SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Combined Assault Review (PS2)

SOCOM has long been famous for delivering a great online experience for up to 32 players on the PS2. These games have proven that the PS2 and its supporting networks are quite capable of muscling into Xbox territory, something that bodes well for upcoming PS3 titles.

I said quietly, idiot!
Night falls once more

This time around the SOCOM team have turned their attention to making a more involving and engaging storied experience to complement the online elements. Whilst leaving the online side of the game untouched, there has been a fare amount of innovations in a number of different areas; including single player campaigns, co-operative play and the all new PSP connectivity.

This innovation is woven around a story that takes place in the made up country of Adjikistan. Over 18 missions transport you through this land over a variety of terrain. You will take in snow capped mountain tundra, ravaged cities and many many industrial complexes. The missions build upon each other and have been well thought out. A degree of flexibility is enabled by the fact that some objectives are optional and some are compulsory. These range from the relatively simple killing of a group of enemies to the more involved demolishment of enemy fabrications and capture and recognisance sorties. As well as fleshing out the main story, each successful mission provides access to new weapons and accessories.

Combined Assault focuses on creating a realistic combat experience. It only takes a few hits to kill you. Because of this you find yourself employing a higher degree of caution, and are able to get involved in detailed tactics. In the single player game this is enhanced by the use of your team mates. You can issue a variety of simple commands and then let the artificial intelligence (AI) do its work. These commands can be issues by bringing up a menu, or aiming at an in game artefact and pressing L2 or even using a USB headset to voice your bidding.

I thought we were supposed to have the high ground!
Claustrophobic delicacy, four armed men in a room

This all really adds to the tension of relying on your team mates and makes it hurt all the more when they are needlessly cut down. However, at times I found myself surprised and frustrated at the AIís response to particular commands. It seemed to be a bit patchy in some areas. Unfortunately this meant that the longer I played the more I ended up just doing stuff directly with my player. This issue seems to be a weak spot that runs through the game in general, both allied and opposing sides suffering equally. Again the focus this time around seems to have been on innovation rather than intelligence.

This issue is lessened slightly by the provision of a variety of multiplayer options. The co-operative play adds another level to proceedings. Battling through the scenarios with some friends feels totally different to working with the computer players. Actually, playing this way made me question how bad the AI actually was when I saw some of the decisions taken by my supposedly intelligent friends!

This all adds to the existing SOCOM multiplayer world with all of its existing maps and modes and players. With a ready field of players already there from previous SOCOM releases you can be confident of an ongoing online community. This could easily support a release in its own right, so when paired with the story based content it really starts adding up to some excellent value.

The final thread of the innovation is the PSP connectivity. Combined Assault is twined with the PSP SOCOM game Fireteam Bravo 2. You can swap your saved data between the two games. This enables the game to know which interlinking missions have been completed and adjust its ongoing missions as required. Itís great to complete a mission on the PSP and for this to change an objective back on the PS2 game. It also means if you have finished the game without the PSP missions you have another reason to revisit the action once you have the PSP game. Not to mention another reason to pick-up the increasingly attractive PSP.

Graphically, Combined Assault looks the part and feels as you would expect. That said, it does inherit the stiff limbed character models that many realistic shooters seem to struggle to shake off, right back from the days of Delta Force. This is not enough to hamper play or interrupt your enjoyment, but with our ever heightening graphical expectations this, together with the AI, should be the next area for them to revisit. The sound is above par, and again serves its purpose. More attention has been spent on the various weapon noises than on the voice over, but if you had to make a choice that is probably the right way to go.

Help, they are attacking with tiny men!

Overall, as the forth game in the SOCOM series this is a solid addition, and certainly flies the flag. They obviously realised that they needed to refresh the franchise, and many of their innovations have really come off well. If you already have the previous releases you should only buy this if you going to get a lot out of the single player campaign. If youíve not played SOCOM yet then this is the right place to start, welcome to the party!

Top Game Moment:
Failing dismally to co-ordinate a three pronged attack between three of my friends, I ended up a spectator watching helplessly as they each met their end. There really is nothing like a human for showing just unintelligent soldiers can be.