The artificial intelligence of the enemies is just as intermittently frustrating. Because you'll spend a lot of time picking off enemies from afar, their behavior is often a nonissue--they'll just stand in one place and wait for you to shoot them in the head. But sometimes, you'll have no choice but to engage enemies up close, which is when the weak artificial intelligence becomes apparent. You'll frequently see enemies run right up to you as if they're begging to get shot. Even worse, you might see an enemy running in place up against a wall or standing there looking oblivious as his buddies get picked off less than 10 feet away. At other times, enemies will be a bit too smart. Somehow they'll know exactly where you are regardless of how stealthy you've been up to that point, which means they'll start shooting the instant you peek out from behind cover. The enemies do put up a good fight once in awhile, but that's more a matter of positioning and numbers than actual intelligent behavior.
Of course, the artificial intelligence becomes less of an issue when you play the game online or via a local network with friends. You can play cooperatively through the entire story campaign with up to three other players, or you can jump into a specific level for some instant action. You also have the option to take some of the missions from the game and remix them by setting different starting points and assigning a number of generic objectives, such as "diffuse the bomb" or "capture the hostage." The online co-op play works well, and it's a fun way to play through the game. The only problem is that none of the story missions are designed to promote teamwork. It isn't difficult to get through an entire level with a team of inept computer-controlled characters. So when you have four live players going through that same level, there's not much required in the way of cooperation or tactical planning. That said, it's still more fun to play with real people. If you have a decent team with you, it can help alleviate some of the frustrations that you'll run into when playing single-player.
If co-op isn't for you, the classic SOCOM multiplayer is included in Combined Assault. You'll get access to all of the maps and modes of SOCOM 3. In fact, the classic online modes in Combined Assault are compatible with SOCOM 3. This means that there are already plenty of people playing, so you're guaranteed to find plenty of matches online. But if you're new to the series, you'll likely end up playing against a lot of very experienced players right off the bat, which could be a bad thing. It also means that if you already own SOCOM 3 and aren't interested in single-player or co-op modes, there's no reason for you to buy Combined Assault. The classic modes support up to 32 players online, with seven different game types and 22 maps. You can also create clans, set up friends lists, check out leaderboards, and so on. There's a ton of content here, even beyond the classic online game. So regardless of your experience with the previous game, you can easily spend a very long time with Combined Assault.
As if the lengthy campaign and feature-packed online play weren't enough, Combined Assault also makes use of the cross talk feature. By completing objectives in both Combined Assault and SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo 2 on the PSP, you can synch your game data to affect the missions in each game. For example, in an early mission in Combined Assault, you have to approach a downed chopper and blow it up. The chopper, however, is being guarded by enemies that you have to take out. In the PSP game, there's a mission that takes place in the same location. One of the bonus objectives is to reach a ridge above the downed chopper and snipe the enemies guarding it. If you complete the objective, you can then synch up your game data. Once your data is synched, you can play the same mission in Combined Assault. In the same mission, you'll get a message saying that the enemies guarding the chopper have been cleared, making it easier for you to proceed. It's a novel idea and really doesn't have a significant impact on either game, but it's still an interesting bonus for people who own both games.
The presentation in Combined Assault is largely the same as it was in SOCOM 3. There's less variety to the levels because Combined Assault takes place entirely in one country. That said, the levels are still large and well designed. Also, the draw distance is sufficient to make sniping possible from great distances. The character models all look good, but they animate stiffly and often clip through parts of the environment. Too often you'll see arms and guns magically appearing through walls or characters twitching oddly as they move around. Interestingly, the level of violence has been scaled back for Combined Assault. There's no blood this time around. Even though you can still get instant kills with headshots, the enemy reactions aren't much different whether you shoot them in the feet or the face. The blood spray isn't quite an integral part of the SOCOM experience, but it might come as an odd omission if you've played the previous games. Technically, Combined Assault performs well. The frame rate rarely ever dips at all, even during the most intense firefights. When it does slow down, it's always brief and not pronounced enough to significantly impact the game.
You can command your teammates with a touch of the button. Whether or not they actually listen is another story.
The sound in Combined Assault is good, with a wide array of weapon sound effects to make those firefights especially loud and satisfying. There's also a lot of voice over in the game. Although it's not of a particularly high caliber, it works well in the context of the game. The music is all dramatic, orchestrated stuff that picks up to celebrate your triumph when you complete an objective. It's exaggerated and a bit too much like something out of a U.S. Navy commercial, but it fits the game just fine.
SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs Combined Assault introduces a solid new campaign and a couple of gameplay tweaks to the SOCOM formula. As the fourth game in the series, however, it doesn't have a tremendous impact. Even though it definitely has a "been there, done that" feel to it, Combined Assault is still a great game and offers a ton of content for the price. Even if you already own SOCOM 3, the single-player and co-op gameplay make this game worth a purchase. If you don't own SOCOM 3, then you simply won't find a better value in any online shooter on the PlayStation 2.