Developer: Supermassive Games, Uber Entertainment
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment, Uber Entertainment
Available On: PS4
Released: March 6, 2018, August 1, 2017
“Some Kind Of Suicide Squad”
If I had thought about it at the time, I probably would have called Farpoint “The Guitar Hero of shooters” by which I mean a game in which half of the appeal lies in the funny-shaped controller you used to play it, however good the overall package ends up being. I would have thought I’d be comparing Bravo Team to Farpoint quite a bit, but other than the fact that you should probably use the Aim Controller to play it, the two games bear almost no resemblance to each other in terms of gameplay. Bravo Team is more like what you’d get if the Time Crisis people had to make a Rainbow Six game. And I mean had to. At gunpoint. Suffice to say it isn’t always a happy marriage, and unfortunately one I had to cheat on a little while trying to make it through.
First impressions of Bravo Team were bad, and I mean “Oh god, what the hell have I gotten myself into?” bad. Upon entering the tutorial, I took a good look at my rifle and the surrounding area before trying to move forward with the Aim Controller’s control sticks and immediately discovered I couldn’t. “Oh,” I thought, “I guess my controls are locked until I click through this tutorial message.” whereupon I actually read the message instructing me to point my controller towards cover and press a button to move to it before uttering a dismayed “Oh no“.
Movement in Bravo Team is restricted to running between predetermined cover points, and you can only take cover at the ends of objects like cars, sandbags or generic chest-high walls, leading to many frustrating moments when you’ll try to move to what should be a cover point, but just…isn’t. I am most certainly to blame for not knowing about the controls going in, as I tend to avoid a games trailers once I become interested in it. I don’t think that policy has ever bitten me in the ass as bad as it did with Bravo Team though, and my lack of foreknowledge doesn’t render the controls any more or less functional.
Bravo Team biggest problem is one of identity. At its core, it’s an arcade-style rail shooter with a slightly more realistic, tactical edge, but it really doesn’t want to be and refuses to have as much fun with itself as it could. Bravo Team opens with you and your partner as peacekeeping agents of Who Cares, escorting the president of Whatever back to her home planet or something when suddenly terrorists. Seriously, the game might as well start with an “Insert Coin” prompt, followed by “OK!” when you press a button. The only thing it would be missing then is a preliminary backwards camera sweep through each preceding area and a kickin’ techno soundtrack to shoot all the bad guys to.
Bravo Team’s first level had me fighting my way off of a highway while terrorists besieged my position. As soon as I had control of my character, I immediately took cover and started returning fire, and it wasn’t long before I started having serious problems with the way that Bravo Team handles movement and cover. The constant switching between first and third person might be fine for an adventure game, but can be incredibly disorienting in a shooter, especially when there’s no visual transition when moving into and out of cover, so the experience frequently feels like flicking back and forth between channels on a TV. Furthermore, because PSVR games determine where your body is by where your headset is, you aren’t truly in cover unless your head is below the top of the cover in question. So you’ll spend a lot of your play time staring at a concrete wall of pile of sandbags, but sometimes that’s not enough for Bravo Team. You aren’t in cover unless Bravo Team says you’re in cover, and I frequently found myself getting shot in the top of the head or in the arm by enemies who were in elevated positions or simply not right in front of me. This lead to several instances where I had to lie down on my couch to avoid enemy fire, my character model collapsing into itself as I returned fire from the relative safety of my own ribcage.
If there’s one thing Bravo Team absolutely nails on the other hand, it’s demonstrating how quickly an assault rifle runs out of ammo in a real world firefight and why many modern assault rifles don’t have a full-auto setting. But while ammo is limited, enemies are not, and you’ll frequently find yourself pinned down by a group of terrorists you just finished killing because they seem to respawn in less time than it takes to reload your weapon. If the game is using infinite enemies to compel you to maintain a forward momentum through its levels to simulate the pressure of a real firefight, then it does a pretty terrible job of communicating that because more often than not I felt more like a salmon swimming upstream, constantly buffeted by an opposing force and doing what I could to temporarily put a dent in the endless deluge of enemies beaming down from the terrorist planet.
Suffice to say that I’d barely gone thirty minutes into Bravo Team before I was dreading going through any more of it and was badly in need of a palate cleanser after a few levels. With that in mind, I booted up Dino Frontier, another PSVR game I’d gotten recently and one that left a much better impression, even if I’m still glad I waited for a sale.
