While PC gamers have been enjoying online multiplayer shooters like Counter-Strike for years, SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs will be the very first such online gaming experience for a great number of PlayStation 2 owners. Sony and SOCOM's developer, Zipper Interactive, obviously knew this would be the case, and in SOCOM, they have constructed an online game that is surprisingly deep but extremely easy to get into, making it an excellent game regardless of whether you've played other multiplayer shooters before.
SOCOM is an impressive multiplayer shooter, but its single-player mode is great, too.
Getting online with SOCOM once you've set up your network adapter is as simple as choosing "online" from the game's main menu and then entering a user name and password. The game's 10 online maps all support two to 16 players, and each map focuses on one of three different gameplay types: demolition, suppression, or extraction. Demolition calls for the destruction of the opposing team's base using explosives. Suppression is a team-based deathmatch that ends when one of the two teams is completely eliminated. Extraction calls for the rescue of key hostages by the SEALs team. One of the game's notable online features is the ability to create "clans" with other players and then manage them in their clan's community center, which allows clan members to post messages for one another. The game also keeps track of online players' records, so you can see how you and your friends stack up against everyone else. The online action works well over a DSL connection, with little to no lag even in a full 16-player game.
While the major draw of SOCOM is certainly the game's online play component, the game does include a fairly substantial single-player campaign that consists of 12 missions set in a variety of locations around the globe. Almost all the missions have three main objectives that you must complete in order to move on to the next. The main objectives include activities such as blowing up enemy weapon depots, assassinating specific targets, rescuing prisoners, and gathering intelligence by retrieving enemy maps and laptop computers. Each mission begins with a brief overview that gives you a rundown of the situation and your objectives.
The actual gameplay in SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs is an exciting mix of first- and third-person shooting that has a heavy emphasis on using stealth techniques. The game's default camera view is a third-person perspective, but by pressing up on the D pad, you can switch to a first-person view. If you have night-vision goggles or a sniper rifle, you can continue to press up on the D pad to get an enhanced first-person view using the goggles or a zoomed-in first-person view using the rifle's scope. The most effective way to play is to use different perspectives depending on your situation, since moving around in tight quarters is easier from a third-person perspective, while shooting enemies is less troublesome from a first-person perspective. While having to switch perspectives may seem needlessly complicated when you first start playing, it becomes almost second nature by the time you get to the game's third mission. The only thing that's missing is a third-person night-vision perspective. While it's most likely not in the game because it wouldn't have seemed realistic, the game would have definitely been less frustrating in certain parts if it had been included--especially since a good number of the levels have you sneaking around in tight quarters in the dark, making it difficult to see enemies hidden behind objects until you're right on top of them.
You can actually give verbal orders to your AI squad.
The rest of the controls in SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs take a bit of getting used to, since the game makes use of just about every single button on the controller and requires fairly precise analog stick control. You have the choice between two different control configurations: sure shot and precision shooter. The sure shot setup makes it so you generally only have to use the left analog stick to move and aim. The one exception is that the right analog stick moves your crosshairs up and down. The precision aim selection splits the two functions up and assigns control of your character to the left analog stick and control of your aim to the right, much like other recent console shooters. Your SEAL can jump, interact with objects, fire weapons, throw grenades, and climb ladders and objects. The precision shooter configuration is set up so you don't have to reposition your fingers in the middle of a firefight. You fire your weapon with the L1 button, aim and move with the analog sticks, reload with the R3 button, and switch to your secondary weapon with the L2 button. The one exception is if you get right next to an enemy and want to crack him in the head with your rifle butt or stab him with your knife--these satisfying moves are performed by pushing the X button. Beyond that, the game gives just you about every control option you could want to have, including the ability to go into a sneaking stance and the ability to slide down a ladder instead of climbing down it. In the single-player game, you also have to lead the other three members of your SEAL team by issuing orders using the onscreen interface or the headset that comes packed with the game.