SOCOM 3 Multiplayer Hands-On

We check out some of SOCOM 3's new multiplayer features as we get in on the game's multiplayer beta test.

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The PlayStation 2's signature modern combat shooter, SOCOM 3, is just weeks away from release. Some of the most exciting changes to the game are showcased primarily in the multiplayer environment. Instead of just 16 players, the game will now support up to 32 players on a server, along with vehicles. We had an opportunity to participate in SOCOM 3's ongoing, online multiplayer beta test to see how the online aspects of the game are faring.

When the game ships, there will be 12 multiplayer missions included in the game, all of which will have day and night versions, and each will support from three to seven different game types. For the beta test, only one map was available, called Harvester. But if the Harvester map is any indication of the quality of the rest of the maps, then PlayStation 2 owners should finally get a taste of what true vehicle/shooter action is really like.

In order to account for the increased number of players, Harvester is almost twice the size of an average SOCOM 2 multiplayer map. We're told that the other maps in SOCOM 3 will be around the same size, but many of them will also be designed to be subdivided for smaller matches. Harvester is set in the grassy hills of a rolling countryside, with lots of winding roads for vehicles to drive along. There isn't much in the way of trees, but there are plenty of tall grasses in which snipers can use to lie prone behind and stay hidden. Farmhouses, which can be entered and used for cover are also scattered about the map, along with some ruined stone buildings and even a windmill. There's also a small river that winds around the center of the map--heavily armed boats can ply the waters or you can choose to go swimming if you like. The new swimming feature in SOCOM 3 has its advantages and disadvantages. You obviously move a lot slower, and you're not allowed to fire from the water. However, you are allowed to submerge for a period of time, which renders you all but invisible, as the water is fairly opaque. You can't stay submerged forever, though; when you run out of breath you'll be forced to surface.

More than 30 weapons and 20 different attachments means hundreds of possible loadouts.
More than 30 weapons and 20 different attachments means hundreds of possible loadouts.

Vehicles won't necessarily dominate the map, as a number of narrow footpaths crisscross the various roadways. These serve as shortcuts, so if you know what you're doing you can still get from point A to point B quickly, and more importantly, without being seen by heavily armed vehicles. The footpaths can also lead to elevated areas that simply aren't reachable by any vehicle, so those who enjoy the more personal feel of on-foot combat don't need to worry about the vehicles dominating all the gameplay.

That said, the vehicles in the game are a definite highlight. We noticed that the SEALs have two kinds of vehicles on the Harvester map. One is a Humvee with a mounted machine gun on top, with room for four men inside. Another smaller vehicle includes door-mounted guns, which let the passengers shoot while riding (you normally can't fire your weapon as a passenger). But this makes them more vulnerable to fire without having the slight protection of the door. The terrorists on Harvester only get technicals, which are basically pickup trucks with a machine gun mounted in the bed. These vehicles can be destroyed by concentrated fire from other machine gun turrets or even machine guns like the M-60. Grenades and antitank rockets can also take out the vehicles in one shot.

Convoy and Control

It's worth noting that you're helpless against wheeled vehicles if you're not carrying a rocket or other big weapon. If you've got time to line up a shot, we found that you can fire into the windows and take out the driver and passengers. We also found that the turret gunners on these vehicles are particularly vulnerable to small arms fire, as they present a large profile and are not protected from any angle. However, a skilled driver and gunner combination can still wreak a lot of havoc on dismounted infantry.

Mounted machine guns like the one on this Humvee are deadly to infantry…
Mounted machine guns like the one on this Humvee are deadly to infantry…

The most interesting vehicle on Harvester is arguably the gunboat. This heavily armed monster sports miniguns on either side, as well as a grenade launcher on the bow of the boat. The miniguns sound particularly fearsome with their extremely high rate of fire. You'll definitely recognize their high-pitched timbre from far away, as there's no mistaking them for standard mounted machine guns.

SOCOM 3 will also include an improved weapon system. As always, terrorists and SEALs get unique sets of weapons, but now the guns are all modular. Primary rifles like the M4, AK-47, and M16 can take two different kinds of attachments. For the ultimate in accuracy, you can slap on a long scope and a rifle laser. Want to recover faster while lying prone? Put a bipod on. Need extra firepower? You can slap on an underslung grenade launcher or shotgun attachment on many rifles. There's still a nice selection of shotguns and submachine guns, which can also be modded, but we didn't find these too useful on the wide-open spaces of Harvester. The pistols, which include Berettas, H&Ks, and Desert Eagles, can be outfitted with one attachment, such as a silencer or laser sight. You can also carry rocket launchers, grenades, and mines as tertiary weapons, but these can't be modified.

You can't get too crazy with your weapon choices, however, as they will have advantages and disadvantages. The game takes encumbrance into account, so if you try to run around with a heavy M60 machine gun and a rocket launcher, you won't move very fast. Putting a silencer on a rifle will make you difficult to detect but will also reduce that rifle's effective range. But with more than 30 different weapons and 20 attachments, we can see people spending a lot of time trying out different combinations. You can save up to four different weapon profiles, making it quick to change up within a match as you respawn.

...but you're not entirely helpless.
...but you're not entirely helpless.

Two new multiplayer game types will be included in SOCOM 3: convoy and control. The convoy tasks one team with driving and protecting slow-moving trucks from one location to another on the map, while the other team tries to slow them down or take out the trucks. The control gameplay places five capture points on the map, and both sides will race to be the first team to pop smoke grenades at each of the capture points.

Though we've only gotten a small taste of what SOCOM 3's online multiplayer has to offer, we definitely like what we've seen so far. The larger map sizes and additional players seem to make for more fun and compelling gameplay, and we're eager to see if the other maps are also as well-designed as the one we played in the beta. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more information on SOCOM 3 as it becomes available. The game is currently slated to ship on October 11 for the PlayStation 2.

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