SOCOM: Fireteam Bravo 3 is arriving on the PSP and PSPgo on February 16th and SOCOM fans have a reason to be happy. Armed with a short, but sweet, single-player mode and some nice co-op and online modes, there's enough here to keep a gamer entertained.
Is it well armed, though? It is, but there are some jams here and there in the weaponry.
Gameplay, easy and hard
Outside of my obsession for SCEA's MAG as of recently, it was tough to transition to the PSP's SOCOM: Fireteam Bravo 3 without some rough patches in the control layout. While this is truly a third-person shooter by all sense of the phrase, it's still has a first-person mentality. The easiest way to play the game is by using your 'R' button to lock onto your targets. It's a quick way to spot, lock and eliminate the bad guys without a chance for them to think. Slant Six Games has instituted the crosshairs rules, where you have slowly floating crosshairs coming together to create the more accurate shot. So, if you're looking to be more accurate you have to patiently wait for your locked target to have closer crosshairs for precision firing. The difference between that and not waiting is about 20 bullets. For me, the impatient reviewer, I wanted to shoot and run. In one instance I fired off 1,997 bullets in a single level. That has to be some sort of record (imagine me playing Galaga). The locking system in the game is fantastic and it's common sense for anyone who has played third-person shooters before (I didn't want you to think I was insulting your intelligence by explaining all of this; rather I was probably just deliberately wasting your time.
In all seriousness, I explained this entire method because Slant Six Games gives you a second choice for gameplay, which is free-floating crosshair. If you click up on the directional pad (and it has to be a quick push of the button, as a long push will garnish almost nothing), you'll get a closer vantage point of your target. While it's nice to look at something closer, it also prevents your soldier from moving their body; rather it's for aiming only. So you will move the analog pad all around and the only thing that will move is your crosshair (which doesn't move for accuracy, like locking does). Here you'll be able to 'snipe' someone from a distance without having to fully lock onto them. For folks who love this sort of freedom it's perfect. For folks who would rather not have to do this then you'll be happy to know it's very flawed. Much like pulling off the perfect combo in Killer Instinct (oh, I went there), if your soldier gets fired at you'll have to quickly push the down button on the directional pad and then proceed to move out of the area. This, of course, depends on if you're lying down or not. If you're lying down then you're a goner. Nine out of ten times I was discovered while in sniper position and I couldn't back out quick enough (push down on the d-pad, press the triangle to get up and then move backwards) without catching a slew of bullets. It was frustrating and something I avoided after the first few experiences.
If you're good at it, have at it. For me, I found nothing but grief in that mode of play.
These types of gameplay will be your only choices of survival, which is fine. The game is on a portable system and the controls shouldn't get too complicated. On top of controls, Slant Six Games has made the menu system easy to navigate through, but a little fuzzy in some areas. While I've already mentioned the fuzzy part, pressing the buttons quickly to get a 'zoomed' in view, the good part is the menu system's look and feel. If you press left on the direction pad (and hold it) you'll find your complete array of weapons. By holding left and punching the correct button you'll be able to switch weapons. If you tap left on the d-pad then you'll quickly switch from primary firearm to secondary (by the way, you can only carry two guns at a time -- yay for realism!). If you press right on the d-pad then it will come up with a sub menu for commands you wish to ask of your team or yourself. Again, it's incredibly easy to navigate and it's a huge bonus to be able to call up something or someone pretty instantly.
The less I have to think as a gamer then the better I'm going to be. I don't want menus getting in the way.
The game is much deeper than it first appears, as you'll find out playing it. You will get awarded medals and such as you perform great feats throughout the levels. Somewhere towards the end of the game I received a medal for Marksmanship (I took out enough people with head shots). You get a variety of other medals for accomplishing small tasks. I also received one for helping out enough teammates with reviving. This brings another point to the table, when you're playing you must protect your team. If at any time your teammates go down you have a limited amount of time to get to them and revive them. If you don't revive them then the mission is a failure. It's easy to revive the fallen comrade, as you'll only need to run to them and press the square button. It literally takes no time at all to do, so it won't put you in a disadvantage. It's a neat feature of the game as you'll find the game is more than just a 'point-and-shoot'; it has a bit more strategy to it. That's a great dimension for a game like SOCOM: Fireteam Bravo 3.
