‘SOCOM: Fire Team Bravo 3′ Review – Once More With Feeling

Slant Six Games has taken another crack at the “SOCOM” series with “SOCOM Navy SEALS: Fire Team Bravo 3,” a PSP exclusive. It’s a force of habit not to expect much from most handheld games, especially of the 3rd shooter variety, but there’s some oomph in this particular title. Let’s see just how much there is.

The Basics

Semi-real life bad guys lack the flash of a Sephiroth or Ghaleon. I don’t hold it against them — traditional terrorists can’t control dragons or meteors. But they can do weird stuff with WMDs, which just so happens to be the crux of this game’s story.

You’ll be controlling Navy SEAL specialist guy Wraith and his three-man crew as they travel across a derivative and muddy terrorist-controlled land in an attempt to stop an evil WMD-related plot. A squad-based simulation shooter at its core, you’ll need to stay alert to survive in “Fire Team Bravo 3″: cover and silenced weaponry will be your friends, and you’ll need to be comfortable with working a radial menu as you move through various locales with numerous stop-and-pop confrontations.

The Highs

Friendlier Combat
Slant Six addressed the PSP’s one-nub handicap with a “Resistance: Retribution”-style targeting system, allowing easy snapping from armed villain to armed villain with no fumble. At times, this fluidity presents an odd dynamic: it feels weird to cut through terrorists like weeds out in the open, but the action is constant and rarely gets muddled underneath what could have been a complex simulation-shooter system.

Non-disposable Squad Mates
AI control is, surprisingly, a breeze despite the radial menu. Contextual orders make digging through the UI a non-necessity, while for the most part you’ll need to do no more than issue a lone movement otherwise.

The AI handles itself well to boot. It snaps onto targets and fires with high precision without prompt, doesn’t have path-finding issues, and keeps itself out of danger, in addition to genuinely aiding you in battle. No baby-sitting required.

Quick and Dirty
Some games that are constructed for handhelds just don’t get it: you’ll be playing this on a bus or whatever and won’t always have the luxury of time. The good news here is that each of this title’s campaign missions are small enough for on-the-go play. A solid checkpoint system makes sure that even if you need to turn the PSP off, there’s not a ton of lost progress.

The game’s robust online components should keep you busy. On the competitive side, you’ll have all the usual modes to pick from, with the added bonus of hardcore weapon customization. The real winner for me, though, is the cooperative campaign, which makes a somewhat routine experience into a much more dynamic one.

The Lows

The loss of precision due to the one-nub handicap is noticeable. It’s not easy to zoom in on an enemy behind cover, and can’t always put your squad mates in the best tactical locations. There is an option to be precise, but it’s several button presses away, and often the action is too hot to take the time to fiddle with menus or become immobile.

Cover and Clumsy Turning
Most of the time I died it was because I did something stupid, like jogging into a killing field. But sometimes I croaked because I couldn’t snap onto cover or turn my rifle fast enough. The latter problem is a larger one, as there are a few instances in the game where enemies are placed 90 degrees from an entrance point. Tuning the radius up doesn’t help much either because all movement, horizontal and vertical, is via the nub. Strafing is your only real option here, and that takes a few awkward seconds to position yourself just right.

The Verdict

“Fire Team Bravo 3″ is not so much of a departure from the original PSP games as it is a refinement — and a good one to boot. Just watch out for the helicopters, man. They’re nasty.