SOCOM II: U.S. Navy SEALs Updated Preview
We try out the promising sequel online.
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We recently wrote a detailed hands-on preview devoted to the single-player mode in SOCOM II: U.S. Navy SEALs, and we've now had a chance to spend some quality time with an online beta version of the game. The experience allowed us to get a feel for how the game handles against the players who are already testing the game's online capability. Here's what we found.
Logging into SOCOM II and connecting to multiplayer games is extremely easy. If you have saved your network settings onto a memory card, you simply select the online play option and create a user name and password, and this will get you to the game's main lobby.
The user agreement is the first thing you see when logging in, and it contains a substantial amount of text. The agreement, while consisting mostly of licensing and publishing legal jargon, does contain a noticeable portion about online conduct that very specifically addresses users who may want to use cheat codes or devices. It states that users who are reported as doing so or who make false reports could be prohibited from playing the game online. Included in the text of the agreement are the Web addresses for the portions of Sony's PlayStation Web site that further detail what constitutes as cheating and how to report it. From this text it appears that this strict policy, if enforced, will be one of the key ways that Sony will attempt to deter cheating by using peripherals such as Action Replay or GameShark in SOCOM II.
Once you agree to the user agreement you are given a multitude of choices. For instance, you can read messages left by the administrators, check out the player standings, and, of course, connect to a game. As in the first game, you have the ability to create and manage clans if you so wish, and the game gives you and your fellow clan members a place to keep track of your members and stats and to post messages. In SOCOM II you also have the ability to simply add players to a buddy list instead of making a full-time commitment to a clan. If you wish to simply join a game, you can select auto-play, which will put you in the most appropriate game automatically, or you can look for a specific game in the briefing room option. If you can't seem to find a game that is set up like you want, you can always create your own game with the settings you prefer. There are some new options that you are allowed to customize. For example, you can make it so players can use only a particular weapon, such as a pistol, a sniper rifle, or a submachine gun. You can also pick the map you want or even a playlist of maps. You'll notice that your online activity is tracked to a greater degree in SOCOM II, with stat categories that show the number of points, kills, deaths, headshots, primary objectives completed, VIP kills, and more that you've acquired.
Once you've selected or created a game and have actually entered it with other players, SOCOM II finally begins. The online game is similar to the single-player game in terms of gameplay except that the maps and goals are different, and you're playing with up to 15 other real people that can talk to you in real time using the USB headset. Only one player can talk at once, which keeps the confusion down. Also new is a little icon that appears above a character's head when that particular player speaks, so you know who is saying what instead of trying to match up character IDs and the names appearing below in the communication window. The control and gameplay are supersmooth when you connect to a game that has a green connection reading; games without it don't perform as well. Even in the beta version there are a lot of people playing and most have green connections, which makes it easy to find a group of players playing a level you want to play with a game type you want to try.
In addition to the hostage rescue, demolition, and suppression multiplayer game modes, SOCOM II features two new game types, escort and breach. The Foxhunt map is set up as an escort mission that tasks the SEAL team with protecting a group of VIPs as the SEALS move the VIPs to an extraction point. The terrorists have the job of trying to eliminate the VIPs before the SEALs evacuate them to safety. Sandstorm is another new map that is set up as a breach mission. It puts the SEALs on the offensive as they try and plant explosives at a designated location within the terrorists camp. These two new types, while tweaked versions of extraction and demolition modes, are done well and do in fact feel different from the other modes, which is due in large part to the 12 new multiplayer maps included in the game.
For the most part, the multiplayer levels feel a lot more dynamic and open ended than the original SOCOM maps did. Part of this is due to the new turret placements and destructible walls, which give players a more practical reason to get acquainted with the levels right away. The designs of the levels we've played so far are extremely well thought out and feature varied terrain with sniper nests, bottlenecks for ambushes, and multiple routes to key locations. Counter-Strike fans will notice that some maps, such as Vigilance, have a familiar circular design that lets you constantly move and find action. This is perfect with the map set to respawn players, since it's a suppression map that only requires that you try to frag as many opposing team members as possible. Some maps, such as Requiem, which puts both teams on an offensive demolition mission with only one bomb, are just plain wicked. The different tactics you see people try to use to solve that problem changes nearly every round; some teams try to drop claymores in key spots, others wait with snipers, and a few try to go at it head-on with guns blazing.
The number of weapons and items included in SOCOM II is staggering to say the least. You can pick from a number of different assault rifles, submachine guns, pistols, sniper rifles, and grenades, and all of the weapons you'd expect, like the M4A1, M14, M60, AKS-74, and the 12-gauge shotgun, are here. The one weapon that fans of the original game have understandably seemed most excited about is the rocket launcher/rocket-powered grenade. The big gun is awesome, although it's pretty much a one-shot deal, and you need time to set it up. Unlike with your other weapons, you can't move with the shoulder-fired rocket ready to go. Instead, it's treated like a secondary weapon that you must select when you are ready to fire. When you select it, your character drops to one knee and fires it off. It's fairly impressive as it streaks off and leaves a cloud of smoke behind. Your ability to aim this and all of the weapons in the game is just as responsive as in the first SOCOM, which, for those who missed it, had some of the best third-person and first-person controls for any type of PlayStation 2 game. The damage of the weapons is still tuned realistically harsh and doesn't allow for many mistakes or bullet wounds. The splash damage of the grenades, mines, and RPGs is extremely devastating.
Though we'll have to wait to see how the final game performs, it's fair to say that we are extremely impressed with the improvements made to SOCOM II: U.S. Navy SEALs' online capabilities and performance. If Sony's plan to stop undesirable cheating works, and the game performs as well as it currently is, fans of the original have a lot to look forward to this November.