Dino Frontier puts you in the role of the newly appointed mayor of a burgeoning old west town in an untamed land populated with several species of dinosaur. At first, Dino Frontier seems to have everything you’d want from a city building sim game. It’s got clean visuals, easy to understand controls and simple mechanics. That simplicity turns out to be Dino Frontier’s biggest strength and greatest weakness, but we’ll come back to that.
At the start, you’re given one settler and left to gather some resources to build up your town. Your ability to interact with your town is kept entirely to the two gloved hands created by the Move wands, so assigning a settler to a task is as simple as grabbing them and putting them on the object you want them to interact with, whether it be chopping down a tree, taming a dinosaur or fighting one of the many groups of bandits that assail your town over the course of the game.
As your town grows, new settlers will routinely show up. When that happens, choosing who gets in is as easy as plucking one of a handful of icons out of the sky above you with one hand and making a selection with the other. Dino Frontier uses these icons for everything you’d want to build or introduce into your town, and I took an inordinate amount of pleasure in tossing the various UI components over my shoulder once I was done with them. This literal hands-on approach to building up your town really helped me get into the game, whether I was moving settlers from place to place, collecting resources or constructing buildings, the latter of which has you grab a mallet and hammer away at a scaffold-covered construction site, which unfortunately cannot be used on bandits.
Dino Frontier’s titular dinosaurs fit fairly well into the light city building gameplay, but their actual utility is surprisingly limited. The land surrounding your town is heavily populated by several species of dinosaur and while they’ll never attack your town directly, they will try to eat any settler who strays too far in search of resources. When certain thresholds are reached, you’ll get the option to place lures on the ground outside your town to attract and capture specific dinosaurs. Once a dinosaur has been captured and tamed by a settler, it becomes a unique asset, each performing a specific task. Ankylosaurs for example will follow your settlers around and collect wood so you no longer have to grab every individual log and throw it into the mill.
When I started taming dinosaurs, I assumed that the gameplay would “zoom out” so to speak, with the dinosaurs taking over the smaller menial tasks and allowing me to focus on events on a larger scale. This was before I discovered that several of the dinosaurs are pretty bad at their jobs. The dinosaurs that help gather resources are just fine, but the one that’s supposed to water trees for you moves so slowly that I can literally regrow an entire forest in the time it takes for it to water a single tree. You can also only have a single dinosaur of each type at a time, and with many of them, one just isn’t enough. Part of the attraction of city building games, at least for me, is to get your city to the point that it becomes completely autonomous; like an advanced model train set or those people who build computers in Minecraft. But your townspeople in Dino Frontier will never stop needing your assistance at almost every level of the town’s operation.
Dino Frontier thankfully does eventually give you a goal beyond just gathering resources forever, but by that point it’s a bit too little too late. After advancing to a certain level, the game gives you access to a mine and has you send settlers there in groups to mine for gold, which is in turn used to upgrade your buildings. Gameplay changes significantly in the mine, playing more like a real-time strategy game as you prioritize mining and fighting off waves of bandits. The mine is also where you’ll get your first glimpse of the bandit king, the villain you’re tasked with defeating in the second half of the game and, well……let’s just say he’s not exactly Andrew Ryan.
Don’t get me wrong, Dino Frontier doesn’t suddenly become a bad game once your priorities shift from building your town to defeating the bandit king. But after that point, there’s nothing new left to build and nothing new to do, and you’ll settle into several hours of grinding basic resources to keep your town going, then heading to the mine to grind enough gold to go fight the bandit king, then heading back to town to grind basic resources while you wait for your settlers to heal up before making another run at the mine. It’s not just grinding, it’s recursive grinding, and after a while I completely lost interest in Dino Frontier.
Returning to Bravo Team, I was surprised to learn from the level select screen that I’d already beaten over half of the game. Considering all I’d done was escape the highway ambush in the prologue and fought my way through a few city streets, I expected to still be in the game’s first act. You might make the argument that Bravo Team is a lightgun shooter, and that lightgun shooters are generally pretty short if you sit down and play them all the way through, but arguments like that are generally informed by classic lightgun games like House of the Dead or Time Crisis, and Bravo Team isn’t trying to bilk us for coins like those old arcade games, nor is each level a wide-open sandbox with tons to see and do and several different methods of completion. Not that I was complaining about not having to spend much longer with Bravo Team, but as a rule, a reviewer realizing with relief that you game is almost over is generally a bad sign. Regardless, with fresh resolve, as well as the knowledge that the sooner I finished this review, the sooner I could play the new God of War, I pushed on.
