weapon selecting is also pretty funky, as you have to go through a complex menu system to pull them up, and since it's littered with other things like grenades and the digital camera, it's a bit cumbersome. They should have mapped a way to just press a button to swap out from primary to secondary, or vice versa. Finally, while this is not a control flaw, it does affect the game ? enemy AI in campaign mode is not exactly bright. By the time they recognize you, they're full of lead, and if not, they have the worst aim this side of a Stormtrooper. It makes the game a bit easy. Naturally when you play online this isn't anything to fret, but when playing the campaign...yeesh.
Visually Fireteam Bravo looks mostly like the original game in terms of technology. For the most part the levels are designed well, since Zipper designed smaller maps for campaign and online, there's less dead space. However most levels take place in remote areas so there's a lot of muddy, dull designs to represent these locations. However there's plenty of buildings, towers, and whatnot to scope out for enemies to snipe and/or evade. Chances are you won't be impressed with how the game looks, but it's serviceable considering it's far beyond what you used to expect from a portable game. Though that excuse is definitely wearing thin. The audio is typical SOCOM ? epic music at the title screen, a little jingle when you complete an objective, a female voice spitting out objectives, your teammates blabbering and giving away your position, and of course, lots of foreign guys speaking in a language that you wouldn't understand unless you had subtitles turned on. That's just the campaign. The voices through a headset when online are pretty clear, just about the same as you'd get using the PS2 headset.