PSP Previews: SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs: Fireteam Bravo Preview

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SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs: Fireteam Bravo Preview

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Scheduled release date:

Fall 2005

Inside a super-secret private room at E3 today, we were given the chance to play an in-progress version of SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALS: Fireteam Bravo for the PSP, and to grill the development team that's working on the game.

Here's what you can expect out of the PSP's first SOCOM game. Both Fireteam Bravo (PSP) and SOCOM III (PS2) will ship at the same time. The PSP game isn't simply a copy of the PS2 game, nor is it a watered down version. The PSP game will include 14 single player missions spread throughout four areas of engagement (one exclusive to the PSP, Chile).

When you complete a mission in Fireteam Bravo, you'll be able to replay it in what's referred to as "instant action" mode. In this mode, you can pick a mission objective--such as hostage rescue, assassination, insurgent squashing, etc.--and let the game randomly place enemies and items within the level for you. Most missions in this mode will take anywhere between 5 and 10 minutes to complete, owing to the PSP's pick-up-and-play nature.

Some missions in the PSP game wll be "alternate takes" of missions included in the PS2 game. What's really cool is that you'll be able to sync up the PS2 and PSP versions of the game using a USB cable, to unlock different weapons in both games or to slightly alter missions. They're referring to this feature as Crosstalk, and it sounds like a really interesting bonus. Levels won't be any tougher if you can't link the two games, and you won't miss out on any story or content if you choose not to take advantage of crosstalk. However, by doing so, you can extend the overall experience of SOCOM III / SOCOM PSP, because the missions run in tandem, and unlock a few cool goodies and level tweaks.

"Let's say you find a hidden weapons cache in the PSP game," Zipper's Ed Byrne explains. "When you do that, the game will inform you that you unlocked a Crosstalk objective. You can sync up with the PS2 game and send the data over. The guys in the PS2 game will then have access to different weapons for that mission."

The PSP game will also include a variety of ad hoc and infrastructure multiplayer modes, although the developer wasn't able to tell us exactly what modes and how many players will be supported. They're still working on that, but we were told that they're trying to support as many players as possible and at least five different game types.

So how does it play? Not surprisingly, SOCOM on the PSP plays a lot like SOCOM on the PS2, with a few subtle differences due to the PSP control layout and intended audience.

The control scheme has been modified due to the PSP's lack of a second analog stick. Moving is handled with the left analog nub, and strafing left-to-right is a function of the left trigger button. Aiming is now an automatic process, involving a large targeting bracket and a lock-on cursor. When you pass the bracket over an enemy, the cursor will lock-on to the target and change color. Red means low accuracy. Yellow means decent accuracy. Green means great accuracy. The size of the target bracket and speed of the cursor will depend on a few factors--chiefly, the type of weapon you're using and what you're doing while firing. Attacking with an assault rifle while crouched is more accurate than firing a sub-machine gun while running, for example. If you don't like the auto aim scheme, you can tap the R button to activate a free-look view. The up and down directions on the digital pad toggle sniper and zoom perspectives too.

If you're familiar with the PS2 SOCOM games, you know that they let you control a team of four people using a popup menu interface. The PSP game only lets you control two operatives at once (named Sandman and Lonestar in the version we played). A nice trade-off to this is that commanding Lonestar only requires a single button push. You can hold the circle button and select commands to issue to him, or just aim the cursor at an object (door, crate, terrorist, etc.) and tap the circle button to tell him to head over there and deal with it.

Aside from the control changes, this is still mostly the SOCOM we've all come to enjoy. Various realistic weapons, such as assault rifles, machine guns, sniper rifles, and pistols will be available, as will numerous grenades (frag, flashbang, gas, and so forth). You won't be able to personally drive vehicles, but certain missions will involve disabling enemy vehicles. The story mode will include a fully scripted plot, voice acting, and mission-sensitive story changes.

One especially cool improvement that they've made to this portable SOCOM is adding an indicator the the on-screen display that specifically shows you whether you're visible to the enemy or not. Stealth has always been a factor in the SOCOM series, and now you'll know just by looking at the color of a dot in the lower right corner how hidden you are. That definitely beats sitting in a dark corner and praying that a patrol won't spot you, only to find out that your upper body is being lit by dim overhead lighting.

So how did it look and play? Pretty good, especially considering it's barely 50% complete.

The mission we played took place in a waterfront complex populated with warehouse buildings, shipping containers, and ships. Terrorist enemies were situated inside the buildings, on top of watch towers, on top of the ships, and in various spots patrolling the grounds. The graphics and textures look just as sharp as those in the PS2 SOCOM games. Perhaps there's a little less detail, but that could be because the environment for this level happens to be filled with many rectangular objects. Already, a few neat environmental details are evident. Bullet holes and heat scarring collect on the walls and surfaces of objects when you shoot at them. Shooting out an overhead light will cause the nearby environment to go dim... but surrounding lights will still cast a glow on some portion of the surrounding environment.

Using the sniping scope, which has a night vision view, we were able to line up a head shot by giving the target cursor a second to orient itself. With a touch of the X button, a guard in a watch tower was falling on his backside with a plume of red erupting from his head. We were able to crouch and sneak into a nearby warehouse and engage a trio of guards in a gunfight. We tapped "right" on the digital pad to select the submachine gun for this fight, and it turned out to be a good idea. The SMG is tough to aim (the target cursor wasn't having an easy time of locking on) but it has a high and speedy rate of fire.

The "new" control setup didn't seem to hurt the game. The auto cursor does do a lot of the work, but the fact that weapon choice and movement affect it still leaves room for skill. For example, the assault rifle locks on immediately if you're standing still, but it takes a good second to get a solid green lock-on while running.

Getting around isn't too hard--thanks to a 3D radar that's always present in the upper-right corner. A waypoint arrow keeps you going in the right direction, while the surrounding environment and enemies are shown as green outlines and dots, respectively.

Stealth and sneaking seem to be more important in the PSP game. We noticed numerous spots where you could just avoid patrols and gun battles altogether by crawling on the ground or sneaking behind containers. Lonestar is one heck of a partner too, which helps. You can have him take care of a guard and let him deal with the situation. He'll try to be sneaky and get in a quiet rifle-butt or choke kill, or at least do his best to get the drop on an enemy. In our warehouse demo, he took out two guards quietly but a third noticed him and returned fire. Lonestar side-stepped and put three rifle rounds into the guard. Each member of the team has his own health indicator. If Lonestar's drops too low, you can order him to pull back and use a health kit.

Visually, there is room for improvement, but the game is already looking sharp. The environments are pretty big and the polygons are crisp and clear. Unfortunately, the rectangular objects in the waterfront level really don't tell us how the eventual jungle, desert, and beach environments will look. Character models are realistic, and so are the animations, although many of the animation sequences in the version we saw were jerky and glitchy. Hey, the game is 50% completed. Some of the "death" animations are brutal. We shot a couple guards in the gut and they collapsed with their arms holding the entry wound--and crawled a step or two before succumbing to sweet serene death. The framerate was also pretty choppy in spots... perhaps 25fps instead of 30... and we assume that will be ironed out once they optimize the game further. All of the weapon related effects--like smoke trails, sparks, explosions, and laser-sights--were very high-tech cool looking.

That, in a very big nutshell, is SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs: Fireteam Bravo for the PSP. The folks from Zipper were adamant in reminding us that the version at E3 was very incomplete and that all the kinks would be ironed out in the end... not to mention the inclusions of multiplayer features.

5/19/2005 Frank Provo

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