When Sony released its network adapter last summer, it did so with a handful of online games to back it up. While most of the early lineup consisted of sports games and sequels, Zipper Interactive's third-person shooter, SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs, quickly rose to the top of the pile. Now, a little over a year later, Sony and Zipper have reteamed for a sequel that makes good additions and fixes problems along the way.
While the game is really about taking shots from a distance, the addition of shotguns lets you get up close and personal.
While SOCOM II's strength lies in its robust multiplayer component, the single-player campaign mode is definitely cool on its own. You, as the leader of a four-man team, take on dangerous missions in locales such as Albania, Russia, and Brazil. The game's 12 missions focus more on stealth than simple shooting, so you'll be doing a lot of sneaky shooting from a distance to accomplish your goals while keeping your team safe.
Commanding your team in SOCOM II works roughly the same as it did in the original game. You can select commands from a handy menu or simply issue voice commands through a PS2-compatible headset, which is sold separately. The voice recognition works very well, but you have to give specific commands to get the team to act. While your team will respond to "Fireteam, fire at will" by saying something like "Going loud," your teammates won't respond to "Fireteam, go loud" or other phrases with the same meaning. This means that you'll have to take a little time to become familiar with the language of the game, but that comes quickly.
Teamwork is important in the game's mission mode, and this time around, the rest of your team is a little chattier. They let you know when they don't understand a voice order, and they keep you better informed about their actions. For example, if your team is under orders to hold its fire, but a threat gets so close that contact can't be avoided, one of your team members will take the shot and then inform you that he had to break your orders to stay safe. This makes your teammates feel a little less like drones who are there to do your bidding and more like, well, teammates.
SOCOM II has an even wider array of weapons to choose from. In single-player, you'll start out with the SEAL weapon set, but completing the game will give you access to SAS, Spetsnaz, and other sets of weapons. Shotguns have been added to the game, though since the single-player game is focused more on shooting people from a distance, the shotgun is a little more useful as a multiplayer weapon. Along with all the assault rifles, pistols, submachine guns, and sniper rifles in the game, you can also equip a rocket or grenade launcher in multiplayer games. Ammo for these explosive weapons is pretty limited, and to fire a rocket you have to be standing completely still, so the weapons don't become grossly overpowered. In multiplayer matches you can configure your game to allow only certain classes of weapons, making "pistols only" matches a reality.
With its 12 missions and multiple difficulty settings, the single-player game will keep you busy for a while, but the multiplayer is where the action is at. The team-based online game supports up to 16 players. The game is broadband-only, and is pretty lag-free even over a standard cable or DSL broadband connection. The game features 12 new maps for online play, and the 10 multiplayer maps from the original SOCOM are also present, though a few of them have seen a few minor changes, such as slightly different obstacle placement and the insertion of stationary gun turrets, and some daytime missions now take place at night. The maps are nicely detailed, and the new maps are, for the most part, larger than the maps from the first game.
The three multiplayer mission types from the first game return, and they're joined by two new modes. The old modes are suppression, which is a standard team deathmatch sort of scenario; demolition, which places a bomb in the center of the level and charges each team with the task of using that bomb to destroy the opposing team's base; and extraction, where the SEAL team must find a group of hostages and lead them to safety while the terrorists attempt to keep the hostages under control. The two new modes, breach and escort, fit into the mix just fine, even though they really aren't terribly different from the existing options. Breach is a variation of demolition that puts one team, armed with explosives, on the offensive, while the other team must defend its base. Escort functions similarly to extraction, except that the SEALs start out with control of the civilians instead of having to go get them before moving them to a safe extraction point.