SOCOM: U.S. Navy Seals  
A look at the online game and a detailed hands-on preview of the single player mode.

CarlitoOnline gaming is something that Pc players have been experiencing for quite a long time, but it's a complete novelty for console players, with the exception of that extraordinary game that was Phantasy Star Online for Dreamcast. Sony and Microsoft are investing enormous resources on online gaming, and they have their good reasons. While it's difficult to realize if online gaming will be a real revolution in this generation of consoles, it's easy to predict that online gaming is the future of the home entertainment.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not speaking of a future made only of games that are playable online - on my opinion, single player adventures will remain the core of a console line-up for quite a long period - but first of all, of games that will offer many useful, and exciting online capabilities. I'm speaking of expansions, like new characters for a fighting game or new cars for a racing game, new levels, patches, the possibility to chat with other players, and so on.

SOCOM U.S. Navy Seals was announced at E3 2001, and after one year it's one of the most anticipated Ps2 online games. At the launch of the Network Adapter, players with a broadband connection will probably pick this title to go online with their Ps2. Oh, and if you are interested in this game, remember to join our forums, it's absolutely free. We have just opened a new forum dedicated to SOCOM U.S. Navy Seals, where you can discuss about your missions, strategies, your clan and more!

Features
The game puts the player into the role of a U.S. Navy Seal, member of a Special Operations Command. Together with three other teammates, you have to play through 12 different, varied, realistic missions that takes place in 4 different locations of the world: Alaska (where our playable demo took place), Congo, Thailand and Turkmenistan and many others. All levels can be played both in single player offline mode and in multiplayer online mode. It's important to remember that only players with a broadband connection will be able to play online. In fact, the game doesn't support modem narrowband connections.

SOCOM U.S. Navy Seals will retail for $59.99, $10 more than the usual price for a Ps2 game, because the package will include a Voice Recognition Headset that becomes an important part of the gameplay both in multiplayer and in single player games.

In multiplayer, the cool looking, light VRH will let you talk with the other players in the game. You can communicate with your teammates, thus creating complex strategies to move into the landscape and complete your objectives. In the same way, the Voice Recognition System can be used in single player mode. In fact, SOCOM U.S. Navy Seals relies heavily on the management of your team. You can give orders to your three A.I.-controlled teammates, and they'll execute them promptly. Using the VRH you have more than 70 keywords and combinations of keywords that the game is able to recognize, with no need of a training session before starting the game.

The Dual Shock controller remains of course the main device to control your game. It controls your character, and you can also use it as a substitute of the VRH to give orders to your teammates, thanks to a neat menu system. SOCOM supports also USB keyboards to communicate with other players.

Playing Online
Just in case you skipped the above section of the preview and jumped straight here, it's important to remember that you can play online only if you have a broadband connection. Multiplayer games let you play against and with 16 other players, with 8 players per team. Players are given the option to play on the "good" side - the SEAL team - or as the bad guys - the terrorists.

Players expecting a brainless all-shooting experience from SOCOM could be disappointed. The game is a realistic simulation of militaristic operations. Two-three well-placed shots from another player are sufficient to kill you. That's why moving in the varied landscapes of SOCOM requires a great dose of stealth and strategy.

The 12 missions should be very different in structure and difficulties. SOCOM features three online multi-player game types, including Demolition, Hostage Rescue and Suppression.

In Demolition, your team has to destroy the other team's base. Anyhow, there is only one explosive in the whole level, and only the team who is able to find it and to bring it into the enemy base can win the game. In Hostage Rescue, the SEAL team must save the hostages or kill all the terrorists. In Suppression you have to annihilate the other team.

You and your friends should be able to use with skill your resources, and you have to study the in-game map to avoid dangers and to find a way to penetrate the enemy's defences. In the various missions you have to rescue hostages, destroy enemy's key locations, detain prisoners, avoid alarm systems and more.

Last but not least, SOCOM U.S. Navy Seals offers plenty of other interesting features like chat rooms, ranking ladder and Clans support. Clan Support let the players create teams, invite other players into their team, and compete against other clans. The Ranking Ladders - saved on Sony servers - will keep track of your stats, game after game, thus showing your results in comparison with all the other worldwide players.

Playing Offline - Hands-on preview
We had the chance to play the game in single player offline mode. The mission that was playable took place in Alaska. Our enemies, a group of Russian terrorists called the Iron Brothers.

Before jumping into the action, you are briefed till to the slightest detail about the mission, and you can customize the equipment of each member of your team. The Mission briefing screen gives a list of the objectives you have to complete, and also all other details that add realism to the experience, like a description of the environment and a satellite image of the area where the most relevant zones of the area - sentry posts, possible ambush points, location of hostages and more - are highlighted. It's very exciting to create your own strategy, studying the information provided by the mission briefing.

Customizing the equipment of the members of your team looks like another well-developed feature of the game. Each soldier can carry a primary weapon, a secondary weapon, and has some space to add other equipment like grenades, explosives and extra ammo.

The weapons available in the mission we have played were varied. As primary weapons there were sniper rifles, a heavy machine gun, a light submachine gun and a M4 assault rifle, that also occasional players of militaristic games should remember, thanks to Metal Gear Solid. As secondary weapons there were four different pistols. I don't know you, but grenades and explosives are the stuff I prefer in this genre of games. Deadly frag and explosive grenades, stun and smoke grenades, C4 are available in SOCOM.

Learning and mastering the gameplay of SOCOM is not a matter of two or three minutes. As a strategy based action game, SOCOM has a depth that requires a bit of dedication to be fully enjoyed.

