When the original SOCOM was released in 2002 on the PlayStation 2, it made an impact as one of the best online shooters available on a console. A year later, SOCOM II continued that winning formula, becoming a wildly popular game among console shooter fans. It's been almost two long years since the last SOCOM game, and SOCOM 3: US Navy SEALs makes some significant strides over its predecessors, offering 32-player online play, drivable vehicles, much larger maps, and a worthwhile single-player campaign.
Drivable vehicles like this gunboat are one of the exciting new additions to the franchise.
As in previous SOCOM games, you're put in the role of a squad leader of a four-man team of Navy SEALs. The single-player consists of three campaigns that will take you across three different settings, ranging from North Africa to South Asia, on over to Poland. You'll be asked to do a variety of different tasks, ranging from hostage rescue to search and destroy, or even capturing enemy officers. Though a lot of the combat boils down to detecting enemies from long range and picking them off before they can get close, you'll find a number of situations in which you're forced into close combat, such as exploring tunnel systems or house-to-house fighting in a city. Other scenarios require you to paint enemy tanks with a laser-targeting device for an air strike, or even take out tanks yourself with a missile launcher mounted on a humvee. Each of the maps is quite large, so you'll often have vehicles at your disposal, which let you get from place to place quickly and give you added firepower. These range from machine gun-mounted buggies, trucks, and humvees to heavily armed gunboats. The miniguns mounted on the gunboat are particularly fearsome; they unleash a high volume of lead with a frightening zipper sound accompanying the burst.
Since the maps are so large, the missions can be rather lengthy, so the game includes a lot of smartly spaced nav points. You won't ever find yourself lost or wondering where to go in SOCOM 3. There are also a number of checkpoints where your game gets saved within each mission. Your team gets healed and resupplied at these checkpoints. Hardcore shooter fans may find that these conveniences make SOCOM 3's single player somewhat easy, but it also reduces frustration greatly as you make your way through each map's objectives.
SOCOM 3, much like its predecessors, controls very well. One of the new control mechanisms added in this game is the ability to swim. Many of the maps in both the single- and multiplayer game feature rivers or other bodies of water, and you can often make a stealthy approach by swimming. You can't fire your gun from in the water, but you can submerge yourself for a limited time, making you all but invisible in the partially translucent water. You can play SOCOM 3 from either a third- or a first-person perspective, and some aspect of realism has been worked into the gameplay design. Though you can take several hits before going down, the accuracy of your weapons is reduced greatly when you're on the move. You can improve your aim stability and stealthiness by kneeling or going prone, or by firing in short bursts instead of going full auto. The actual feel of moving and shooting in SOCOM 3 is one of its primary strengths. Everything feels solid and strikes that fine balance between realism and fun. If you have a heavy machine gun, for example, you will get much more accuracy from snapping on a bipod and going prone than from shooting from the hip. Silenced weapons don't pack quite as much punch as unsilenced guns, and submachine guns are much easier to control than rifles. You also get great visual feedback from hitting the enemy; they'll react appropriately when shot, limp or stumble away if wounded, and squirt some overexaggerated but satisfying blood spray when hit.
Numerous cutscenes give you context for your missions.
Your team can be commanded via voice if you have a USB headset, or by using a simple menu system. Context-sensitive commands are also available via the L2 button, so it's usually easy to get your team to follow you or move to a specific point, or even breach into a room. If there's any complaint to be made, it's that the teammate artificial intelligence is uneven. You'll often find that there's one stubborn mule that just won't get into the car when you order your men to "mount up." Getting that one soldier back under control can be a real pain. The enemy AI is also not all that bright about detecting your presence or reacting when they come under fire, nor are they very good shots. They'll eventually move to nearby cover or hit the deck, but SOCOM 3 tends to be pretty forgiving with the stealth aspects of the game, so long as you're crouched and using silenced weapons.