I eventually made it past the courtyard I’d previously gotten stuck on, keeping my rifle on semi-auto fire to conserve ammo and timing my movements to when I’d thinned out the unending swarms of terrorists as much as possible, and found myself outside a police station where the game had the gall to recommend that I try to sneak my way in. To be clear, Bravo Team’s stealth system is pretty much identical to the stealth system in Quake. A few enemies might be patronizingly set to spend most of their time facing away from you, but whiff a single headshot with your silenced pistol and it’s like your character starts breathing through a kazoo because every enemy knows your exact location for the entire remainder of the encounter.
The harder the firefights got, the more glaring the problems with Bravo Team’s cover system became, like how you character refuses to mantle, choosing instead to take the long way around to the next cover point, greatly increasing how long they’re vulnerable. Add to that the fact that cover points only exist parallel to the general direction you’re travelling in a level, which frequently makes it much harder to flank enemies than it should be. All that is beside the point though because really, the game should have just given us a normal set of shooter controls and trusted us to put solid objects between ourselves and the bad men with the fire sticks if we want to get to the end.
The final straw came when I fought my way off a rooftop with very little cover and found myself on a street in front of a mansion that I’m reasonably sure was the final level. After laboriously taking out several guards with headshots from my silenced pistol, I alerted the final guard standing watch at the main gate, and by “alerted” I mean “he maybe saw me for a tenth of a second before I emptied fifteen silenced pistol rounds into his chest”, but too late, my presence had already been sent to the terrorist hive mind (terrorists can do that, right?). And god damn, it was like I’d shown up to the mansion holding a boombox over my head and playing What is Love on full blast. Half a dozen guys ran out, surrounded me and lit me up like a Christmas tree.
I didn’t just rage-quit Bravo Team, I rage-deleted it. I needed that aggressive waste of time off of my system lest I returned to it in a moment of weakness in an attempt to beat it. Yeah, I could’ve tried a few more times, and I probably would have beaten it eventually, but I just didn’t care anymore. Let’s just say I don’t expect it to end on an orbital weapons platform with the head terrorist fighting you with his Gatling gun arms atop a great white shark.
“Whoops, how did this get here?”
So which one’s better? Dino Frontier. Should you buy either of them? No. Undoubtedly, Dino Frontier does a better job of letting you build up a wild west town in a land populated by dinosaurs than Bravo Team does of letting you reenact Black Hawk Down, but I can’t say that I exactly had fun with either game. Both Bravo Team and Dino Frontier strike me as games that would have fared immeasurably better without PlayStationVR, as they could have focused on fleshing out what makes them unique.
It’s easy to see that Bravo Team was mercilessly hacked down from whatever it was intended to be into this technically functional slog. You can tell from the way that you can’t interact with most of the objects that should function as cover, from the way that the game relies on endlessly respawning enemies to pad out it’s runtime rather than structuring real enemy encounters and by how I frequently found my rifle drifting to the right when I was trying to line up a shot.
For the record, Dino Frontier isn’t strictly bad, there just isn’t very much of it. The key difference is this; with Dino Frontier, I stopped playing because I felt I’d played as much of it as I needed to in the same way you might stop playing Super Smash Bros or Sim City once you feel you’ve gotten what you need from a game. With Bravo Team, I stopped playing because after my character decided to take the long way around a piece of cover and got totally fried by enemy fire for the dozenth time, I made a sound like I’d stepped on a nail while doing an impression of a cow and was in serious danger of breaking the Aim Controller over my knee.
Yeah, sorry guys, they can’t all be winners.
Time To Complete: 8 Hours
Challenge: Hard, But Not For The Reasons It Should Be
Best Advice: Switch Your Rifle To Semi-Auto Fire And Leave It There
Try Instead: Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, Farpoint, Raw Data
Time To Complete: 20 Hours
Best Advice: Keep At Least One Guy Mining Gold At All Times
Also Try: Roller Coaster Tycoon, The Sims, Banished