It was pretty clear at this
years E3 press conference that Sony is focusing on two titles to lead its
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.
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 characters line of vision is even
illuminated so that you can tell which direction you are facing.
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.
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
oclock" 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
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.
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 cant wait to try that headset. Look for SOCOM to be released in August, the same
day the PS2 goes online.