Sony couldn't have picked a better launch title for its Network Adaptor than SOCOM: US NAVY SEALS. Easily the most hyped aspect of SOCOM is its broadband online play, working in conjunction with the USB Headset. These add new levels of immersion and enhance the essential teamwork motif. The Headset allows you to issue spoken commands and hear responses - either online or alone. Beyond those impressive technical leaps, the game underneath is also solid. The gameplay is highly polished, beating or at least equaling MGS 2 in terms of sheer intensity and thrill at many points. With all the elements in place, and very few problem areas, SOCOM is a highly-polished title and one of the strongest PS2 games ever released in all areas.
SCEA's SOCOM: U.S. NAVY SEALS allows you to command an elite special forces unit charged with the task of completing missions without getting yourself killed. Your assignment is to battle terrorists. There's a lot more to the game than simply running and shooting. You'll need plenty of strategic thought and intelligence needed in order to complete the missions and since you can't skip ahead, the key to getting through is patience and skill. The game offers a helpful overview before each mission which explains your goals, and allows you to view a map of the terrain which is quite helpful in outlining the main goals and their locations. This gives you an idea of what lies ahead. It's surprising that SOCOM differs from most other FPS titles, and is more in league with titles like Rogue Spear and Soldier of Fortune. You are in an elite tactical force, and there are 4 members of each team, including yourself. You have an extensive armory, and can select which weapons each member will take with them before each mission. You are equipped with a variety of weaponry, plus there are special items such as plastic explosives to use. In addition, you can pick up items and guns from fallen foes. The main team consists of you and Boomer who shadows you throughout the mission. There are also two other SEALS who act as the Bravo team and can be utilized for a variety of purposes including intelligence gathering and taking out sentries.
Which commands you select play a big role in the outcome of each mission. There are a number of different commands at your disposal which are easily called up with a menu screen. The offensive maneuvers include clearing out enemies, ambushing, placing explosives and covering the immediate area. Other tasks include grabbing information in reconnaissance missions, securing areas, destroying enemy weapons caches, annihilating enemy bases, picking off snipers, and other combat simulation staples. The SEAL commandos are surprisingly smart and do their tasks effectively, so you don't have to worry about them blowing themselves up. One of the most appealing aspects of SOCOM is that you are given a great deal of leeway in how you run the missions. You can either go in gung-ho with guns blazing or take a more subtle approach to reduce risk. While losing a single man in the mission isn't good, and makes things harder, the game can continue with only 3 or even 2 members, but once all your team is gone, the mission ends. This makes the stakes much higher than in ordinary shooters, requiring the player to be as good defensively as offensively.
SOCOM's mission structure is excellent and offers a good balance between strategy and action.. Mission flow is superb and while unfolding in a linear fashion, there are different paths for each objective allowing you to feel like you're in command. At the start of each mission, you are presented with both primary and secondary objectives that must be completed, failing any single one of the Primary causes the mission to end. It makes the most sense to complete the primary objectives in order because the missions flow together nicely. Secondary objectives are can be completed when convenient but make life easier by eliminating threats. The command system is surprisingly flexible and allows you to change tactics on the fly to adapt to changing situations. Team members react quickly to your orders, which makes things easier. While there is a suggested path, you don't necessarily have to follow this exactly, but there's danger since you might run across unexpected enemies or alert them to your presence.
Players can also command their team to kill all the enemies, or to proceed with maximum stealth to avoid getting caught. This gives SOCOM plenty of strategy and makes this more than a run and gun shooter with surprisingly high replay value, since mission outcomes can differ dramatically depending on the tactics used. The menus system is quite intuitive and allows for a great deal of sophistication in the mission structure. A few strategies come into play throughout the game. SOCOM requires use of stealth, since going in undetected gives you the advantage of surprise. Players can also use anti-personnel mines, place explosives, rescue or take hostages, fight hand-to-hand and use the many sniper perches to pick off enemies. Each mission is quite long and in-depth, requiring plenty of patience and persistence.
You'll face a dozen missions in all through 4 different terrains including Alaska, Thailand, Congo and Turkmenistan. The back-story is engrossing, and few games have done a better job in creating a more believable combat environment The game is quite immersive, with richly detailed environments with outstanding weather effects. In-game music is used sparingly, to add to the drama when an objective has been completed. Voice-overs are nice, and using the headset only adds to the overall immersion of the game. Adding even more immersion, you can communicate with the team using either a menu system or the included USB Headset/microphone. The menu system is easy to use but the headset controller allows you to speak commands to the other SEALS much faster. It works well and doesn't interfere with the action, though it takes awhile to get used to it. The interface and controls are excellent, with an intuitive button layout allowing you to perform a variety of tasks with ease. Noting that some of the mechanics, such as stealth and commands, are more traditionally associated with PC games, the developers at Zipper Interactive deserve a round of applause for making the transition to the game-pad so effortless. You won't miss the keyboard, which is something you can't say about a lot of these types of games, and other developers should look to SOCOM's system for inspiration in the future.
SOCOM's most heavily hyped feature is its inclusion of online internet play. While some may be disappointed that SOCOM doesn't support narrowband connections, the online component is well done and features several different maps to play on. There are three online modes that make up the online component. Demolition mode's main objective is to locate and destroy the enemy base while protecting yours. There's also a recovery mode, where you have to free a hostage the enemy is defending, and finally there's a standard death-match mode where the object is to kill all the opposing members of the other team. Up to 16 players can compete simultaneously in this mode which makes for some exciting matches. Setting up each match is simple, and locating games to join is easy thanks to the user-friendly online interface. Players can also search for a free game automatically, though you have no say in what type of game it will be. Performance was flawless during the matches, with no crashes. Another plus is that there's little lag during online play, making play seamless and exciting without the glitches that can ruin the experience. While it would have been nice to play one of the single-player missions with a real team of living players, playing the death-matches is a nice change of pace and less intensive than the others. So while it's been a long-time in coming, the online play is exciting and delivers on the promise.
Even though this is a first-generation online title, SOCOM is very much a highly polished second-generation PS2 title, and this difference makes for a more mature and exciting game. It's nice to see that Sony waited on this and didn't rush to release it. Sophisticated gameplay mechanics allow for plenty of flexibility and perfectly compliment the complex mission structures. Each level is large and has several different objectives, which adds to the intensity. Players will find a variety of tasks awaiting them, keeping things exciting throughout. Since there are several methods and tactics to use, the replay value is substantially higher than in others of SOCOM's genre. There's plenty of guns-blazing action, but there's a thick layer of strategy as you decide on the most effective tactics to use which makes it all the more intense satisfying. The mission structure is challenging and the realism makes it the most convincing military simulation seen on a video game system to date. Stunning visuals and realistic character movements only enhance the gameplay. Additionally, the smartly-designed online mode allows for some truly exciting and fun death-matching. They offer a nice change of pace but these battles don't match the intensity or depth of its single player missions. Gamers looking for a satisfying and engrossing military simulation need look no farther than SOCOM: US NAVY SEALS. The gameplay is more cerebral than most other console titles, yet is both exciting and challenging enough that it should appeal to a broad cross-section of PC and console enthusiasts. Its exemplary production values and visuals are outstanding leading to a highly polished game that should easily rank as one of the best PS2 titles of the year.
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