Some people might say that, compared to the first game, SOCOMII is just more of the same. And they'd be right. Almost everything about this squad-based shooter looks and sounds and feels and plays like the original. But I'd like to remind those people of one thing: So what? Online or off, SOCOM is still, by far, the best game of its kind on any console. More of it, plus a few improvements, is worth my $50. Three things make SOCOM II great--first is teamwork. Even when you play alone, you're never alone; your three A.I. teammates always got your back. Order them to open doors, scout ahead, sneak to a position, toss grenades...work-ing as part of a coordinated team of bad-asses offers bigger thrills than pulling the trigger yourself. And, unlike other games, you will use your team in SOCOM II because they always respond how they should. Well, almost always (they are definitely improved over the first game). Plus, they're crack shots and make for great (sorry guys!) bullet sponges. SOCOM II's second big strength is its awesome level design. You'll experience just about every cool special-forces-movie fantasy--question informants, rescue hostages, infiltrate jungle coke labs, fight pitched battles in the downtown streets of the Middle East, etc. Every mission is full of nooks, crannies, and (greatly improved) plants and shrubbery, all of which add to the overall realism and stealth gameplay. It's a blast tracking terrorists through the tall grass by watching for swaying stalks, or appearing out of a dense jungle to slit their throats. Which brings us to the final, and best, reason to play SOCOM II: its incredibly addictive online multiplayer game. The new, bigger maps do a fantastic job of combining in- and outdoor environments and the game's overall focus on teamwork. Tons of crisscrossing paths, hiding spots, and ambush points add layers of strategy to the action. Toss in two great new play modes and a host of tweaks that read like a fan's wish list (see sidebar on the next page) and you end up with a sequel that, while not very different than the first ground-breaking game, demands to be played just as urgently.
Mark is the most grizzled SOCOMvet in our platoon, so of course he's going to suffer a few combat-stress-induced flashbacks during this follow-up tour of duty. But even greener soldiers can tell that SOCOM II has much in common with its prequel. Although enemies are brainier this time--as are your lethally cunning SEAL squad mates--they still make the occasional braindead move. Single-player missions again feel a little canned, forcing you to memorize enemy trou-blespots. And spastic players will still accidentally trip the reload button in the heat of a firefight. (If only the game let players disable those touchy analog-stick buttons for good.) But SOCOM II makes up for these little snafus with stellar tweaks, from the more elaborate single-player missions to the spiffier visuals and presentation. And, once again, the online game is killer. The new modes and maps--with their fields of foliage, lead-spraying turrets, and strategic choke points--are a blast. Newbies will embrace the new deathmatch respawning option, which is a great way to practice and try out different weapons for the more serious one-hit-and-you're-out games. My only concern: The terrorist-only anti-personnel mines and auto-shotgun might tip online battles in the bad guys' favor, so be careful out there, SEAL players.
Personally, I think Mark's been playing a little too much of that newfangled Xbox thing. More of the same? The graphics are a huge step up from the last game in terms of detail and variety. The mission in the run-down factory is a spectacular example of this: The moody lighting and dense foliage make SOCOM II feel like a completely different game. Foliage also plays a much bigger role in the online maps. The wide-open rolling fields of Foxhunt make it possible to hunker down in the grass and be virtually invisible; enemies will literally walk right next to you--nearly step on you, in fact--and never see you. I was a little disappointed that enemies in single-player mode still have their knuckleheaded moments, but they are more improved in terms of predictability. Not that that's going to make much difference to most of you, who are going to hop online the minute you tear open the package. You won't be disappointed; the new maps rock like nobody's business, and deeper setup options (sniper rifles only, no explosives, that sort of thing) add even more variety. You may find it harder to take someone down if you have a tendency to just spray bullets all over a room and hope something drops--but that just means you'll have to work on your aim, doesn't it, sailor?
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It's hard to improve on perfection, but Sony has managed to pump more fun and realism into an already over the top game with SOCOM II. Like last year's mega hit, SOCOM II puts you in control of a SEALs team as they slip through enemy lines, take out the trash in places like Algeria, Albania and Russia. The game is played from a third or first person perspective - though as one hard-core gamer told me, first-person is a great way to get killed in the SOCOM world.
In the solo missions most of the tweaks are minor, but some how still manage to add up to an overall step up for the game. The game features all new SEAL and enemy models, better artificial intelligence, new animations and a really cool effect that mimics the eye called 'virtual eyes.' Basically virtual eyes affect the brightness of your game screen. If you walk into a dark room from outside you're not going to be able to see squat for a bit, but then your eyes and the screen adjusts and you can see better. The same holds true with running from the inside to the blinding brightness of a sunny mid-afternoon.
There are a dozen brand new solo missions in this game, more than enough to get your ready for what SOCOM II is really about ' online play. Just about everything has been improved in SOCOM II's online game. The lobby has a new sleeker look to it, now offering both friends and ignore lists. There are two new mission types in II so now you can play the traditional Demolition, Extraction and Suppression or pick between Breach and Escort. Breach places the terrorists in a compound and requires the SEALs to break-in with demolitions and destroy key targets. Escort is an awful lot like Extraction, but in this game type the SEALs already have the hostages and just have to worry about getting them out alive.
Ten of the original multiplayer maps, with very, very minor tweaks, show up in the sequel as well as a dozen new maps. Masters of the original game seem to get quickly bored of the originals and focus most of their gameplay in the new maps. Up to 16 players, eight per a side, can duke it out in the multiplayer realm and the game also supports spectator mode.
Of course the most important thing in SOCOM II are the weapons and there a ton of new ones to choose from. All told this game has a whopping 50 weapons including 15 new models. Some of the new weapons include the AT-4, SAS, Spetznaz assault and sniper rifles and, my favorite, anti-personnel mines.
Game play is, as always, a total blast. It takes a little while to get adjusted to the ultra-realistic play and look of this game if you're transitioning from some of the more popular first-person shooters (like Half-Life, Ghost Recon or Soldier of Fortune II) but it's well worth the effort. The play is fast, energetic and at times down right frightening, try not screaming like a little girl when you turn a corner in a dark room and someone laying on the floor opens up on you with a SAS sub-machine gun.
It's really no surprise that SOCOM II is a great game but what is surprising is that it has managed to surpass its predecessor ' including new features we never realized we were missing and fixing problems that most of us never seemed to notice. If you're looking for something to suck the greater part of your life away this is the game for you.