The U.S. Navy SEALs are one of the most elite fighting crews in the world. Sony has attempted to recreate that world with the three games in the SOCOM series on the PS2. Now Sony is bringing the gameplay of SOCOM to the PSP with SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo.
In SOCOM: USNSFB, you play as Raymond Stokes, codenamed Sandman. A grizzled veteran who has participated in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Stokes is following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather who awarded honors in the Navy. Along with his teammate Tate Rawlins, codenamed Lonestar, they fight terrorism where ever it may lurk.
SOCOM: USNSFB isn’t one of the most impressive games graphically for the PSP, but it does get the job done nicely. The 3D models look fairly realistic, and the polygon count of the characters is rather impressive. You can use either a third-person or first-person perspective during the game. While using the third-person perspective you actually see your character run, crouch, lay prone, and go down on one knee. The animations for your character are smooth. Enemies have less frames of information, but they all move with almost the same fluidity. When they get shot they drop to their knees and fall over smoothly.
The environments are varied, but there are some issues with them. While you might be running through a small town in the desert one mission, you find yourself in the sewers the next. The textures don’t look as muddy as other games, but they look similar throughout the level. However, the environments are fairly vast, so saving space by using similar textures for environments aren’t a big issue.
The music in the game has a vibe similar to what you’d find in a Tom Clancy game. The tight snare drums and patriotic horns give you the sense of being in the armed forces. It makes you feel ready for battle. However, there isn’t any background music during the missions most of the time. When you do hear it, it sounds ominous, heightening the intensity. After failing a mission, the same theme plays, but it is very somber, while a more triumphant feeling is given with the music after a successful mission completion.
A great deal of care was put into the sound effects of SOCOM: USNSFB. While running, your footsteps are louder, while they are quiet when you move slowly. Each of the weapons has a different sound to it, although they don’t sound as realistic as you would find in games running on the home consoles.
A little bit of voice acting is done in the game. The voices heard are usually either the short statement at the beginning of the mission or the enemies that you are going after. While this is alright, it would be nice to hear from your teammate.
Since the PSP doesn’t have two analog nubs, the controls are a bit different from other shooters. Movement is handled with the nub and strafing uses the L button in conjunction with the nub. Up on the D-pad zooms in on an enemy, while down zooms out. Left on the D-pad brings up the weapon selection options, and right on the D-pad places you into Freelook mode. Triangle changes your stance from standing to crouching to prone. Square interacts with the environment or reloads your weapon. Circle opens up a command menu to direct your squadmate. Pressing the R button targets an enemy, while the L button cycles through enemies while the R button is down. Hitting X fires your weapon.
The biggest issue with the controls is the fact that you really don’t have any way to completely control the character because of the lack of two analog sticks or nubs. The fact that you can lock onto an enemy with the R button helps, but using that almost makes the game a bit too easy at times.
The SOCOM series has mostly been known for its multi-player modes. That has changed with SOCOM 3. SOCOM: USNSFB has a rather long single-player mode. You find your team in Chile, Morocco, South Asia, and Poland. A nicely animated cutscene begins each new campaign, setting up the storyline.
At the beginning of each mission you have a briefing explaining the mission. Your objectives are listed, mission intel is shown, and you can change your load out at the armory. Once you have gone through these screens, you deploy into the mission. Here the action begins.
During the missions you move forward completing objectives by clearing areas of enemies, avoiding detection, gathering intel, committing sabotage, and rescuing hostages. A radar screen helps you get a bearing of your surroundings as well as gives you direction to your next objective. Occasionally a command pops up that you can instruct your squadmate to obey, such as breaching a door or blowing up an object. These commands are context sensitive, but they provide a fairly easy way of controlling your squadmate.
The levels are vast, which has both positives and negatives to it. Because the levels are vast, you don’t feel cramped in a level. The levels have a nice length to them. However, there isn’t a mid-mission save, so you can end up redoing a mission several times before successfully completing it.
During the missions you can obtain maps, take pictures to get intel, or do other secondary objectives. Doing this usually unlocks new content. Most of these items unlock new items in SOCOM 3, similarly to how SOCOM 3 can unlock items in SOCOM: USNSFB.
Since the PSP doesn’t have two analog sticks, SOCOM: USNSFB has two different aiming methods. The locking mechanism almost makes the game a bit too easy since you don’t have to worry about aiming as much. Movement does have an effect on your aiming. Laying prone gives you a greater chance of hitting a headshot, but moving makes your aiming more erratic.
SOCOM: USNSFB also has an Instant Action mode. In this mode you can set up missions in areas that you have completed through the campaign. The missions can be set up as a Hostage Extract, Stealth Extract, Sweep and Clear, Sabotage, or Stealth Sabotage missions. This gives almost an infinite number of ways to replay the areas you have already cleared.
A tutorial is included with the game, but it is all in text without any interaction. Because the controls are so different from typical shooters, it would have been nice to have some interactivity with the tutorial. The first campaign does help to explain the controls and get you familiar with them, but the tutorial is disappointing.
While the Instant Action mode increases the number of ways to play single-player missions, SOCOM: USNSFB has a large number of multiplayer modes. The multiplayer modes support 10 players in Ad-Hoc mode and 16 players in Infrastructure mode. Play is smooth, and you don’t need to worry about finding a game as it’s not uncommon to find over 15,000 players online at one time.
While SOCOM: USNSFB lets you play individual missions with other players, you have the ability to create a clan, add friends to your list, and check for new news and messages. It also supports the use of the PSP headset to communicate with players instead of using the chat window.
Online mission types include Suppression (team game between SEALs and terrorists where the team that has the most men left standing wins), FFA or Free For All (Deathmatch), Extraction (SEALs extract at least two hostages or kill all the terrorists), Demolition (find the bomb and blow up the other team’s headquarters), and Captive (similar to Suppression except you don’t respawn but revive your teammates).
The two aiming systems also rear their head in the game, so games end up being more about strategy than aiming skill. The games still play fast and furious though.