What's not a great dimension for a game like SOCOM: Fireteam Bravo 3 is that your teammates can't revive you. Once you are down in the mission you are dead in the mission. What the hell is up with that? Wraith, who was my character throughout the game, never once got revived and it was painful watching a mission fail. Why wouldn't it be possible for your character to get revived? It's not logical that it wasn't an option. That was just a poor decision by Slant Six Games. You should be able to revive anyone and everyone. If your teammates depend on you then you should be able to depend on them. It's frustrating having such good flow in a mission and then having it restart at checkpoints.
Speaking of checkpoints....
The first three quarters of the game is brilliant when it comes to checkpoints. I love it and I felt very confident when it came to stopping, going and restarting. It was nice to see that I wouldn't have to repeat 20 minutes of gameplay after not getting revived by my teammates (yes, it's still frustrating to think about). That dream dies and it dies hard towards the end of the game. You'll go through a long sequence 10-15 minutes (sometimes more) of the 'end' of a mission and if you die you have to start all the way over at the beginning of that long fight. For example, you'll fight a helicopter (that's well armed) on the rooftop of a mansion in the game. The copter takes three different pieces of damage before it explodes. Each one takes around 5-7 minutes to accomplish. Things you'll have to worry about during this time period:
- Teammates dying (Toro has a major issue getting in the way of bullets. He'll see more deaths in this sequence than Dante during his trip through the Inferno of hell)
- Reloading (you'll jump from sniper rifle to rockets; each one will require you to reload)
- Aiming (each time you revive Toro you'll come out of the manual aiming. You'll have to go right back into it)
- Rogue enemies (they will come at you with each new sequence)
If you can do all this successfully then you are as great as I am (which isn't that great in hindsight). If you should fail on the third part of it then you'll be forced to repeat it all again. Fun times in frustration land!
With all of this said, the experience of the game is still one of the better experiences I've had on a handheld. The game is nothing short of Playstation 2 visuals. You might be jonsing for more details, but the amount of details Slant Six Games and SCEA provide are impressive.
The levels are pretty huge for a game like on the PSP. You'll find large maps mixed with decent visuals. Sure some of the visuals are flat graphics that resemble jagged polygons, but you have to be impressed with what could be done with this game. For example, when you're trying to extract one of your guys from a ski resort it's pretty cool seeing snow fall as you fight. Not to mention the lighting effects that have street lamps reflecting off the snow; simply put it's gorgeous. You'll find a variety of different levels with different effects that make the game impressive in terms of visuals. The character models of the soldiers are also equally as impressive. Tall, recognizable, detailed characters that are packing and willing to put you down while you're drooling over how pretty they look.
As for the wide variety of weapons you get to use, well you should be happy. You get a shitload of weapons to choose from and each one has its purpose for particular situations. Surprisingly, the shotgun is the most annoying weapon because it's represented perfectly. It's a weapon that is used up close and it's one of the more worthless weapons you can obtain in the game. Of course, the fact that it's available is the real point of this conversation, as it's one of many weapons you can choose from. When a soldier goes down (their soldier because you need to 'revive' yours) you can, at least most of the time, pick up their weapon and ammo. You get new weapons right off the bat and it makes the game that much deeper. You'll challenge yourself or enjoy yourself by using weapons that are perfect for the situation or overkill. It's a cornucopia of weaponry, which makes the game so much fun to play.
Aside from the weapons, the game also offers different modes of play. You have the co-op mode (2-4 players), the single-player mode (which is much of this review) and you get some really swank online play (2-16 players). The online play, which I tried out on Friday, was fun. While certainly not as complicated and mission driven as the single-player mode, you get a variety of modes to play in the online portion of the game. From capture the flag to suppression, you'll find some fun gameplay here. The voice chat function works really well here as well, if you have the hardware for it. What's also great about the online play is that there is no lag. My crappy network at work chugs along like a pregnant snail and it managed to maintain the connection and lag-less online gameplay perfectly. Imagine what your network is going to be like? Scary good if you're living in a bigger city. Anyway, it's a great addition and, for the most part, will probably be the biggest selling point of this title for most gamers.