I don't need to play every day anymore. That's a relief. For 3 months solid, I calculated my days around how I'd be able to set aside enough time on my PSP to satisfy my obsessive habit. 3 hours a day seemed enough, just, 4 was preferable. Needless to say, the 15 minute breaks for every hour of play recommended by the safety monkeys was not in evidence. I'm not talking about the fun but forgettable single player experience here, the official Eurogamer review gives that the 7/10 it deserves.
Infrastructure, that's where it's at, baby!
Before Fireteam Bravo showed up (and a long wait it was) the few titles that offered Infrastructure mode were not exactly mind-blowing; Outrun's poor lobby and lack of choice particularly being a huge dissappointment. Unless you knew a few people with PSPs and the same games as you for a bit of Ad Hoc action there was pretty much nothing worth using that WLAN switch for.
With up to 16 players, voice chat and a huge array of game modes to choose from, the benchmark for online gaming on handhelds has been set, not just on PSP but any handheld you can expect to see in the forseeable future. Forget the wrist torture and severe limitations taking Metroid Prime: Hunters online offers, this a real online community.
You want levels? We got levels! 12 maps for any mood. With anything up to 16 players to accommodate the maps can be spacious or claustrophobically frenzied. 16 players in the confines of "Lockdown" can make for fast and manic kills if Respawning is on. Equally, you can find yourself in a 6 minute 1 kill deathmatch against a single opponent on the huge Riverine map. The perma-night of the Village seems to suit any number of players and as it's the most played map, battles there take on an almost chess-like strategic sophistication; whereas anything more than 8 players on the High Altitude map seems overwhelming.
The number of players changes the atmosphere of a map significantly, and other players joining and leaving can radically alter your playing mood; calm and methodical as a hitman one minute, running for your life in panic the next, and then charging around blasting the biggest gun you can choose like the Terminator in a bad mood. Game experience may change online? Oh yes.
Á la Mode
The variety of game modes available helps keep things fresh, even if you'll find most people playing Captive there's usually a few rooms offering another experience.
Captive's popularity is mainly due to offering the second (and third, and fourth, and fifth, and on and on) chance at life of a respawning match whilst still adding to your overall ranking. (The mystifying ranking system is an obsession with many players) The beauty of Captive is, your team-mates can revive you after you've been "Incapacitated". Of course this relies on your team-mates knowing where your body is, which is where the comms come in handy. You can direct your team mates to where you're lying and warn them if a sneaky terrorist has laid an anti-personnel mine on your body (a sneaky trick that seems hateful when done to you, and hilarious when you do it to someone else) The tide of a Captive game can turn very fast, a whole team hunting for the last living opponent, who can revive all his team mates and end up wiping them out. There's a good reason most people play Captive. Turnaround.
Supression is the same team based attempt to wipe out the other guys, but bullet-magnet tendencies mean permanent spectator status until the round is won. When you're dead, you're dead. I must admit, I like the purity of this mode. Many times in Captive I've seen poor killers prosper from good reviving tactics, in supression they stay dead, and it's the top shooters who get the gravy.
Free for All is your typical deathmatch, although the default has respawn off. Respawning deathmatches can lead to a huge kill-count over a few rounds, although the spawn killing antics of some are as troublesome as in other online games. With respawning off you need a lot of patience to stick with it, especially if you get killed early in the round as you don't get to ghost other players. Sitting around waiting for the other players to track each other down with nothing to look at but your own corpse isn't quite gaming heaven, especially if someone is camping and runs the clock out.
Demolition is a team effort to plant a bomb at the enemy base, with one bomb and two teams trying to grab it this can provide good opportunities for rocket camping, which is nice.
Extraction is a rescue/prevent the rescue of hostages effort, probably the weakest mode in that most often the teams just concentrate on killing each rather than trying to conceal or rescue the hostages, making it just another game of suppression. A terrorist accidentally killing a hostage is counted as a Seal rescue and a Seal accidentally killing a hostage knocks a minute off the game timer, so there is some tactical play available in getting a hostage and keeping them nearby, but you won't see it very often. Folks just wanna kill stuff.
Choose your own adventure
The option to create your own room opens up more modes of your own invention. Allowing only sniper rifles, or banning rocket and grenade launchers can throw players off who are used to agressive firefights with AK-47s or camping with RPGs, and choosing a huge open map and only allowing short-range sub-machine guns can lead to amusing instances of sprinting after enemies trying to get a target lock. Set a half hour timit, 11 rounds and choose respawn and theoretically you can have 5 1/2 hour deathmatch, you'd have quite a kill count at the end of that! I'd leave the PSP plugged in if I were you though, 4 hours is as much as I can get from one charge in online play.
The large choice of weapons also opens tactical decisions, will you choose the silence and quick shooting of the STG-77? Great at short range but poor over long distances. Assault rifles offer a good compromise of range and power. The M4A1 offers precision and silence, leaving enemies wondering what hit them. Sniper rifles offer big kill-power and a long lock-on range, but failing to hit the target means long reload times. Rocket and Grenade launchers give big kills if you know where to hide, you won't mke many friends, but war isn't friendly. Don't worry if you chose the wrong weapons for the situation you've found yourself in, in the repose of death you can just hit the right shoulder button and change to any of the weapons available to you.
Disco fever! Yep, sometimes this game can be plagued by rampant mass disconnections. Annoying if it happens to you, equally annoying if half your team-mates disappear during a close match. Some days are worse than others. The servers aren't as well run as you might hope for, but they're still better in what they offer than any other online PSP game, by a country mile.
Comms? What comms? When the comms work, they can be very useful. In a team match sometimes they can mean the difference between winning and losing. In a free for all deathmatch they can give you a chance to get to know other players when you're dead. You'll meet the odd trash-talking numpty, but their social inadequacy and pointless imprecations are no harder to ignore here than anywhere else on the internet.
But, frequently the comms only work for a few players in the room, and if you've watched a terrorist plant a mine on your body and can't warn your buddy who's about to revive you about it it's pretty frustrating when your life is breifly restored only to be snatched away again as you and your doomed saviour get blown to bits.
With forums; weekly, monthly, friends and overall leaderboards; large friends lists I've yet to exhaust and the ability to just chat in a game room, all self contained in the game, all with the effortless simplicity of getting the PSP online, this shows that you can have a decent online game on a Sony console. You did register on yourgamingname.com right?
I'm told you can use a gaming name without the hassle of waiting for Sony to send you a PIN, but the name will expire after 30 days. Maybe someone would have had enough of playing this game online by then? I doubt it.
There is a good crowd playing, althoug this far down the line there is mainly a hardcore left, but they're still friendly enough for the most part. They don't mind my singing anyway.
If anything, the game does tend to slightly favour players on the Seals team, both in map layout and weapons choice, and when a game is in progress you don't get to choose which side you're on.
The M8 with the ZX-25 burst is a weapon only available to the Seals and really unbalances the game, it has big killpower, and devastating 5 round grenade launcher and makes a calamitous racket that scares the bejeebers out of anyone nearby. Disabling explosives in the game preferences pulls its teeth a little, but this is still an Ace in the hole for the Seals that none of the terrorist weapons can match.
I don't hesitate for a second to award the online play a 10/10. Even with the disconnections and iffy comms, it's as good an online game as I've ever played, and although I've never played Counter Strike you can count all the Quakes and the Halos amongst that number. A sequel is on the way, and although Syphon Filter only allows half the players, I'm sure it will entertain me in the meantime, but Fireteam Bravo is the landmark of when the idea of having a great online shooter on a handheld became not just a reality, but a revelation.
10 / 10