SOCOM makes use of all the buttons of the Dual Shock. In the default configuration, the left analog stick is used to strafe left/right and to go forward and backward. The right stick is used to look up/down and to turn your character. Square is jump, Triangle is crouch, R1 is the fire button, while L1 and L2 are used to quick select primary and secondary weapon. The other objects in the equipment can be selected opening a pop up window with the R2 button. X is a classic multi purpose button; its function varies according to the situation: when your character is in a situation where a certain action is suitable, an icon is displayed on screen. For example, if you are facing a large crate, the "climb action" icon appears, while if there is an Uzi on the ground, a "pick up the weapon" icon is displayed. The Circle button opens a simple and effective menu system that is used to give commands to your A.I. teammates. Of course, if you are using the Voice Recognition Headset you'll not need to access this menu with the Dual Shock. Unfortunately, in our demo, the VRH was not included.

Controlling your primary character is a well-balanced, satisfying experience. The responsiveness of controls is excellent, and handling the weapons is intuitive and deep at the same time. The game has been clearly designed to be played in third person view, like most of the strategy and stealth titles, but using the up and down buttons of the d-pad you can select between third person and first person view. Anyhow, in first person, you can't see the arms or the weapons you're carrying like in a first person shooter. If you are using a weapon equipped with a tactical scope, you'll also be able to use a special sniper view and aim carefully at distant targets; the view varies accordingly to the magnification of the scope equipped on the weapon. The weapons behave in an extremely realistic way. While I'm not exactly an expert - well, actually I've never seen a real assault rifle - each weapon has its weaknesses and strengths. Accuracy, range and also volume of the equipped weapons can change the result of your mission. Grenades are a pleasure to throw; pressing the R1 button you'll see a line depicting the trajectory of the grenade, and pressing X you control how far you want to launch it; releasing the R1 button you'll finally launch the grenade.

Anyhow, the most interesting part of the game, also in single-player mode, is the cooperation with your squad. Your three companions are controlled by a well developed, but not perfect, A.I.

Even if you don't give them any particular order, they'll act, most of the times, in the most proper way to provide you a solid help. First of all, they help you spotting enemies. You know, in the white snowy fields of Alaska it's not always easy to see enemies hidden behind trees and dressed in camouflage suits. Your comrades will help you communicating via radio indications like "Tango spotted at 4 o'clock" or "Enemy is approaching at 12 o'clock" - and they can really save your life in this way. Then, if there is an aggressive enemy that have spotted your location, they'll immediately try to shoot him down. That's why it's always a great choice to have at least a sniper in your team.

Of course, the real fun comes when you start creating more complex strategies, giving precise orders to each of your men. You can ask them to run at a precise location, to hold fire or fire at will, to cover a target, to deploy grenades or explosives and everything else you might need.

I'll make an example to make things more clear. Together with my squad I arrived at a dangerous spot. I had to clear a house, but I felt that there should have been enemy guards hidden somewhere in the surroundings. So, I asked two of my soldiers to hold a strategic position on the edge of a hill that overlooked the back of the house - from there, they could have easily provided covering fire. Slowly, together with another comrade, I started approaching the house. All of a sudden, my comrades on the hill spotted an enemy coming in our direction. Immediately, they killed him with a well-placed shot of a silenced sniper rifle. In the meanwhile, we were finally arrived next to a window of the wooden house. At least an enemy was inside, but he didn't notice our presence. We broke the window, and I launched a smoke grenade to flush the enemies out of the house. An easy kill for our assault rifles.

It's easy to understand that to deliver such complex situations, Zipper Interactive worked hard on the A.I. procedures of your comrades and of the enemies. Overall, they did a good work, even if occasionally, both your squad and your enemies can act in absurd - and funny - ways.

The enemies are good when it comes to strategic movements but they are definitely slow in direct confrontations. For example, even if each of the terrorists is assigned to a particular spot on the map, if you start attacking his comrades - especially if you do it in a noisy way - he could come to grant support, and that's extremely realistic. Anyhow, if you jump into a house and you find yourself just in front of an armed terrorist, you still have three-four seconds before he understand that he should just kill you immediately. It seems clear that the developers introduced limitations like this to make the game less frustrating, but considered into the overall realism of the game, these moments sound really out of tune.

As I stated before, your teammates will do, most of the times, a surprisingly great job. Anyhow, they can make their errors too. While they'll never shoot at one of their comrades or stuff like that, it happened to me that after I launched a grenade, one of my soldiers run just in the direction of my launch, like a dog trying to catch a stick. Of course, the result was a dead man. Sometimes, if you have entered a house or a small cabin, your teammates will stand right in front of the door, and you could be tempted to shoot them down in order to exit.

The graphics of the game are not impressive, but the engine is solid enough to support the realism of the gameplay. The textures are in the average, and the number of polygons used for objects and character models is below the one of many great looking titles on the system. Anyhow, effects like explosions, fire, fog, and blood look great and the animations of the soldiers are really smooth and realistic.

Overall, I was impressed by the good work done by Zipper Interactive. From what I've seen in the demo, they created a game that can be a real challenge also in single-player mode. In SOCOM U.S. Navy Seals you constantly have to use your brain, create strategies, and face enemies that are smarter than the average of bad guys. A game that moves your mind, something that I really appreciate. Players should be definitely looking forward for this title, and not only for the online game, but also for a more than brilliant single-player offline mode.


- Carlito (August 1st, 2002)