The SOCOM franchise has been known for its focus on tactical squad-based gameplay coupled with a gripping narrative and online play. This time Slant Six, developer of Tactical Strike, will be taking the helm in bringing Fireteam Bravo back from some rest and relaxation for their next outing in SOCOM: US Navy Seals Fireteam Bravo 3 on the PlayStation Portable. This sequel boasts a campaign with both new and old characters alike, online co-op and competitive play with more weapons and modifications than one can shake a stick at, but does it live up to the SOCOM standard or is the mission a botch?
While the first two Fireteam Bravo games were developed by the original SOCOM developer, Zipper Interactive, Fireteam Bravo 3 is developed by Slant Six Games, the studio responsible for SOCOM: US Navy Seals Tactical Strike also for the PlayStation Portable and Confrontation for the PlayStation 3. Fireteam Bravo 3's plot is rather standard fare, with the game starting off by introducing players to the brand new team. Players will take the reins of Calvin "Wraith" Hopper in a covert mission to secure an ex-KGB agent, Alexander Gozorov, who is believed to possess weapons of mass destruction. The team is also comprised of weapons man Toro, tech expert Raven and series veteran, the Sandman.
As players progress through the game, the team uncovers a plot involving the Russian military, Koratvian Resistance and a private military company helmed by former Seal and Fireteam Bravo member, Lonestar. The narrative is presented in a very cinematic way with a nice number of cutscenes before and after a mission. Each character is voiced exceptionally well and the script never seems too rigid, flowing and engaging players with the well paced action-heavy plot. However, the plot itself is a relatively short one, clocking in at roughly 4-5 hours on the first play-through.
The game plays like previous Fireteam Bravo titles, albeit a lot more streamlined. Movement and aiming have been simplified to the point where players won't necessarily need to look down the iron sights. Simply holding down the R button will allow players to lock onto an enemy while tapping L at the same time will change the target. Unfortunately this means that the game is ridiculously easy and poses hardly any challenge. There are different difficulty options, but it only seems to affect the accuracy and amount of damage dealt by enemies. Even when playing on the hardest setting, enemies won't flank or use any tactical strategies to get the upper hand. Instead, the only challenge is in killing them before they get a chance to let off a round, something that the friendly AI is quite adept at.
Team commands are mapped to the face buttons, while inventory and weapons are mapped to the D-pad. The game also utilizes an automatic cover system. Players will automatically crouch behind cover while locked onto an enemy and pop up whenever there is a need to unload some lead. The team can be controlled via a pop-up command menu with a list of tactical roles and appointments or by tapping the command button for a quick context-based command. Tapping while aiming at a certain location or when locked onto a target will give the order to move, clear, neutralize, sabotage, or disable said target. While the friendly AI is usually smart enough to take cover when needed, there are the occasional issues of them hiding behind the wrong side of a wall.
Fireteam Bravo 3 also brings the Command Equity system that was first introduced in Fireteam Bravo 2 back to the table. Command Equity, abbreviated as CE throughout the game, is a system that rewards players with points based on their performance. Completing a mission will award players with the base amount of points while outperforming, such as completing bonus objectives, will net players extra points. These points are then used for purchasing new weapons, and the amount is staggering with well over 70 different weapons ranging from assault rifles, carbines, snipers, machine guns, rocket launchers and sidearms. All of which can be customized with various accessories including scopes, laser aiming devices and grenade launchers. The customization isn't superficial either, utilizing a laser aiming device or scope will improve accuracy while adding a grenade launcher reduces it. Suppressors also reduce accuracy as well as range. Likewise, doing too many accessories increases the weight of the weapon which, in turn, makes movement slower.
What gives Fireteam Bravo 3 a long lasting appeal isn't its single player campaign, but the custom missions and online modes which enable players to connect from all over the globe through the PSP's Infrastructure system or locally via Ad-hoc. Players can play through the single player campaign cooperatively with up to 3 others, each taking on the role of a member from the team, or take on missions that can be customized to the players' liking. While the AI itself is relatively competent, usually taking cover properly and following orders issued with the occasional hiccups, the experience is completely different when playing with other people, especially if played locally through the game's Ad-hoc mode. Players can also hop online and join or create 16 player competitive matches with up to 5 different game modes. There's nothing more gratifying than getting together with friends for a free-for-all, complete with dancing on top of corpses, tea-bagging and Russian singing. Again, this can be done locally through Ad-hoc or Infrastructure mode.
Graphically speaking, Fireteam Bravo 3 sports impressive character and weapon models. From facial expressions to weapon customizations reflected on the weapons themselves, the visuals give the franchise more than enough justice. The level designs are also quite large, providing players just enough space and cover to take on their objective. Considering the scale of each map, there is an impressive amount of attention to details both big and small. Players will find dumpsters along alleys and cars parked on the sides of streets. The snow levels look especially good, with the sound of footsteps crunching in the snow and snowflakes falling from the sky. Speaking of which, the sound design delivers on most fronts. Each available weapon has a distinct sound that packs plenty of punch. Characters themselves are portrayed with spot on voice acting as mentioned earlier and even the ambient sounds in each level play their part in delivering the overall experience.
SOCOM: US Navy Seals Fireteam Bravo 3 isn't the next definitive SOCOM experience hardcore fans of the franchise are looking for. Instead, it tries to appeal to the masses with its streamlined and accessible gameplay, and it does so exceptionally well. As such, there is a much heavier emphasis on action rather than the tactical approach the series is known for. The single player campaign is rather short, however, the multiplayer far outshines the short hours players will put into the actual story campaign, offering an incredible arsenal of weapons and customization options, co-operative and competitive play both through the PlayStation Portable's Infrastructure and Ad-hoc modes.