When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. That’s what developers seem to be trying to do these days as they attempt to capture the visceral action of first-person shooters on the PSP despite the fact that it has only one analog nub. Zipper Interactive sure has brewed a tasty shoot ‘em beverage with their release of SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo 2. It’s a bit sour at times, with a somewhat awkward control scheme (but only somewhat awkward, which is an improvement), but goes down smoothly and is good to the last drop.
We’re used to PSP first-person shooters playing second fiddle to their console counterpart, but that’s just not the case this time around. The single-player campaign will have you fighting for freedom in smaller levels in the same areas as the squad from SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Combined Assault on the PS2. You’d think that this would make Fireteam Bravo 2 play like a watered down version of Combined Assault, but ironically it’s the other way around in terms of the single player experience.
As with Combined Assault, the levels in the single-player campaign are quite linear as your path is blocked with various artificial obstacles like sheer cliffs, hills that are too steep to cross, and doors that won’t open. While the illusion of an open ended environment bothered us in Combined Assault, the smaller levels in Fireteam Bravo 2 actually work to the game’s advantage.
There’s a lot less running around and backtracking as the mission objectives are concentrated in a more compact area, ensuring that action is almost non-stop. Due to the less complex level layouts, we also experienced far fewer problems with our squad’s AI and they never suicide jumped off of cliffs or got stuck behind a corner - which they often did in Combined Assault.
The crosstalk feature is probably the biggest deal in this sequel. You’ll be able to sync your data from Fireteam Bravo 2 with the Combined Assault, allowing you to unlock extra characters, weapons sets, movies, and most importantly, extra mission events. For example, we wiped out a group of enemies with sniper fire in Fireteam Bravo 2 so that they would not pose a threat to our squad later on when playing Combined Assault found us traversing the same level.
This feature offers more depth, but is it worth shelling out another 40 bucks for Combined Assault to get more mission objectives and dialogues? We don’t think so. Since many of the missions in Combined Assault take place in the same areas as the ones in Fireteam Bravo 2, playing through both single player campaigns to complete all the crosstalk objectives gets old fast, and becomes more of an obsessive chore than a fun pastime.
Although the multiplayer action is great for the PSP, Fireteam Bravo 2 still can’t hold a candle to the might of SOCOM 3 or Combined Assault on the PS2. The clunky control scheme comes close to capturing the feel of first person shooters that we’re used to on console systems. But it cannot match the same visceral in-your-face feeling you get from strafing around a corner and fragging another player from behind - and that act really needs two analog sticks. Instead, you’ll be switching between moving and aiming with constant brief pauses. This works well enough in the single-player campaign, but it doesn’t pass muster in the online arena.
The auto-aim feature will also level the playing field tremendously. Hardcore shooters will find themselves picked off too often by trigger happy wannabes, and players who usually die first and ask questions later will receive more kills than they’re used to.
Like a real-time strategy on a console or a platformer on the PC, Fireteam Bravo 2 bears the burden of being a great game in the wrong medium. Still, as far as first person shooters go, it’s one of the best we’ve seen on the PSP so far and offers an excellent single player campaign with solid multiplayer action to boot.