Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 11/25/2003 for PS2  
More On: SOCOM II: U.S. Navy SEALs
I was one of those people who were less than impressed with the first SOCOM. At the time I faulted the game for its weak single-player aspects but lauded it for its addictive multiplayer elements, coming up with a score that equated to about 70 percent. Now I’ve had a chance to play the follow-up to one of the PlayStation 2’s most popular titles and while it still suffers from a few faults of its predecessors I must say that I’m impressed enough with all of the updates and upgrades to recommend it to most nearly anyone.

The SEALs are an elite group who partake in missions all around the world in an attempt to diffuse situations before they can grow into worldwide catastrophes. Like the British SAS, they’re highly trained and often operate under covert conditions and circumstances. Forget about going in alone, it’s all about teamwork and co-operation for one man can’t win the battle alone. You’ll always have someone watching your back, and with good cause, because he could very well be the difference between whether you’re sent home in a body bag or whether you’ll make it back to base for some late night MREs.

This is the premise that makes SOCOM II: U.S Navy SEALs so exciting, the fact that your next move may be your last. It’s a huge trend that has been taking the gaming world by storm for the better part of the last decade. Forget about the generic run and gun shooters that were all the rage in the mid 90s, today’s shooter emphasizes realism and the fragility of life as opposed to over the top action. And when it comes to console shooters there may not be a better game out there that fully realizes this than Sony’s line of tactical shooters.

You probably know the deal by now, a rogue terrorist group is causing a ruckus around the world, disrupting its delicate balance. Opting for a secretive and covert solution (read: not Operation Iraqi Freedom) the United States Navy has volunteered the services of its elite SEALs unite to help stifle the situation and restore order to the world. This is where you fit into the picture, leading a team of highly-trained individuals who are saddled with the duty of maintaining the world’s equilibrium. Sounds like a tough job but when your diplomatic tools consist of hot lead and fragmentation grenades you can be sure that you’re in for one hellacious ride.

With the exception of the campaign there aren’t too many differences between this game and its predecessor. Essentially you’re paying $50 for more of the same but if you’re a huge fan of SOCOM, or shooters in general for that matter, then this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Showing that the companies are fully dedicated to their customers, Zipper Interactive and Sony took the time to address a few nagging issues that players had with the first title. Yes, at times it feels more like an incremental upgrade (such as annual sports titles) but there’s enough here to allow the game to succeed on its own merits.

If you’re looking for a videogame to satiate your newfound Rambo cravings then you’ve come to the wrong place. Stealth is an asset and precision is the key to success here. Meticulous planning and patience are required if you want to complete the mission, hotshots with a hair trigger need not apply. And while the game lacks a dedicated planning mode (a la the PC versions of the Tom Clancy shooters) it still emphasizes strategy and tactics over all-out brawn and machismo. Players are encouraged to move stealthily and use the available coverage so that the missions go over as smoothly as possible. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it would be like to be a hero in your favorite action movie this is your chance. With the exception of some massively nagging AI issues, the single-player campaign is as intense and riveting as they come.

This is because the AI is still as brain dead as ever. I’ve heard some people in the online realm speak about how the AI has been vastly improved but I’ve yet to see any of this in action. What really disturbs me is just how lame brained some of my own squad mates can be. There have been times when I’ve ordered one of them to clear out a room with a frag only to have them toss it at the door frame and back at me, effectively wiping out my whole team. Like last year’s game I’ve often found enemies and allies running full on into crates, walls and other obstacles. Some major improvements have been made to ensure that the team acts as realistically as possible but many of the issues still remain. When everything does pan out like its supposed to the game is one hellacious ride, it’s just a shame that this doesn’t happen quite that often. It’s OK though because the online aspect really salvages this package and turns a decent outing into an excellent one.If you’ve played the first SOCOM or have been monitoring the newswires for the past week you’ll know that SOCOM II’s largest selling point is its online functionality. This is where the title really delivers and atones for its offline gameplay mistakes. Featuring frenetic, fast-paced, lag-free, white-knuckled gameplay, you’ll receive an amazing adrenalin rush every time you step into an online game. What’s even better is that many of the problems that plagued the first SOCOM’s online functionality have been ironed out, leading to a very streamlined game that’s almost devoid of problems.

In the actual action itself the new maps and gameplay elements make for an even more exciting package than its predecessor. All of the maps are well designed and are generally devoid of “kill zones” or choke points. There’s a new gameplay mode that plays very similarly to the Assault mode of Unreal Tournament for the PC. In it the terrorists have to defend an installation while the SEALs try to infiltrate it and take out targets of opportunity. New gun emplacements add another layer of depth that makes you think twice about trying to rush headfirst into the teeth of the defense. On the whole, this new mode is just what the game needed to remain fresh and hip with those who spent copious amounts of time with the original. I hope that Zipper and Sony produce more maps for it when the HDD is released next year.

