When it comes to Sony’s action games, few are able to deliver like SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs have. On the PlayStation 2 alone they are up to their fourth iteration in five years, and Fireteam Bravo 2 marks the second appearance of the series on the PSP. With better online support, brand new levels and a few cool gameplay twists, SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs: Fireteam Bravo 2 proves to be not only a fantastic sequel but also one of the best multiplayer experiences on the Sony PlayStation Portable.
Fireteam Bravo 2 isn’t a radical departure from the first game, it still controls the same and you’ll instantly recognize the basic mission structure. But while it’s not that original, this sequel does manage to impress with a lot of interesting content and a new points system. Regardless of whether you’ve already seen everything there is to see in the first Fireteam Bravo entry or you’re new to the series, this PSP SOCOM is well worth your $40. This may be on a portable game system, but there is nothing small about this title. It offers a deep story full of political intrigue and plenty of terrorists to kill, plus it has an exciting online experience that is second to none on the PSP.
Fireteam Bravo 2’s single player campaign spans 14 different missions all set in the fictional country of Adjikistan. At first I was worried that since the entire game takes place in this one area I would be forced to go through a lot of similar looking levels, but thankfully that is not the case here. Believe it or not, Adjikistan is full of diverse locations, all of which prove to be full of action. Early on you will be trudging through the snowy hilltops, but soon enough you will be fighting terrorists in an airplane hanger, through underground tunnels, in cities and much more. The 14 levels are very different looking, which certainly goes a long way to keeping you interested in the action.
The levels aren’t just cool looking, they are also quite large. In each mission you will have a series of objectives to complete, including locating intel, saving hostages, killing all of the bad guys and blowing a bunch of stuff up. Along with the primary objectives you will also find that there are a bunch of secondary and bonus tasks, which often include taking pictures of maps and neutralizing your enemies without actually killing them.
Much like the first Fireteam Bravo title, this PSP sequel features you going through each mission with a computer-controlled character. This second character can be useful when you’re in a big firefight, but for the most part he just hangs out behind you and does what you tell him to do. While there are certainly times when he can be helpful, I found that I was spending most of the time doing everything myself, just leaving him behind so that he didn’t get in the way. He’s not the most intelligent computer-controlled character you have ever seen, but he’s on par with the rest of the secondary characters in the SOCOM series.
New to Fireteam Bravo 2 are the command equity points. You earn these points by both completing the various tasks in each mission and going out of your way to stay hidden, neutralize your enemies in non-lethal ways and other such sneaky tactics. These points can really make your job a lot easier, since you can use them for buying new (and better) equipment, characters, armor and even airstrikes. This point system gives you a lot of incentive to stay in the shadows and play the game how a real SEAL would.
What’s great about this new points system is that they immediately affect the game. These are not items you use later on after the action has subsided, you can use them at practically any time throughout the course of the game. I love that these points give you reasons to play the game a certain way, especially since you could conceivably just run and gun your way through a lot of these different levels. This is an exciting new addition to the SOCOM formula, one that I hope is included in future titles.
While the points are new, you’ll find that the actual game play has gone largely unchanged. Like its predecessor, Fireteam Bravo 2 has a somewhat complex control scheme that will likely take a little while to memorize. You’ll find that there are a lot of different abilities mapped to the same buttons, so simply pushing the button and holding the button will do two completely different things. For the most part this control scheme works fine after you’ve gotten used to it, but there are certainly moments in the game where you wish the PSP had more buttons and maybe another analog stick.
What makes Fireteam Bravo 2 work is the ability to auto-aim. By holding the right shoulder button a little box will focus on the nearest enemy, thus allowing you to push the X button and kill a lot of people quickly. There have been a few tweaks to this system to make the game a little more balanced. The speed that your aimer locates (and tracks) the enemy is now more dependent on the weapon you’re carrying, which gives you a good reason to memorize what weapons you like and the ones you can do without. This auto-aiming system is far from perfect, but it does keep the action going and beats the heck out of having to manually aim with the PSP’s buttons.
Despite the fact that Fireteam Bravo 2 has a somewhat complex control scheme, it ends up being perfect for this type of game. Once you’ve mastered the controls you will have no trouble taking down any and all of the terrorists that get in your way in the single player mode. Better yet, you’ll be ready to jump into the game’s real selling point … the online mode.
The SOCOM series has never been about the single-player experience; no matter if it’s on the PlayStation 2 or the PSP, SOCOM is a series that is all about having an amazing online component that will have you coming back time and time again. Fireteam Bravo 2 is no exception, it takes everything that was great about last year’s game and adds new levels, weapons and even more addictive multiplayer modes. If you’re looking for a great online game for your PSP then you can’t go wrong with Fireteam Bravo 2.
Just like the first game, Fireteam Bravo 2 allows two teams of eight to join a room and blow the stuffing out of each other. The game offers 12 brand new maps and seven different game modes, so chances are good you won’t get tired of SOCOM’s multiplayer experience any time soon. If you’re a series veteran then you’ll be happy to see the inclusion of a couple of new game types, including the tug of war (where the teams rush back and forth trying to capture control points), target (a mode where you try to capture a control point for as long as you can) and intel grab (a team variation on the capture the flag formula). With so many different multiplayer modes you should be able to find a room that offers you the type of game you want, no matter what kind of mood you’re in.
One of the biggest improvements to the online mode has nothing to do with the maps or game modes; instead it’s the ability to talk without having to hold a button. This may not sound like that big of a deal, but if you’ve played older SOCOM titles you will no doubt know that it can sometimes be a little tricky to get your point across. Past SOCOM games (including last year’s Fireteam Bravo title) only allowed one person to talk at once, and when you finally did get to speak you had to hold a button and had a ridiculous time limit. Thankfully this problem has been fixed in Fireteam Bravo 2. The only downside is that you will have to buy the PSP headset separately, but if you’re serious about playing this game online then there’s no reason to avoid this $20 investment.
Regardless of whether you’re online or off, SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs: Fireteam Bravo 2 looks incredible. The graphics haven’t improved much since last year’s game, but that’s a testament to how great the original game looked. If you want to nitpick you could say that the game doesn’t have quite the same punch as its console counterpart, some of the graphics can be a bit grainy and the frame rate does dip when there is a lot of action on screen at the same time. But when you see how great the levels look you will be able to forgive some of the game’s minor graphical shortcomings. The outdoor areas are beautifully captured, with stunning detail and all kinds of variety. I actually prefer the look of this game over the original, but I have a hunch it has more to do with the fact that the overall level designs are more interesting this time around.
Even with great graphics and large levels, SOCOM’s load times are remarkably short. A lot has been said about the PSP’s long load times, so I’m just happy to see that one company was able to get it right and not make us wait too long to enjoy the game. This doesn’t affect the overall game play much, but it’s definitely refreshing to see a PSP game with short, almost unnoticeable load times.
Like its predecessor, Fireteam Bravo 2 offers more than enough reasons to recommend it. For one low price you will get an amazing single-player experience and enough online modes to keep you busy until Fireteam Bravo 3 ships. At some point I hope that Zipper finds a way of turning the series on its head and offering something completely new and fresh, but for now I’m content with the traditional SOCOM experience … especially when it’s this good.