Changing the course.
With the console war heating up, the generals at GR assigned your humble correspondent the task of facing down a Playstation regular and one of the most militant games on the market: SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs: Combined Assault
. As I laced up my boots and grabbed my combat ration of baby carrots and dip, I wondered if the game and I would join forces to kill time, or wind up killing each other. Let the battle begin.
To start out, I faithfully went through each of the tutorial levels, learning to quickly change weapons, execute hand-to-hand combat moves, and order my troops around. Little of this had changed from previous versions of SOCOM, although I did encounter a new, context sensitive command button that made ordering my troops from place to place, in the heat of battle, much easier.
After finally conquering the ‘Explosives’ tutorial, I swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and selected ‘Start Mission’. I was treated to a pretty nice cut scene setting up the plot line of a terrorist movement scheming to overthrow the U.S.-friendly government of the fictional ‘Adjikistan’. The animation was nice, although the Adjikistanis seem to be plagued with the same shiny-faced plasticity as so many of their computer-generated brethren. When the animation ended, I found myself in a wintry valley surrounded by my fellow SEALs under my control. I was ready for action!
And I was ready for a bullet to the head, evidently, since I died within thirty seconds. That’s right, this game has as steep a learning curve as ever, and I found myself trapped in a command submenu I didn’t mean to open while swarthy Adjikistanis pumped my immobile form full of little lead care packages. Combined Assault 1, me 0.
Once I got my bearings, I was surprised to discover a large, relatively open and well designed single player campaign. The levels are expansive, but also somewhat intuitive, and I was always able to pick from several missions, rather than follow a strict, linear progression. This is good, because if you get stuck on one mission, you can play a different one instead of getting up and doing something productive. God forbid.
The downside of the single player campaign is the terrible A.I. on both sides of the battle. Adjikistanis aren’t impervious to bullets, but think they are, as exhibited in the way they just stand around while you shoot them and their friends to death. Your comrades aren’t much smarter, and have trouble simply navigating corners, much less saving freedom from the forces of evil. In spite of the new handy context sensitive command button, you’ll wind up doing all the dirty work yourself. Score one for the reviewer guy.
You can also play the campaign missions online cooperatively, taking care of any squad A.I. issues. But even this solution leads to another problem in that the missions are geared for a single human player, and three artificial stooges. If you and three other humans tackle a mission, one or two guys will get all the kills, and everyone else will get very, very bored. A better option would be two player cooperative split screen, so you and a friend could play through the game over some beers, but the only cooperative games are online.
Of course, the series’ big gun has always been its impressive online content, which is just as gnarly this year as it was last. That’s because it is
last year’s online content, literally. The modes are the same, the maps are the same, you even play against SOCOM 3
owners, it is literally identical
. Go head, read it again, you did not hallucinate. There is no new online versus content in Combined Assault
The graphics aren't very new, either. The landscapes are subtle and realistic, and people wearing camouflage actually do blend into the background the way they should. There are some nice effects, like the plumes of cascading dirt that settle a second or two after your grenade goes off. Shooting at people is a little less realistic. There’s no such thing as blood in the world of SOCOM
, and the bodies of your slain enemies vanish into nothingness like deleted programs in Tron
. Well, at least they leave their precious weapons behind.
From the get-go, this game makes it abundantly clear that you are there to fight for freedom, be all that you can be, and generally blow things up. The stirring, militaristic, drum-intensive music sounds like a cross between The Lord of the Rings and The National Anthem. The opening sequence features a series of images of Navy SEALs doing cool stuff. This game, it all seems to say, is not for pussies.
It isn’t for people who own SOCOM 3, either, because they already own all the best SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs: Combined Assault has to offer. It is for everyone else, though, being the best comprehensive shooter package available for the PS2, thanks to the beefed up missions (and in spite of the moronic A.I.). For the price, you can’t beat SOCOM 3, but for content, Combined Assault is a savage sailor.