Tactical shooters are becoming one of the most popular genres on video game consoles today. Until a few broke the mould, this style of game was somewhat restricted to PC fans but recently there has been a flood with titles such as Rainbow Six 3, Ghost Recon: Jungle Storm and now SOCOM II: US Navy Seals for the console market. SOCOM II: US Navy Seals is the sequel to one of the more popular tactical shooters of recent years and features a new single player campaign and also contains the online play which has made the first game so cherished.
SOCOM II: US Navy Seal's single player campaign is divided into four mini campaigns each offering different environmental situations for the player to deal with. In the first campaign, Albania you are tasked with scouting and then taking down an organized drug ring, in the second campaign set in Brazil, a rebel female group has taken control of the people and must be stopped so as you can see the game does offer variety and different tasks to complete. The missions in each campaign become progressively harder. At first you may only have to meet up with an informant and destroy ammo crates whilst towards the end of the campaign, the head honchos may be under attack from your squad. For those new to the franchise, the game does contain a non-interactive tutorial system.
SOCOM II: US Navy Seals can be played in either third or first person mode. We found the first person mode more useful due to the fact it's easier to line up targets, and spot them from some distance. There are two ways to play the game and this affects both the difficulty and mechanics of the gameplay. You can run in all guns blazing showing your squad, and taking the enemies down quickly. This can be effective, but enemies can also alert each other to your presence making some tasks more difficult. The other way to play the game, and this is the way which is encouraged, is to move slowly with stealth and try not to be detected. With this strategy the missions become easier to complete.
SOCOM II: US Navy Seals takes itself quite seriously and offers the same level of expertise as the Tom Clancy games such as Ghost Recon. Controlling your squad can be done via two ways. Either use the PS2 headset (one of the retail boxes ships with the headset) or with the controller via an elongated menu system. The AI of your troops is impressive and rather then stand there and be shot when an enemy approaches, they will take them down. This can be quite useful, as the AI usually spots an enemy unit before a human player. They also don't seem to have any path issues as well, so you can leave a team far behind a lead team, and expect them to be able to easily find the leading team when they want to regroup.
Sometimes they can frustrate you immensely. In one particular mission we had to capture an enemy leader. After giving the AI orders, instead of capturing her they shot her. However in the game's defence, this did occur under the orders of fire at will, so you do have to keep an eye on what your AI squad members are doing at all times. Despite the fact the AI squad members are very capable of looking after themselves, we didn't find them as useful as those in Rainbow Six 3 and most of the time you will find yourself leading the pack and encountering the danger rather then calling the shots. This isn't an overly bad feature, but the fact that saves do not exist mid-mission can mean this again can lead to frustration.
One thing we found detrimental to the game is the lack of save points. If your team becomes incapacitated during a mission, you must restart from the beginning, there is no mid-level save points. This obviously forces the player to be a bit more careful, but as a side effect, causes much frustration especially if you're nearing the end of the mission. SOCOM II : US Navy Seals isn't the toughest game around, but more often then not you will find yourself not completing a mission on your first try due to the lack of save points. Like Rainbow Six 3, if the character you're playing becomes incapacitated, the mission ends and you will not take control of another unit in the squad.
Before each mission the game will give you a default load out of weapons, but this can be edited. You can also change the load out of your squad members which does give you the ability to and specialise each character. With the focus on realism the weapons are real world including Assault Rifles, shotguns, sub machine guns etc plus items such as flashbangs, grenades. In an interesting twist you can actually pick up weapons the enemies drop but you can only carry one primary weapon at a time so you lose you're selected weapon if you choose to do this. Weapons are unlocked by completing tasks such as finishing the game at various difficulty levels.
Single player only makes up for half of the game and the real reason to buy SOCOM II: US Navy Seals is the online play. The online play offers modes which take a leaf from Counter-Strike's book with counter-terrorists and terrorists either trying to defuse or plant a bomb or rescue VIP units. The online section of the game also offers a significant amount of community features. You can setup clans with tags, and have those tags next to your name during online play. To do this the clan leader sets up the clan on the server, and then invites players to join via a password system. Multiplayer is also available over LAN via the Network Adaptor but no split screen or same console play is available.
The graphics of SOCOM II: US Navy Seals is a mixed bag. While the game does feature a moderately good draw distance and a lack of pop up in comparison to some other games on the system it doesn't hold up. That's not to say the graphics are bad, because they aren't, but some people may be expecting more. One area which is impressive is the character animation. Characters move between animations in a fluid fashion and one nice touch is the damage model. When a character is hit they will start to show bullet wounds and blood indicating the level of damage. One nice touch with the graphics is the way the intel is presented. Photos, documents etc are displayed which give quite a bit of background information on the upcoming mission.
The environmental sound effects of the game add to the atmosphere of the game such as music in urban areas. The actual sound effects of the weapons and communications between soldiers is effective and the voice acting is impressive for one main reason. That is the fact that rather then have every person in the game speak English, you will find some characters speaking in other languages with the game providing subtitles, adding another layer to the atmosphere evoked by the game.
SOCOM II: US Navy Seals is a good game which does rely somewhat on its online component as its main selling point, especially when compared to something like Rainbow Six 3. If you have PS2 online then this is a game you should definitely be considering but for those who are looking for a single player experience, while it does offer a solid game there are better titles already on the market.