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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


SOCOM Fire Team Bravo 2 (PSP) & SOCOM: Combined Assault (PS2)

By Michael Palisano

The legendary US Navy Seals return to duty in a pair of exciting releases for the PSP and PS2. SOCOM: Combined Assault adds additional multiplayer modes, more varied maps and new moves to the PS2 edition of the series, while SOCOM: Fire Team Bravo 2 follows up last year's edition with deeper campaign modes, improved controls and better visuals. What's most interesting about these games is the new Crosstalk feature, where completing an objective in one unlocks missions in the other. Read our review and find out why both titles offer the solid gameplay, tactical action and great interface players have come to expect from the series and stand as excellent sequels in these solid franchises.

As the fourth game in the successful franchise, SOCOM: Combined Assault is another excellent installment. The solo game offers a solidly entertaining and challenging group of single-player missions that allows gamers to battle terrorists and other bad guys on a variety of rugged terrain. Players have a large arsenal of weapons to choose from including machine guns, sniper rifles, pistols along with missile launchers, grenades and flash bombs to name just a few. Before each mission begins, you can set up your team's weapons and items, receive a detailed mission briefing that outlines your objectives and then deploy into action. SOCOM: Combined Assault puts you in command of a small group of SEALs, and you can issue orders for your team to follow, hold position or go in with guns blazing. During combat, players can climb behind walls, crawl through embankments and use sniper goggles to keep a safe distance. You'll spend the majority of each campaign on foot, but you can also use a variety of vehicles such as tanks, Jeeps and boats to move around the battlefields faster. The game's missions themselves are divided into different objectives, which are indicated on your HUD with code names such as Alpha or Charlie. Once you reach these points, you will then move onto the next area. During the missions, you'll encounter a variety of different obstacles, with each level swarming with foes. The enemy AI is surprisingly intelligent this time around, and the opposing forces do a good job of hiding and taking cover, making it hard to eliminate them.

Each level consists of multiple objectives, and if you fail at one, you have to start over from the beginning, so it pays to stay focused since mistakes can be quite costly, but the missions unfold at a good pace. There's an excellent balance of strategy and action that keeps you hooked throughout. Combined Assault's controls and interface remain largely unchanged but this is a good thing, since it makes issuing commands, changing weapons and viewpoints easier for veterans. Trying to blow through each mission and shooting everything in sight is a bad idea, since killing innocent civilians causes you to immediately lose the mission. This isn't a traditional shooter in that sense, since you need to learn to think on your feet. You can also use less lethal weapons to disable foes and use them either as collateral or to gain intelligence about the enemy. This varied approach to missions, their different objectives and methods keeps things more realistic and believable. The game's overall structure should be familiar to anyone familiar with the series, and offers little that should surprise players. Its missions progress in a similar fashion as you'd expect them to. SOCOM: Combined Assault's levels feel a bit larger and slightly more realistic than previous games, and most players should find this increased space adds to the experience.

Combined Assault's solo campaign is highly-tuned, brightly-polished and solidly constructed. The game's visuals are in-line with expectations, though not significantly better than previous installments. This is still a good-looking PS2 title with a variety of environments ranging from bleak mountain ranges, snowy fields and muddy swamps. It's character models are decent, with decent animation and some light sourcing used to make things more pleasing. Multiplayer modes have seen the biggest changes. In addition to the maps first seen in SOCOM 3, there are several new ones included as well. The biggest improvement lies in the support for 4-player missions, which allows players to finally bring the action online in the same detailed manner as the main game. As expected, the online mode offers a number of different play modes, most of which have been carried from previous titles. In addition to all of this, the new Crosstalk feature allows players who own SOCOM: FireTeam Bravo 2 to transfer data from the PSP to the PS2, which unlocks additional missions and objectives on the PS2 edition. SOCOM: Combine Assault lives up to the production, presentation and gameplay standards set by previous games, adds a few new features that makes for an entertaining title. However, the gameplay doesn't end with this release, since, as we've mentioned, the PSP version of the game works in tandem to create an even richer experience.

Players who found last year's PSP SOCOM installment a bit too short and simplified will be happy to learn that SOCOM: FireTeam Bravo 2 offers some significant improvements. The biggest of these are the newly implemented non-linear mission progression system that allows players to choose the order in which they complete missions. This helps to open things up a little bit more this time around. Another interesting twist comes in the fact that you can go back and replay levels, where new enemies and objectives may have cropped up, enhancing the replay value. In addition to opening up the structure, it makes for a more realistic approach. This might seem repetitive, but over time, players can build up your reputation among the locals. This means you'll get co-operation instead of hostility when you deploy into an area you've already been through. The locals will provide you with intelligence and aid, from nearby citizens if they get through missions without hurting civilians. Players will also find much larger battlefields, with a similar non-linear structure implemented this time around. In addition, the player's progress is now tracked with Command Equity points, which are earned by completing missions. When these are earned, you can use them to purchase additional items, such as weapons and more.

Fire Team Bravo 2's gameplay is largely similar to last year's installment, with a similar set of controls and HUD display. It can be a little bit confusing to use at times, but once you become accustomed to it, things get much easier. An intuitive interface and controls let you command your troops effectively. Issuing commands, ordering strikes and cover is a simple process that allows you to concentrate on the task at hand. The game offers a good selection with more than 16 single player levels, each of which offers a variety of objectives to complete. Players will go through the campaign primarily on foot, and the weapons and vehicle selection found in Combined Assault is much more limited on the hand-held version. The single player campaigns look fairly good by the PSP's standards, with a wide variety of environments to engage combat in. While it doesn't look nearly as smooth as it could, this is still a solid performer on the handheld. PSP owners will find the game is simple and accessible. Fire Team Bravo 2's straightforward mission structure, commands and controls are well-suited to the PSP for the most part, though some of the navigational menus are tricky to keep straight during the heat of battle.

Obviously, it's not as robust as the PS2 version, though there's still enough authenticity in the military tactics and thoughtful gameplay to make this a more realistic shooting experience. While the single-player missions are solidly constructed, Fire Team Bravo 2 really shines with its excellent multiplayer modes. Connecting with either the Ad-Hoc or Infrastructure mode allows players to compete in an all-out dog fight with up to 16 other players. The sheer intensity and fun of these modes makes them quite enjoyable, and the variety of maps and modes adds to the enjoyment and replay value. From an aesthetic standpoint, FTB 2 feels a bit more polished and realistic than last year's PSP game with more detailed environments, better character animation and more elaborate voice acting that makes things feel much more coherent this time around. It's not as rough as last year's edition, and the improvements really make for a deeper, more satisfying gameplay experience. Add in the Cross-Talk feature and you have a definite solid game that should please fans with a variety of modes, solid gameplay and challenging design. Overall, both games great on their own, but taken together, they're definitely more than the sum of their parts, making a purchase of both more enjoyable on an individual basis.

> Grades:

Combined Assault: B+
Fire Team Bravo 2: B

> Related Reviews
Killzone Liberation (PSP)
Socom: Fire Team Bravo (PSP)

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