Reviewed: January 6, 2006
Released: October 11, 2005
Anyone who knows me knows that I am all about the military games and all about playing them online, and no other PS2 game has created such an online buzz as the SOCOM series. While I generally focus my recreational time on the Tom Clancy series of games I have logged countless hours with the SOCOM series since it debuted back in 2002.
SOCOM 3: U.S. Navy SEALs is the latest installment in the SOCOM series and hopefully the fact that an Army Special Forces soldier is reviewing the game won’t hurt my credibility or cause any panic at the Pentagon. Seriously, I do have a friend who is an ex-SEAL and an avid gamer and we did hook up for a few session of online gaming and some informative chatting afterwards, so I can provide a bit of secondhand authentic insight into this game.
Those who played the first two SOCOM titles are likely to remember that there wasn’t that much new or even different in the second game, so if you are hesitant about the third rest assured that SOCOM 3 packs in an impressive amount of content. There are new features, game modes, bigger levels, vehicles, a better single player campaign and a refined online experience.
The gameplay has been tweaked to perfection for this third outing; not that there was much wrong to begin with. SOCOM has always had some of the best movement and firing controls in the biz and those remain totally intact in SOCOM 3. In some cases I even envy these controls over my beloved Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon games.
The presentation is as straightforward as the gameplay. You can either play the Campaign; revisit a previously played mission in the Redeploy mode, or head online for some intense multiplayer warfare. No matter which mode you choose, you are in for a very realistic experience depending on how dedicated you are to playing the game as it was intended.
For those tired of trekking across swamps and jungles the addition of vehicles will be a welcome sight, especially in light of the massive levels in SOCOM 3. The enhanced game engine is now capable of streaming level data so what used to be an entire level in SOCOM or SOCOM II is now just a small part of a level in this game.
When available you can now take control of tanks, jeeps, trucks, boats, and military-spec Humvees (no CD changer or air-conditioning in these babies) just to name a few. What I found very refreshing is just how accurately these vehicles have been recreating within the game, not only visually, but also in their respective physics and handling.
Most of these rides have multiple “seats” so you can choose to drive or ride shotgun or even man a gunnery position when available. There is nothing as formidable as a fully loaded vehicle with your entire squad manning all the possible attack positions, but this also works both ways. If you are going up against an enemy tank you will need to work together as a team to defeat this larger threats.
Working as a team, whether you are playing with the computer or online with other live soldiers, has been given a bit of preferential treatment in SOCOM 3. Previously, you could play and eventually beat these games by yourself going “commando”, but now there are all sorts of subtle game devices and even mission designs and game modes to really encourage you to work and play well with others. Some missions and enemy encounters are simply impossible to win playing alone.
The single player experience has been given some added attention this time, with more compelling mission designs, multiple objectives, and a much-needed checkpoint system so you aren’t constantly restarting the entire level when you die. It’s much more forgiving this time with the game saving your status every 10-15 minutes.
Enemy A.I. has been improved for the solo game, and you can expect to see the enemy realistically use available cover and work better as a team. It is certainly still no match for real human interaction but it serves as a valuable training tool to get you ready to play with the big dogs online.
SOCOM 3 offers full support for up to 32 players playing online in a single game. This rivals the capacity of Delta Force: Black Hawk Down, only this game doesn’t suck. I have yet to actually get into a 32-player game; my highest count so far is only 26, but the game works remarkably well online. There are a few minor issues with lag, usually resulting from one or more people with sub-par connections.
The new multiplayer modes are great fun. Control is basically SOCOM’s version of domination where each team plants flags at various control zones in the map. Flags cannot be removed but each team can have a flag at the same spot. The first team to control all zones wins. The trick here is that much like Battlefield, it takes awhile to raise your flag during which you are subject to enemy attack. This definitely encourages the buddy system where you can have someone covering your position while you plant your flag.
Convoy is the second new mode and this is by far the most fun you will likely have online. This is a SEALs vs. terrorist game where the terrorist must make a pick-up and delivery of “goods” using two trucks while the SEALs try to ambush and stop them. Only one truck needs to make it to the goal to win and there is a great sense of urgency and teamwork require for both sides of this intense game mode.
SOCOM 3 will automatically scale the maps based on the current amount of players, and not by invisible walls or arbitrary boundaries, but whenever possible with real in-game boundaries or at least a pop-up message warning you are leaving the combat area. The only hitch is that these boundaries are based on the maximum number of players set by the host, and not the current number of players. So if you have a 32-player game running at only half capacity you might find there is too much terrain per player.
Given the outdoor nature and the massive level design the visuals for SOCOM 3 are impressive to say the least. They certainly outrank those of Ghost Recon on the PS2 and even a few other outdoor titles on the Xbox. With support for widescreen and progressive scan, HDTV owners will be able to boost the quality of their gameplay experience substantially.
From a technical standpoint, the models and textures for the soldiers and vehicles are excellent. You can see a lot of detail like gear dangling from the men and realistic weapon models. Subtle effects add to the experience like dust, smoke, and environmental effects including some impressive lighting and shadows.
The interface and HUD display provide all the necessary intel without invading the screen too much. The cutscenes are excellent, both in quality and content, and really propel the story forward with some contemporary design and quality acting.
When it comes to sampled sounds of gunfire it doesn’t get much better than this, but then again, somewhere there exists a sound library of every gun being fired since the Revolutionary War and it’s this library that was obviously used to accurately recreate the sounds of every handheld and mounted weapon in SOCOM 3. I can close my eyes and randomly pick a weapon and 99% of the time tell you which one was just fired. The game is just that accurate.
The voice acting in the movies is fantastic, complete with authentic foreign languages, accents, and such. There isn’t much in-game conversation although the game does offer full support for the USB headset so you can plot and scheme with your comrades and taunt your enemies.
Expect at least 20 hours on the campaign and you’ll probably want to redeploy and better your scores on those levels, then you have a massive multiplayer experience waiting for you online.
With a meaty solo campaign and unlimited potential online, especially with the new Convoy and Control game modes, there is enough SOCOM here to keep you on active duty for months to come.
Until now, most of my recreational online game time has been spent on the Xbox, but if any PS2 game were to ever steal the focus from Xbox Live this would be it. SOCOM 3: U.S. Navy SEALs is the perfect hybrid of classics like Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon, and even the Battlefield games. It plays just like them and looks better than most while doing it.
The massive maps, the use of vehicles, both as transportation and weapons in combat, as well as advanced tactical strategies for working as a team really bring this series into the next generation of military gaming.