SOCOM: US Navy Seals
Be werry, werry quiet. We're hunting terrorists. Kikizo takes a look at PS2's recently released premier online launch title.
By Kikizo Staff
Offering a far more substantial package than launch partner Twisted Metal: Black Online, SOCOM: US Navy Seals is very much the focal point of Sony's current online campaign. And for its part, the title does an admirable job of championing this cause, faring remarkably well in the face of stiff competition vis-a-vis Xbox Live. An entrant into the currently in vogue genre of squad-based tactical action, SOCOM casts players as the leader of a clandestine team of operatives, who, as custom dictates, find themselves tasked with thwarting the machinations of terrorist organizations the world over. To this end, players will find themselves defending the free world in a variety of remote, hostile locations.
Prior to the commencement of each mission, players are presented with pertinent mission information in the form of a briefing, overview, summary of objectives and a map of the area. Players are also given the opportunity to customize the weapons and equipment each of the four-man squad will have at their disposal. Although you assume direct control of only a single unit throughout the game, you have under your command three other operatives, Boomer, your eternal shadow and the other half of Able element, as well as Jester and Spectre who comprise Bravo element. Utilizing the USB headset bundled with the title, orders can be issued directly to the entire team or to each element separately. The voice recognition is limited, but by speaking slowly and clearly, few problems should be encountered. Alternatively, a menu-based interface can be used to issue commands, but this is cumbersome and unwieldy to use at the best of times, let alone in the midst of a firefight.
All communication is done via the headset, and as such affirmations from the various squad members and mission updates are piped directly into the earpiece. Needless to say, this makes for a considerably more immersive experience than that offered by similar products, and while it may initially appear as something of a gimmick, the headset quickly becomes an indispensable, not to mention enjoyable, tool. As you'd expect from such a title, much of the gameplay emphasizes covert and stealth tactics, requiring players to be very deliberate in their actions, so as to remain undetected for as long as possible. To facilitate as much, players can assume one of three stances, namely, standing, crouching or lying prone. Each respective position diminishes movement capacity but at the same time decreases the likelihood of being discovered by an enemy unit. At the end of each mission, you're ranked according to such variables as Stealth, Accuracy, Teamwork, and the number of primary and secondary objectives completed.
Though its use of the headset sets SOCOM apart from other genre titles, its flaws are all too familiar. Artificial Intelligence, on both sides, is erratic at best, ranging from barely competent to downright asinine. There are single-celled organisms with more purpose than your team of so-called 'highly skilled operatives'. Ignoring orders, alerting the enemy to your presence and lack of decisiveness are just some of the problems your teammates provide. The enemy AI is just as dim-witted, if not more so, and as a result the game can degenerate into nothing short of a farce. Watching expert soldiers trying to assault one another with the butt of a rifle would be funny, if it wasn't so pitiful. The missions themselves are linear to a fault, so much so that simply deviating from the correct sequence of objectives can cause the entire mission to feel disjointed, if not at times, downright confusing.
In spite of these glaring problems, the game can prove to be a good deal of fun. Given its status as Sony's premier online launch title, you could be forgiven for dismissing the single-player component offhand. Although its primary purpose is no doubt to serve as a primer for multiplayer competition, the single-player campaign, despite its considerable flaws, manages to offer a relatively engaging experience, and one that, with a greater degree of polish, could easily see release as an offline title.
The multiplayer portion of the title, however, suffers not from the mindless AI, but instead from human opponents; a motley collection that can range from valuable allies and diabolical enemies to infantile, mentally deficient troglodytes with less common sense than a clay pigeon. More so than other titles, SOCOM's style of play relies heavily on the degree of cooperation between players, and ultimately succeeds or fails based upon the competency of the people you're grouped with. As is seemingly commonplace on the internet, few people have any regard for others, and because of this, matches can, and often will fall apart. The prevalence of cheat devices does little to alleviate the situation as they allow players to imbue themselves with any number of boons, including, but not limited to, invulnerability and unlimited ammo. Should you happen upon an honorable, like-minded group of people, however, the game can prove to be an immensely satisfying experience, offering a handful of game types that include Demolition and Suppression.
Belying its somewhat lengthy loadtimes, the environments found in SOCOM are relatively underwhelming, offering simplistic geometry, basic textures and a selection of graphical faux pas. Of particular annoyance, is the ability to become stuck or momentarily impeded as a result of poor collision detection around doorways, a flight of stairs and other such structures. The animation fares significantly better, with enemies offering believable death throes and smooth unit movement among the highlights. Despite the rather abrupt transitions, the soundtrack is suitably inspiring, with orchestral pieces that change based upon the current situation. Gunfire and ambient sounds aside, the voice work is a vital component of maintaining the level of immersion. It's heartening then, that your teammates' responses, instructions and briefings from your tactical officer and the babel of foreign languages found throughout are nicely done.
If there's one thing SOCOM: US Navy Seals does possess, it's heart. Despite its flaws, it offers an experience that is relatively new to the console market, and succeeds, if only partially, in giving console gamers a taste of what PC players have been experiencing over the years. It lacks the production values of a title such as Splinter Cell, but excels in enough areas to warrant a purchase from inquisitive players.