IGN Review of SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo 3
Bear with me if you've heard me talk about this before, but I never really clicked with the SOCOM games of old. When SOCOM launched on the PlayStation 2 with its packed-in headset and modem, my best friend and I bought it as visions of us duking it out in online matches raced through our heads. However, when we got it home and hooked up, we found a well put together game that was a bit too focused on commands and orders for our action-skewed interests. The game and accessories quickly began to gather dust, and the series lost its spark for me.
SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo 3 is so good that pulled me – someone who has greatly ignored the SOCOM series for the past few years – in from the get-go.
Here, you'll play as Wraith, a SEAL squad leader who just put together a four-man squad for an ultra hush-hush mission. Seems a U.S. operative is behind Soviet lines and everyone the government sends to check in with the mole never reports back. So, the SEALs are going in on their own to get to the bottom of the conundrum. What Fireteam Bravo 3 does that the other SOCOM games didn't is put the focus on action and the responsibility on your shoulders. The guys are on a black-ops mission -- there's no HQ chirping in their ears, no fancy intelligence using 3D, and no rescue boat right around the corner. Before every mission, Wraith and company pour over a worn map and some black and white photos to plan their attack. When things go wrong on the inside -- like a squadmate becoming a hostage -- the SEALs react on their own and formulate a plan.
Most importantly, you get to pick how you and your squad tackle each situation.
Yes, SOCOM excels at putting you in Wraith's shoes. You can tell the team to hold position and then run ahead to stealth kill the patrolling guards or send the team ahead of you and tell them to fire at will so the path will be cleared. You can have them kick open doors and toss flash bangs or kick in the door and just shoot everyone. This feels like it's your team. These guys are taking orders from no one but you, and it's a hell of a feeling when you get the system down and see the squad function like a well-oiled machine.
Mastering the command system isn't hard thanks to a simplified PSP control scheme. Holding Circle brings up the menu where you can give orders to able team, bravo team, or the entire fireteam. When you're in the thick of it, tapping Circle will dispatch the AI members of your team to wherever you're pointing your gun. If you're wondering how controlling your character in general works -- something that's always been a sticking point for PSP third-person shooters -- SOCOM has a scheme few have implemented. The nub move your character around the screen, the right trigger locks on, the left trigger strafes, and X shoots. On the fly, there's no easy way to precisely aim -- you'd have to tap up on the D-Pad to get the option and then use the nub to pick your target. After having played so many third-person games on Sony's handheld that made the D-Pad the camera, it was a bit odd to get used to having no control over anything but the left/right orientation (without tapping up, that is), but once I got strafing down, I found myself zipping around and eliminating bogies with ease.
And if there's one thing Fireteam Bravo 3 gets right, it's making you feel like a badass. When I played this game, I felt like my team could topple any foe put in front of them. I'd kick open doors, blow away the rebel in front of me, and the team would begin wiping the rest of the opposition off the face of the earth. There's something rewarding about laying down behind some cover and slowly thinning out the forces of a resistance movement hell bent on killing you.
Now, as great as that badass feeling and the ease of commanding your squad are, you need to be a bit careful. One of my complaints with SOCOM is that even with the difficulty cranked to the highest setting (Admiral), the game is pretty easy. I mean, you're a super-trained SEAL squad running against a bunch of rebels and such – you should be the better men – but it still feels like you can be half awake through most of this game. If you fall behind on giving your crew orders, they'll just walk in and decimate the opposition before you can even get a shot off. The game almost encourages you to let the other SEALs do the dirty work. If one of them goes down, it's a simple button press to revive them, but if you go down, the mission's over. With that in mind, it makes the most sense to just march your boys into the fray and let them get the numbers down to a manageable size – hell, they can't die… well they can, but it's really hard for them to.
Is this a colossal deal? Not really, because SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo 3 is designed for multiplayer so that you and three of your friends can form up and take the fight to the bad guys via ad-hoc or infrastructure co-op. Here – where you can't rely on healable AI partners – the difficulty makes a bit more sense. It's easier for a team of individuals to get overwhelmed due to varying talent levels, but eventually, when everyone's awesome, you'll just roll the competition again. Still, co-op is the way to go. It's fun to have a team of friends working through the game's nine-mission campaign or tackling one of the customized missions.
Custom missions are actually a highlight of this title for me. Here, you can pick any of the missions you've polished off before and redeploy in them with your own rules. You can choose how many enemies will be on the map, how hard it'll be, what the enemies will look like, and what type of mission you'll be playing – demolition (blow up targets), neutralize (kill target), or disable (sabotage targets). If you're a whiner like me and complain that the game's too easy, you can even make it so that these custom missions are solo operations: you versus the world.
For me, this mode is invaluable. When Slant Six first tried to abstractly explain this custom mission option to me, my eyes glazed over, but seeing it in action – and in the context of this game – I'm pretty sure it's my favorite part of the title. It's a sandbox to take your action figures out in and have a quick go. This is the perfect commute mission – a short burst of action with a reward that scales with how hard you're making the mission.
What's that? A reward?! Yeah, when you complete missions – in the campaign or in the custom option – you're awarded Command Equity points. With this resource, you can unlock multiplayer costume parts as well as new weapons and weapon add-ons such as thermal scopes, under-barrel shotguns, grips, and the like. Although you're getting these during the campaign for completing the tasks at hand and polishing off bonus objectives, when you modify the setting of your custom missions, you actually see the CE points you're going to earn change. Lower the difficulty and you'll see that you're getting fewer points. Give the enemies grenades and you'll see that you'll earn more. So, as if the custom mission option wasn't cool enough on its own, I'll keep playing it to earn CE so that I can have the blue helmet in multiplayer and pimp each of my machine guns.
Multiplayer isn't limited to just co-op play; there are both infrastructure and ad-hoc competitive modes to tackle that pack voicechat and clans. There are five modes to tackle and maps range from the inside of an aircraft carrier to a European city under a cloudy sky. The modes are typical multiplayer fare – Free For All is deathmatch, Suppression is team deathmatch, Tug of War has you capturing and holding flags, Demolition wants you to blow enemy stuff up, and Leader has you trying to keep one specific member of your team alive – but they're all a blast to play. Personally, I really dig that respawning is off by default so that you truly only have one life to live – it gives SOCOM multiplayer something special on the PSP landscape.
Obviously, I really like SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo 3, but there are a few things that hold it back from being the best third-person shooter on the platform. I've already pointed out that the enemies are a bit too easy, and that really kept me from being super-engaged in the story. On top of that, the story gets a bit off the rails. In the beginning, I got a great cutscene that sucked me into the story, but by the end, I was chasing a group that I thought was a bunch of good guys, finding the guy I was looking for was a disappointment, and the ending is a bit flat. I enjoyed the ride, but not being head-over-heels for the story meant that I wasn't aching to play. On top of that, the only time I found the game all that difficult was when I was struggling with the controls – in specific instances. Taking a turret and using it against the enemy is a cumbersome experience that just doesn't feel right in terms of power or fun. Meanwhile, there's a helicopter battle near the end of the game that is just a trial and error struggle where you need to shoot an RPG and not get mowed down by the whirlybird's machine guns; it's one of the few times I was frustrated with SOCOM and just wanted to stop playing. Plus, a true cover system would've been nice – right now you just crouch behind objects; you can't snap to cover.
Graphically the title looks good with lots of action and explosions, but the character models are a bit bland. The soundtrack and voice acting are all awesome, but I noticed that sound dropped out a few times early in my campaign. These technical issues aren't dealbreakers as the cutscenes are great and the online is impressive, but they still need to be pointed out.
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