E3 2001 Hands-onSOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs

SOCOM: U.S. Navy Seals brings 16-player tactical squad-based combat to the Playstation 2. We got a chance to play a few sessions--read our impressions.

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During the Sony Computer Entertainment America conference, Sony announced SOCOM: U.S. Navy Seals, one of the first PlayStation 2 games optimized for broadband network play. The game is being developed by Zipper Interactive, whose previous credits include the PC games Crimson Skies and MechWarrior III. At a glance, it appears that SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs borrows elements from popular squad-based shooters such as Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear and Half-Life: Counter-Strike, yet without directly copying either game. The single-player game will put you in the role of a SEAL commander entrusted with leading an elite team of operatives through 17 different missions that take place in four real-world locations, during different times of day and in different weather conditions. Your troops can wield more than 30 weapons, and need to act as a team in order to defeat their fanatical enemies.

The two different teams featured in the game differ in a number of significant ways. For example, terrorists are often found armed with AK-47s, while the SEALs are more often equipped with high-end sniper rifles. Opposing forces can often be difficult to discern visually, as it's often a SEAL tactic to disguise themselves with the traditional attire of the area they're operating in.

Despite its interesting premise, SOCOM was definitely one of the least visually impressive games premiered at the Sony event. The different levels shown were sparse, and the character models were bland. Weapon fire was depicted using straight white tracer lines that didn't seem real, and explosions were subdued and flat. Instead of spectacular effects, SOCOM apparently focuses on authenticity--extensive motion capture sessions with Naval Special Warfare members were used in the production of the game.

The game will use a control scheme similar to TimeSplitters, wherein the left analog stick controls movement, the right positions the targeting reticle, and zooming is controlled using the digital pad. It's quite apparent that the game still has a way's to go, as control seemed rather jerky, making the game unnecessarily difficult to control while sniping or maneuvering. Despite some of these problems, some of the game's finer points make it promising overall. Your agent can peek around corners and pop off shots at the enemy, can crawl silently, and even snipe from a prone position.

One of the more impressive aspects of SOCOM was its network game capabilities. Network games are set up on a server that can house up to 16 players. Interacting with your teammates takes place through on-screen text options or voice recognition technology, made possible by means of the upcoming headset microphone peripheral. During the demonstration, teammates were spurred into explosive action with the vocal command of "Bravo, deploy frag." Voice recognition is wildly popular among PC gamers through use of programs like Roger Wilco, and it's exciting to see this technology reaching the major consoles.

We'll have more on SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs as it progresses through development and information becomes available.

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