SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs impressions

We take a hands-on look at a recently-released demo of Sony's upcoming online military simulation.

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Sony recently released a playable demo of SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs that features a single-player mission that puts you in command of a SEAL team in Alaska. Although brief, the demo does contain several objectives for you to accomplish.

The mission starts you out in a snow-covered area near an enemy base. You can choose to go along the obvious path or head off in alternate direction. In either case, you'll find that the area you can traverse in this particular mission is a small valley with a few buildings. Sentries are positioned near and around the buildings you have to get your team into in order to accomplish your objectives. You'll have to recover laptop a laptop from one of the buildings, rescue a prisoner from another, and then destroy the entire complex. As in the Rainbow Six series, you can review all the available intelligence pertaining to the mission, such as detailed maps and armament information, before setting out. Taking the stealth approach--sniping enemies from afar or sneaking up on them to deliver silent blows with the butt of your rifle--is your best chance for success in this demo mission.

The SOCOM demo makes it clear that communication is incredibly important in the game. As the leader of a team, you have to give orders to your team members. You'll be able to use voice commands in the final game, but here, you're limited to using the game's communication menu, which allows you to quickly pick the team member and then the specific orders. Orders include everything from ordering a soldier to a specific waypoint to planting explosives. Even though you can issue orders, your fellow team members do react on their own. If they spot an enemy, they'll take him out, and if they are in a firefight, they'll take cover and return fire. The artificial intelligence of the terrorist forces you face in the demo isn't that impressive. The enemies run directly toward you when they spot your team from afar, they sometimes drop to a prone position when you're right on top of them, and they aren't terribly accurate with their fire. Of course, this demo is probably a bit easier than the actual game will be so it doesn't seem too hard for first-time players.

The controls in SOCOM are fairly straightforward. You use the analog sticks to move your soldier and aim his weapon. If you press up on the D pad, you'll zoom in, and if you're holding a rifle, the view will zoom in looking through the scope. If you don't have a long-range weapon, your zoomed-in view will be through binoculars. One interesting aspect not widely reported on yet is that you can actually play the game from a first-person view. At the lowest zoom setting, your view is a standard first-person shooter view. The controls seem a bit too sensitive at this point--placing long-range shots takes a bit of finesse since the analog aiming is incredibly sensitive to the touch. While very sensitive, the control is manageable and becomes easier with time. Once again, this may be different in the final game.

The presentation of SOCOM in the demo is promising. The front-end menu system is well laid out and looks sharp. The character models in the demo are fairly detailed--you can see their gear hanging off them, and their clothing and weapons look quite authentic. The animations of the soldiers running, crawling, and climbing all look pretty good.

While the demo is certainly promising, it is limited to one short mission. We'll have to wait until we get a preview build of the game that contains the game's online capabilities and other single-player missions before commenting further. Keep checking back for more information.

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