The Fireteam Bravo series is big business on the PSP. Each of the previous two games has sold over a million copies, and players have racked up countless kills in the games' robust online modes.
So a sequel was a no-brainer. But it's clear the designers aren't content with just churning out another set of maps; Fireteam Bravo 3 packs enough additions and improvements to feel like a legitimate evolution of the franchise.
First and most noticeable is the addition of two new teammates to the squad. The two-man team of the previous games is now a full four-man squad as in the original SOCOM games on PS2. This should offer a greater tactical element, allowing for more complex, concerted maneuvers. (Also adding to the tactical side of things is an enhanced weapon customization feature, with five slots available to add things like suppressors and scopes).
It also sets the stage for one of the other big additions: four-player co-op. Now each of those roles can be taken on by human players, locally in ad-hoc mode or over the internet in infrastructure mode. But even without human teammates, the game is aiming for more personal interaction between the characters; rather than having HQ talk in your ear throughout the campaign mode, the designers are aiming to have much more chatter between the different teammates, to underscore the personalities of the different roles.
Other refinements have been made, like a subtle but significant tweak to the lock-on feature that makes these games so playable in a portable format. Now, characters who are locked on to enemies will make a greater effort to maintain that lock, even rising from a crouch if a low obstacle would break the lock. And here's one that might seem controversial to longtime SOCOM fans: the health of player characters now regenerates, making it possible for them to stay in the fight even if they've been badly wounded.
Of course, the designers are adding features to the series' excellent online mode as well, including new game types -- but they're keeping mum about exactly what those might be. They did tell me that the game will continue to support two to 16 players online in competitive play, in addition to the four-player co-op for the campaign (which, incidentally, will allow human players to drop in and out at will). And online play will continue to support headsets for full voice chat -- including, I have to assume, Bluetooth headsets to complement the features of the new PSP go.
I got a fair amount of hands-on time with Fireteam Bravo 3, running on the PSP go, and it's clear that enhancements have been made to the engine as well. The environments seemed lush and detailed, with excellent draw distances that make long-range sniping as viable an option as in any of the series' big brothers. The subtle improvements to lock-on and movement seemed to fit right in with my experience with the previous games, and the game didn't seem to suffer at all from the addition of two more fireteam members.
This is a series that doesn't get a lot of fanfare on the PSP, but its fans are a dedicated bunch. From what I've seen, Fireteam Bravo 3 should prove plenty satisfying to those folks when it releases this holiday season.