My favorite change is that you now have a visual representation of the person manning the airwaves. In SOCOM II always remember hearing someone barking orders and then another person chiming in with “who just said that?” Well now that’s a problem of the past as the game finally gives you a visual indicator of the person currently speaking. On the same topic you can turn it off entirely so that you can block people you’re not particularly impartial to, meaning that you can silence the moronic 12-year-olds who have nothing better to do than to go online and irritate the hell out of people.

Also since the servers for SOCOM I were always filled with people Zipper had a chance to properly stress test its network code, providing gamers with a significantly smoother experience than the first game. I had issues with the first SOCOM which resulted in random drops, random boots and random disconnects. Of course the occasional hiccup is present here and there but the overall experience is very smooth and pleasant.

One of the largest changes comes in the environments. Instead of looking bland and out of place like in the first SOCOM these levels do an excellent job of blending in with the real world. The designs make so much more sense and feature a heightened sense of detail. In addition to featuring more objects, better terrain and crisper textures the environments now feature much more foliage and cover that aid you in your missions. Perhaps the largest change is how realistic the environments look. Instead of running in wide-open regions you’ll get to skulk and hide in tall grasslands or pop out of shrubs and take out a terrorist without him even knowing you’re there. I’ve also noticed that the architecture has improved quite a bit, lending the game a more realistic look and feel.

As technology improves the developers are able to do neat things with the PS2 hardware and SOCOM 2 is no exception. The largest change is the way that the lighting affects your point of view. When transitioning from light to dark environments the screen will be slow to adapt, just like your eyes in real life. As you become adjusted to the interior your eyes will be more capable of picking up the dark nooks and crannies that initially eluded you. There’s also a neat filter used for the new night vision which gives your eyes a brief flash before allowing them to focus on the environment. I’ve never tried on night vision goggles before but I’ve been told that you’re temporarily blinded as it takes your eyes a few split seconds to adjust to the lighting.
Widely regarded as the PS2’s audio showcase, the first SOCOM featured excellent audio effects that were amplified by the well-done Dolby Pro Logic II implementation. This title maintains the same level of audio excellence while minutely raising the bar. I noticed that many of the audio effects were reused here but they sound somewhat sharper and crisper. Some of the audio separation is also much more noticeable as your rear speakers will get a much better workout than before. Like before, the bass is rather clean and will give the subwoofer a rather decent workout. It’s also nice to see that you can still get mission briefings via your USB headset as opposed to your speakers, just like in the original. It’s a small touch but it helps further engulf you into the atmosphere.

I hope you have a couple of memory cards sitting around because you’ll need a lot of extra space if you’re planning on playing SOCOM II, about 3 Megs to be exact. This isn’t a problem for me because I have a couple of extra memory cards around for reviewing purposes but I doubt that most gamers have more than one card in their libraries. This is especially strange considering that the first SOCOM required only about 160KB of storage space. Either way, I guess it’s justified because if you own SOCOM II you probably won’t spend much time playing other games.

What’s missing here? Not much, but I really would have loved a co-op mode that allows for multiple players to partake in the single-player missions. If there’s one gameplay aspect that’s been making waves in the past couple of years (thanks in most part to HALO) it’s co-operative gameplay. This would have given the game even more replay value, making it a definite must-buy for virtually every gamer.

Another huge problem, a carryover from the first title, is that you can’t save your progress during the mission. I understand that allowing unlimited saves would take the skill and strategy out of the game but allowing a finite number of saves or some checkpoints would have helped alleviate the situation a bit. There are times when the game becomes more trial and error than it does skill and thus you can die out of the blue. This especially becomes frustrating when you realize that you’ve spent about 20 minutes in a mission only to haphazardly fall off of a cliff that you couldn’t see.

My next gripe is actually in relation to a problem that I had with the first game and that’s the price tag. While all of Sony’s first party titles retail at the $39.99 price point SOCOM 2 for some unknown reason retails at $49.99. This is sans headset mind you so if you want to get the most out of the experience you’ll either had to have obtained a headset from the previous SOCOM or plunk down $15 for a decent USB headset. When you finish calculating this you’ll spend about $60 to play the game that way that it was meant to be played. This could have been avoided had Sony shipped the game at its usual $39.99 price point or offered a bundle at a reasonable price point.

But seriously, these are rather small gripes. For every negative there are about two positives and if Paula Abdul has taught me anything it’s that there’s nothing wrong with taking two steps forward for every step you take back. SOCOM II is one of the best games that your money can buy this holiday season but remember what you’re paying for. If you’re looking for a decent offline game then go ahead and give this one a try but if you’re looking for the premier online title, look no further than SOCOM II: US Navy SEALs. It’s the only game you’ll need to hold you over this holiday season.
If you own a network adaptor you simply must own SOCOM II. Offline gamers may want to take a pass though, some of the AI still needs a bit of work. Even still, it's still well worth your time. Rent it to see how you feel about it, you just might fall in love.

Rating: 8.7 Very Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

About Author

Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

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