SOCOM 3: US Navy Seals
Developer: Zipper Interactive
Publisher: SCEE
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1-32 net play
Words By:

Way back in June 2002 Sony finally got around to releasing their Network Adaptor after months and months of hype and setbacks. Needless to say, without a functional system joining all the online gaming together into a cohesive working package (like Xbox live) very few games had online modes that were properly developed and supported, let alone patronised by gamers. But through four hard years of rocky online gaming there has always been one series of titles that has been keeping it afloat, with addictive gameplay and great server support. That’s right, the US Navy Seals are back with their third outing and it is quite simply the best yet.

SOCOM II was released only a year after the original classic and always felt like an update rather than a true sequel - yes, new maps were added, old ones were tweaked and the problems from the original were mostly fixed but nothing really ground-breaking was shown. After taking more time to perfect the game Zipper has taken the bunny rabbit and replaced it with a golden elephant - everything is bigger, better and more shiny!

The types of map you may be familiar with from the first two outings have been scrapped and replaced by maps many times the size, with a few settlements the size of original maps joined by winding cliff-enclosed roads, rivers and bases built into caves. This solved the problems of the last two games, as in the old maps it was sometimes possible to throw grenades and take out half the opposing team without even moving from the start. Now what would normally take a few seconds to run to your enemies’ spawn point now takes at least a minute, unless you take one of S3’s vehicular transports that is…

To accommodate the larger maps and also to add a new dynamic to the gameplay S3 has a range of vehicles for both the SEALS and terrorists, ranging from nippy buggies and pickups with mounted machine guns through to the obligatory heavy tanks. This not only makes navigating the huge maps a lot easier but forces you to work as a team, either by all bundling into a vehicle or working together to take one out. All the vehicles handle really forgivingly; movement and acceleration is simple, the jeeps powerslide round corners when you get the speed up and even the tanks are pretty nippy and manoeuvrable!

The vehicles have the best effect in online play as they create a tactical squad play that surpasses the last two games and even shows next-gen titles like GRAW how to do things right! In the originals you would usually split into squads of defence, offence and holding (for reinforcing either squad), but now there are so many different ways to take on the enemy things are much more tactical. For example; you can send out a recon quad in a jeep along the main road while a second squad infiltrates the mountain pass and a squad maintains the perimeter. Playing games like this online with constant chatter through the headset not only makes you feel like you’re part of a team going to kick some terrorist ass but also brings back pleasant memories of playing the original SOCOM online, which is probably one of my most memorable gaming moments ever.

The great online experience of the first two games has also been improved upon this time around, the big thing you’ll notice first that the amount of players allowed in one room at a time has doubled from 16 to 32! This was definitely something that needed to come in for S3 as the maps are so large and with vehicles 16 players just wouldn’t cut it anymore - I’ve noticed when playing some of the largest maps with only ten people that you can never find anyone! Luckily adding another 16 players doesn’t seem to strain the system all that much and playing in full rooms rarely results in any large amount of lag, even with vehicles buzzing all over the place! Even the random disconnects that were rampant in S2 have been fixed, with only the occasional comms malfunction kicking in when things got a little too heavy.

Where the first two games also had a rather un-engaging single player mode S3 has a wealth of missions to offer, spanning across a few storylines in different war-torn zones, all rife with evil militia-types. Rather than the missions in the first two games where movement was very slow and tedious, like Ghost Recon in a coma, S3’s missions feel more action-packed. Objectives update every couple of minutes, there’ll always be someone to shoot or something to blow up and you’ll very rarely get lost. The enemies are pretty smart at the higher difficulty levels, teaming up and using grenades to flush you and your team out of cover and your teammates also defend themselves rather than stand around and get shot.

The system of giving orders to your teammates has been stripped down to make it simpler to issue voice commands via the headset without getting confused, and after about five minutes even your mother-in-law could issue orders for fire team Bravo to “Breach, Frag and Clear”. If you’ve never been one to sit in a room and sound like you’re talking to yourself like some mental patient the commands have also been mapped to the circle button, which is just as easy but not as cool.

The rest of the controls have been kept pretty much to the same winning combo they've been since the original SOCOM and it still stands out as one of the best, one that developers are only now starting to catch up with and copy. The movement is tight and fast enough and the mapping of secondary items (like grenades) mapped to the quick-buttons on the shoulders is still an invaluable tool in firefights. The only real addition to the mix are the controls for swimming, which are simply directional with the option to hide underwater by holding triangle, which makes hiding from enemies a little easier, although I’ve not used it properly myself: I always drown!

By now you must be thinking: “Wow, a game with great gameplay, excellent online AND single-player missions, this sounds like the game of the century!”
Unfortunately there’s only one real thing that seemed to tarnish my love of this otherwise brilliant game - the graphics. I admit it might sound a little shallow to taint such an otherwise well-rounded game with talk about graphics but in S3’s case it affects quite a lot of the gameplay as well, so it’s worth a little mention. The graphics seem to have taken a step backward since S2; buildings are rudimentary blocks of brown or cream, trucks look like they’re made out of Lego and you can only see small sections of the huge maps at a time because of all the damn fogging!

There are also plenty of glitches in S3, mainly being collision detection as your characters will frequently walk partially through (and sometimes get stuck in) walls, surf about the place without moving their legs and generally just tit about. It’s not present all the time but when combined with the very aged graphics it ruins the presentation of the whole game, like a great story in a film ruined by some really shoddy Ed Wood-style special effects.

To sum up, SOCOM III has improved in almost every way; huge maps, more players online, vehicles, swimming, weapon customisation, a great single-player mode… I could could go on for a while but I won’t, there’s an online deathmatch with my name on it. All I can say is that the graphics really do fall way below the great level of quality the rest of the game was created with, and that’s what stops this otherwise brilliant game from getting the top marks. Anyone who bought a Network Adaptor and wondered what the hell they’re supposed to do with it need look no further, and those who thought GRAW didn’t quite get things right need to pick this up now.

Best Bits

- Big maps
- Bigger and better online
- Great single-player
- Gun customisation
Worst Bits

- Really poo graphics
- Glitches everywhere!

by: Crazypunk

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