I’m going to be straight up with you – I really don’t like the SOCOM series.
From the PS2 releases where you barked out vocal orders through the included headset – orders that the game would understand seemingly when it wanted to, to the early PSP efforts that were, well terrible to say the least. Thirty minutes into the first SOCOM game on the PSP I vowed never to play another SOCOM game ever again – and I didn’t until Fireteam Bravo 3 arrived on my doorstep.
To be honest, the UMD sat there on my kitchen table getting the occasional sideways glance of nervous cynicism for a good couple of days before, with the help of a little Dutch courage, I slid it into my PSP and prepared for the worst.
But wait, what’s this? A decent story, passable graphics, a manageable control method and excellent multiplayer options? Hold the phone ladies and gentlemen, Does the PSP finally have a shooter other than Resistance Retribution worth spending some time on? You better believe it.
In Fireteam Bravo 3 you play as a badass Navy SEAL nicknamed Wraith. You know he’s a badass because he wears his baseball cap on backwards, just because he can, not for fear of getting a sunburnt neck in the hot Soviet sun, no sir. It’s up to you, or should I say Wraith, to gather together a four man team to make contact with a U.S. operative who is missing deep behind enemy lines. It’s a black-ops mission, you’re off the map, off the radar, all knowledge of your expendable arse will be denied should something go wrong.
Initially you’ll need to run through a couple of brief training courses that are essential for learning the control method, but anyone used to playing Resistance Retribution will know exactly what to do – there’s only so many button configurations you can run on the PSP, so when one works well there’s no need to rock the boat. The analogue stick moves forward, back and turns but holding LT engages strafing. On the D-Pad: Left and Right switch between primary and secondary weapons plus grenades, Up activates an over-the-shoulder view for exact aiming from a distance or from cover (you cannot move in this mode because the thumbstick moves a crosshair) and Down cancels this view.
The face buttons take care of crouching and going prone, reloading, giving commands and firing. But the most important button, and one the game would be completely unplayable without is RT which lets you lock onto short to medium range targets. Without dual thumbsticks and being able to aim on the run, locking on is a necessity.
Tapping circle will command your team to go to the spot where your crosshair is aiming and holding it down brings up the team command menu where you can choose to issue commands to Able, Bravo or the whole Fireteam Squad. Once chosen a brief list of commands appears and with a press of X it is instantly executed. There are places where you will approach a door and a different set of options becomes available, like Bang and Clear etc, which anywhere else would be irrelevant.
On Normal difficulty there isn’t a great deal of incentive to even fire your gun. Your team mates can’t die (well it’s a very rare occasion), so it makes perfect sense to set them to Weapons Free mode and let them charge ahead. They’re deadly accurate and can be revived at the touch of a button, so the game becomes an absolute walk in the park. However if you do get mortally wounded then they can’t revive you. Even at the highest difficulty, it’s like the game encourages you to stand back and let your squad do all the dirty work.
Me, I chose to let my squad pin the enemy down while I flanked around buildings to pick them off with casual headshots, that is if I got there in time.
The custom missions, which let you redeploy and customise any of your previously played campaign missions are where the most single player fun is to be had. You can tweak the number of enemies, what they look like, their weaponry, difficulty, what your objective is etc. You can even choose to drop your squad altogether and take on the mission by yourself.
When you finish a campaign or custom mission you are awarded Command Equity points – they are essentially the currency in the game and can be used to unlock costume parts and weapon add-ons for use in the multiplayer modes.
So the single player campaign is solid fun, but also way too easy if you take the lazy way out. Thankfully there are multiplayer options that give the game some longevity. It would be easy for me to sit here and make up some story about how awesome the online multiplayer action was, and you’d probably believe me, but I’d be lying. Up to 16 players can apparently indulge in battles and up to 4 players can play the 9 mission campaign or a selection of separate co-op missions, but at the time of writing this review I couldn’t find anyone to play with online. Actually that’s not entirely true, I did stumble across someone once in a head to head battle, but I think it must have been another reviewer as we ended up walking around looking at each other before I shot him/her in the groin and turned the game off.
I have read about other reviewers (US based) having better luck finding online action, and it sounds quite solid, so maybe once a decent fanbase has developed then there might be more out there.
However, where the multiplayer does shine is in adhoc mode, again for up to 16 players, and this is excellent fun. It should be noted that respawning is turned off by default so once you die, you’re twiddling your thumbs until the end of the round. The 4 player co-op is the best by far and you can’t afford to let your team do all the work here. Teamwork is paramount to success and once you get your tactics sorted then even the biggest firefights shouldn’t pose too much of a problem.
Ultimately, SOCOM: Fireteam Bravo 3 is what you want to make of it. You can breeze through it and end up with a hollow feeling at the end, or you can set yourself a challenge and play it as a valuable team member. It took me a couple of missions to warm up to it but warm up to it I did – and that’s saying something from a bitter and twisted SOCOM player from way back.
It’s as good a shooter as you’re going to get on the PSP until Sony find room for a second thumbstick.