My taste for tactical shooters has been a perennial sine wave figure. Rainbow Six starts things off on the high end, while the overabundance of Conflict games puts it back on the low. The SOCOM releases have always been somewhere in the middle for me, but Fireteam Bravo struck me as especially good for what it was. Its gameplay might not be as fully featured as the big-brother console versions are, but as an online portable game, it really excelled. The controls were simplified, but it really was a full, original game, and it had voice chat, to boot! As a portable game, SOCOM finally clicked with me, and I've been enjoying the game casually at coffee shops and other wireless-enabled locations ever since.
SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo 2 seems to be taking what the previous game established one step further, and I wouldn't really expect much more. This time, the PSP iteration will tie in much more closely with its PS2 counterpart, Combined Assault. Similar to what Ubisoft did with Splinter Cell Essentials, Fireteam 2 will take place during what seems to be the same time period as Combined Assault. Some of the missions take place in parts of the same locales as the PS2 version, and the stories are similar enough that some of the very same cut scenes are reportedly present in both versions. Some missions can even be affected by players taking out enemies in one version, which will appear as dispatched in another. This is definitely the furthest the PSP-to-PS2 idea has been taken to date.
The most important change is to the free look vs. auto-aim dynamic. Auto-aiming players will no longer have instantaneous locks on their enemies; instead, the cursor must be placed somewhat near an enemy presence, and depending on how close the manual attempt was, the better the final result will be. As for firing once locked on, where the bullets eventually land still seems to depend on the speed and position of the aggressor. This new process dramatically affects how the game is played, and makes it seem like a more "mature" version because of it. No longer will "strategy" be boiled down largely to tapping the auto-aim button to scan for enemies. Players will have to use their eyes, not the software, to hunt down foes. This change alone will double the longevity of the online mode compared to the original game and brings the play-style much closer to what is possible with dual-analog controls.
The online mode will be connected to the standard PS2 SOCOM infrastructure, so players will be able to send IMs between any of the games; yet another sign that these PSP versions are being treated as fully-featured equals to the console versions.
The one disappointing feature is the presence of many multiplayer maps from the original. While some of these maps were near-classics for the genre – at least, I thought so – I would be more comfortable with an entirely original lineup. Most of us will have already spent countless hours on these maps, and I, personally, am ready to move on. The new maps seem to be somewhat improved over the originals, which may make it a little jarring to go back to those.
The limited preview build is hopefully a good example of what the rest of the game has to offer. Players control Sandman and command his partner Wraith, who both have a considerable amount of customization available to them, especially compared to the rigid pre-mission setups from the first Fireteam. The mission itself – to secure a helicopter crash site and the surrounding village – is pretty standard tactical shooter stuff, but unlike most PSP games, the wide landscapes really show off what the handheld console is capable of.
I don't have a copy of Combined Assault to test the crosstalk feature with, but apparently the previewed portion will work with it. I'm not sure what the changes to either version will be when I hook them together, but I'm very excited at the prospect. For the first time, I'm actually caring about the single-player mode in a SOCOM game!
So far, Fireteam Bravo 2 looks to be taking everything that went wrong with the original and improving or outright fixing it. As for the potential multiplayer action, it looks like Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror just might end up getting unseated. Look for this one in the coming months.
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