The SOCOM series is one of the PS2's most popular, so it's no surprise that Zipper Interactive is taking us on another tour of duty. What is surprising is how much more has been added -- considering predecessors were pretty comprehensive, and the fact that it's still relying on the old console workhorse, the PlayStation 2.
Rappers aren't the only ones riding around in Hummers. The addition of vehicles to SOCOM 3 is a no-brainer, from 4x4s with turrets to speedy boats with even more turrets. Driving is easy, and best described as GTA-style. When playing single-player, you can instantly switch from driver to gunner and back again. Swimming is welcome, too; after all, that's a huge part of being a SEAL. It doesn't necessarily add more fun to the missions, but it does give them a dose of realism.
SOCOM has always divided its time between online and single-player. SOCOM 3's offline campaign is robust, taking you all around the world to right wrongs and triumph over evil. Level designs are set up well, and context-sensitive actions and user-friendly checkpoints and objective beacons. Voice recognition and AI haven't advanced as much as other aspects of the franchise, so you may be a little annoyed by them. Using L2 for quick commands works well, however, and may have you tossing your headset aside in single-player -- even if manual orders break up gameplay a little.
Nobody can deny that online is this series' bread and butter. Sure to draw cheers is the fact that you can now have twice the troops going at it in one battle (32, up from 16). Maps are much larger, time of day effects play, and new modes pop up -- though even the older ones are refreshed by the addition of vehicles. When you get a good team going and all cylinders are firing, few games are more satisfying. Conversely, if you get some cocky punks or unforgiving elitists, it can go downhill fast. Such is gaming online.
SOCOM 3 really takes the PS2 to its limits. We can't imagine a better team-based military game for the console, so hopefully Zipper is already hard at work on a PS3 version to give us both lots of players online and great graphics. If you're an experienced SEAL, this is an automatic purchase. If you're a green recruit, however, you may think about picking up an older, Greatest Hits version to get up to speed. That's why they're under $20.