When Zipper Interactive unleashed SOCOM: US Navy SEALs on unsuspecting PS2 gamers just about a year ago, it was a smash title that made everyone stand up and take the PlayStation 2 Online service seriously. Xbox Live might have had the feature set, but Sony had SOCOM, and that was all it took to send gamers running to stores to pick up the nigh impossible to find PS2 Online adapter to play SOCOM online. Unfortunately for Sony, all this squad-based tactical online goodness was quickly spoiled by a flood of cheats making the game all but unplayable for most. With SOCOM II, Sony and Zipper have done more than just improve the overall game, they’ve tightened up the online play to make it as cheat-free as possible and make it one heck of an enjoyable game in single-player as well.
If you’re never played the original SOCOM, here’s a ten second summary. The SEALs are the Navy’s version of the Army’s Special Forces. They’re the best of the best and ready for action at any time. In the original SOCOM you were in charge of these super soldiers as they took on the worst the terrorists of the world could dish out. The original SOCOM, besides having some of the best team-based gameplay around, also sported voice control. This wasn’t the typical cruddy voice control we’ve all seen developers attempt in the past, nope, this actually worked. And it worked well. Once you hooked up your USB headset to your PS2, there was no turning back as you were able to command your SEAL fireteams quickly and precisely with your voice. If there was one Achilles’ heel in the original game, it was the online play. Sure it was butter smooth over broadband and had plenty of multiplayer modes, but once the lamers got ahold of it, it became a nightmare of cheats. After a few months, it had become pretty much unplayable for the serious gamer, as they would find themselves being shot down by rank amateurs armed with cheats such as the “hidden within a wall” cheat. People still played the game, but it just wasn’t as fun any more.
With SOCOM II, Zipper listened to what gamers were saying on the forums and in email, and plugged all the online holes. Now the only reason you’re playing poorly is that you’re just plain bad. I should know, I’m a target extraordinaire, a perfect way for even the mediocre to get a huge statistical boost from by killing me. Along with an improved online experience, they also boosted the single player.
So how do you take an already excellent single player experience and make it better? If you’re Zipper, you do your homework and read up on the other Special Forces used throughout the world. In SOCOM II, you’ll be playing with more than just the good old ‘yanks. Now your teams will be spiced up with the addition of British SAS (Special Air Service) forces, Russian Spetsnaz (Special Forces) and of course you’ll get to play with their weapons in multiplayer once you finish the game.
Unlike the original game, which would frequently have you swearing at some of the idiotic AI of your teammates, this time around, your won’t have to ship so many body bags home. Tell your troops to get down and they’ll all hit the dirt ASAP, no lollygagging around like before. The opposing AI is equally smart, now being much more skilled at dropping your boys from long range or spotting you when you’re being less-than-stealthy. In the first game, you could race through a lot of the missions guns a’ blazing and not worry about it, except for getting a low stealth score in the end. Bah, try that now and your team won’t even make it a quarter of the way through the first mission. When SEAL Command says “be stealthy on this one,” you’ll need to pay attention.
There are a lot of outstanding tactical shooters out there, so why is SOCOM II such a standout? For me, it’s the storyline, which blows away that of any of the those Tom Clancy games on the market, with the exception of Splinter Cell, which actually isn’t in the same genre. Instead of just plunking you down into the twelve missions and having you blast from point A to point B, you’ll find yourself interacting with other characters along the way, dealing with realistic environments and hearing your squad-mates chatter their way through the objectives. Yes, this time your team is a bit more talkative, and they not only let you know they understood your orders, but even speak up when you’re too much of a mumbler for them to figure out what you just said. All the voices vary by nationality and do a remarkable job of expressing emotion, tension and the need to hustle it up if you’re going to save the last hostage. On top of the voice acting and general game sounds, the SOCOM II soundtrack is so fitting the action; this sometimes feels more like a cinematic experience than just a game.
The maps in both the single player and online modes are diverse,details and (finally) larger than their predecessors, featuring exotic locales such as Russia and Brazil. The game graphics vary by location, so when you’re stalking gun runners during an Albanian Autumn, your team will be in Autumn camouflage and will be tromping on piles of dead leaves and twigs. Move too quickly and you’ll hear those twigs snap, leaves crackle and your opposition spring to life to figure out who’s making all the noise. Cool environmental sounds like the buzzing of bees and the honking of geese flying by only add to the immersion.
SOCOM is really the title that gave the PlayStation 2 Network Adapter a chance at being taken seriously, and SOCOM II will breathe even more life into it. Now you can take your game online (broadband only this time around) and duke it out over 12 new maps plus 10 of the original maps. Throw in the expanded weapons list, which includes the deliciously devastating-at-close-range pump shotgun, RPGs and rocket launchers and oh baby…this is one game you’ll be playing for a long time. And this time around, the online games are rated by skill level, so if you’re a hopelessly new player, you can jump into the “Ensign Only” rooms to find games against players of your ilk.
To enrich the online gameplay even more, Zipper added two new gameplay modes: breach and escort. Breach has you blowing apart doors and other objects before your team gets wiped out while escort has the SEAL team escorting hostages to safety, which is obviously what the terrorists need to prevent. For those who were really really tired of the Suppression (Deathmatch) mode’s lack of respawn, you’ll be glad to know that there is an option to allow for the resurrection of dead players now. If you’re like me and end up pushing up daisies within 20 seconds of the start of the round, you’ll most definitely appreciate this.
With all the praise I’m heaping upon SOCOM II, you have to wonder if there could possibly be anything wrong with it, right? Well, yes, there is. While SOCOM II is a great game, it feels a lot less like a sequel and a lot more like an expansion pack. If this were a PC title, it would be labeled as an expansion or a huge patch. The graphics for example, are better than the original, but not by a huge margin. And while the overall gameplay is “fixed” with the removal of cheats and the addition of extra modes, it’s not any sort of evolution of the original. Thus, I have a bit of heartburn with the $45 price tag, as it should really be more like $25-$30. And for those of us with the original, I’d love to see a rebate of some sort, even one for $10 would make me feel better about recommending you go right out and buy this game at the current price.
Even with my heartburn about the price, I guess there’s just too much good going for this game for me not to recommend it to anyone looking for a well-crafted squad-based shooter. It’s just too much fun to ignore, both online and offline.
- Gameplay: 9
- Graphics: 8.5
- Sound: 8.5
- Replay: 9
- Overall: 9
- The SEALs return for some outstanding action.
— Craig Falstaff