SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fire Team Bravo 3 – Hands-On
Reaching a ninth instalment is quite an achievement, but does SOCOM: U.S. Naval SEALs Fire Team Bravo 3 (FTB3) mark a big change for the series, or does it play it safe and simply service the existing fan-base? On the basis of our hands-on with the game, it appears that developer Slant Six Games has chosen go with the latter option.
The fourth SOCOM game to hit the PSP, FTB3’s biggest innovation will be the introduction of a 4-player co-op mode, supporting both online and adhoc play. While we weren’t able to test how well this has been implemented, it’s certainly a sensible addition to a series so strongly centred on tactics and team work. Playing solo, you issue orders to three other SEALs while taking direct control of a fourth. The usual competitive modes and full voice chat will also be present.
Even in this incomplete form (cut-scenes are still currently marked with place-holders), it is clear from the crisply designed load-out and character selection screens onwards that Slant Six has put a lot of work into the game’s presentation. Set in snowy Latvia, the mission we played (a fairly straight forward hostage rescue) was wonderfully atmospheric, with swirling snow drifts and a watery moon hanging in the sky, bolstered further by an immersive audio track. It certainly promises to be one of the better looking and sounding games to grace the PSP.
Like previous games in the series, mastering FTB3’s controls requires a fair bit of perseverance, with the PSPs much-maligned lack of a second analogue stick being partially to blame for this. In fairness, while aiming and moving with one stick is not ideal, with practice it becomes a workable albeit compromised set-up. And let’s be honest; SOCOM veterans no doubt got over this shortcoming a long time ago! The generally sedate pace of the game and auto-targeting also helps to further smooth over the cracks.
Once you do get to grips with the controls, peering down your rifle’s scope and squeezing off a shot feels pleasingly authentic. Commanding your squad is also straightforward, with a clear and concise order system. Want your team to bust through door and gun down all and sundry within? Simply place your reticule on a door, bring up the command list and select ‘Bang and Clear’, then watch as your team carry out your instructions. It’s usable, satisfying, elegantly designed and functions well.
We did experience some minor bugs when playing (for example, one enemy got stuck in an animation loop, and was left pacing backwards and forwards like a caged tiger!), but Slant Six have sufficient time left to iron these small flaws before the planned November 2009 launch.
As a series, SOCOM often divides opinion, with many finding its deadly serious, U.S. Navy-advised design a tad dry and unforgiving gameplay a turn off. While FTB3 seems unlikely to dramatically change opinion, the inclusion of online co-op is a welcome and not-insignificant addition. So, while Fire Team Bravo 3 looks likely to mark only a small progression for the series, it at least seems to be heading in the right direction and we’re certainly looking forward to spending some more time with it.
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