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SOCOM: US Navy Seals Hands-on Preview (PS2)
game: SOCOM: US Navy Seals Hands-on
posted by: Jeremy Kauffman
date posted: 09:10 AM Sat Jul 20th, 2002
last revision: 02:58 PM Fri Sep 23rd, 2005

It was pretty clear at this year\'s E3 press conference that Sony is focusing on two titles to lead it\'s online revolution in August: Madden 2003 and SOCOM. Now, Madden is a given. It will sell a gazillion copies whether people play it online or not. But SOCOM had better be good for people to pony up the dough for both the modem and the broadband connection that the multiplayer game (its big selling point) requires. SOCOM had better be damn good. If the single player demo that we received is any indication, it will be.

SOCOM is a team-based tactical shooter that places you in a group of highly trained Navy Seals and sends you out to eliminate threats against the good old US-of-A. In the single player game, you control the team leader, giving in-game commands to your three AI teammates. Online, you will be able to team up with friends, using the SOCOM microphone headset to communicate and plan strategies. Multiplayer games will consist of teams cooperating to complete the missions, or competing with up to 16 players in various campaigns.

While a definitive review of the online gameplay will have to wait, I can say that the single player experience in SOCOM is simply amazing. In the demo level your team must infiltrate a terrorist stronghold in Alaska, intercept closely guarded intel, secure a high-ranking prisoner, and send a message to their organization by destroying their weapons and resources. This is primarily a stealth mission. A laptop containing the intel is located deep within the compound, and if your team is discovered before you get your hands on it, the enemy will attempt to destroy the information. You will have to be crafty to complete your objectives, and some good prep work helps.

This is where you begin to discover the brilliance of SOCOM: its interface shines on every level. Before the mission begins, you are taken to the briefing room where you will be filled in on the mission overview, given your specific objectives, and shown a map of the terrain. The map shows the drop zone, vantage points, possible ambushes, and lays out a suggested route divided into checkpoints. You are able to equip your operatives by choosing either their default configurations, or selecting from a wide range of different weapons and gear. Each man has two slots for weapons (primary and secondary) and three for other gear. Given the stealth element, I prefer to wield the sniper rifle myself, while giving my teammates reliable light machine guns. For secondary weapons, silenced pistols. However, there are a variety of munitions to choose from. The demo includes several silenced pistols, light and heavy machine guns, grenades, C4, and more. The finished game will include over 30 different weapons.

Once in the mission, there is a tactical menu that contains a list of your objectives and a more precise mission map. The list gives the objectives in order of importance, then breaks each down into minor objectives. For instance, in this level intercepting the intel is most important, and must be completed before the enemy becomes aware of your presence. So, it is first on the list. Then, it is broken down into smaller objectives: insert into mission, move from Bravo to Charlie, and neutralize the sentry. Completing these will lead you on a good path to the laptop. Of course, you do not have to do it this way. You can come up with your own plan, as long as the result puts the laptop in your hands. The mission map is easy to read and interactive. You can zoom in and out, and by pressing the square and circle buttons you can instantly center the map on either you or your objective. And the objective list is linked to the map, so when you select an objective the target and route are highlighted. Your character\'s line of vision is even illuminated so that you can tell which direction you are facing.

Then there is the command menu. Rather than limiting it to the usual four commands most games like this have, SOCOM has a quick menu that pops up. First you choose to give the order to either the entire team, or a specific member. Then you are given a list of possible commands: fire at will, cover the target (indicated by your crosshairs), deploy (throw or place an explosive at your crosshairs), run to-, escort me to-, follow me, hold position, and regroup. The \"run to\" and \"escort me to\" commands are then linked to either a checkpoint, or a landmark on the terrain.

All of this may sound complicated, and it is, especially for a game where there are often bullets whizzing past your head. However, the controls are very intuitive and provide short cuts to everything you need in the game. The game is primarily a third person shooter, but you can switch in and out of first person easily by pressing the up and down directional buttons. Each menu is assigned a button. L1 and L2 act as hot switches between your primary and secondary weapons. Everything is organized so that you can get to it the moment you need it.

Your teammates\' AI is superb. They are vigilant and decisive. Often, they will see an enemy before you do, and they actually give precise feedback like \"enemy at 9 o\'clock\" instead of \"look out\" or something equally as inane. And when you give them an order, they follow it intelligently. In fact, I found them very helpful in clearing checkpoints and completing minor objectives on their own. They could actually figure out what needed to be done when they got there. The enemy AI is good as far as ducking, crawling, hiding, and ambushing goes, but they are exceptionally slow in face-to-face situations. I assume that will change as the difficulty ramps up on later levels.

The graphics are good, but somewhat flat by the current PS2 standards. Also, there is distance fogging, though that may be a nuance of this particular winter landscape. There are lots of nice little flourishes, though, like weapon swaps and the intricate hand signals that go with the commands.

The sound is great, especially little details like the way your footsteps sound on different surfaces: step in snow, it sounds like snow; step on an aluminum roof and it sounds like you are walking on aluminum.

SOCOM is the most intelligent, complex, and intriguing team-based action game I have ever played. As a single player game it is better than any of the similar Tom Clancy titles, and better than what I have played of Brute Force on the Xbox. And all of the elements that work in the single player game are sure to work just as well in the online multiplayer campaigns. I can\'t wait to try that headset. Look for SOCOM to be released in August, the same day the PS2 goes online.