The SOCOM series took an incredible leap forward with the release of SOCOM 3. Fans were treated to improved graphics, massive 32 player online matches, the addition of vehicles, and the introduction of crosstalk - a feature which allowed players to sync data between their PS2 copy of SOCOM 3 and SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo on the PSP.
Unfortunately, even die-hard fans may be disappointed with Zipper Interactive's underwhelming new entry in the SOCOM library, SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Combined Assault. Everything you loved about SOCOM 3 is here, again. But besides the new single-player campaign, a few extra multiplayer maps and PSP-enabled crosstalk, you'll likely be left wanting more.
You'll fan the flames of freedom as you tackle mercenaries and drug runners in the new single-player campaign, and there are lots of missions to sink your teeth into as you lead your stealthy squad to victory. But if you've played through SOCOM II and SOCOM 3, you'll get the feeling that you've done all this before and your attention will be drawn away from the new content towards the things you dislike about the series.
Your squad's AI is still a mixed bag. When it works right, they'll move as directed, open doors, clear rooms, and take out the enemy efficiently on command. But when it doesn't, everything falls apart. In one area we found ourselves taking fire on the rooftops of a rural village.
We quickly hopped down onto a ledge below to take cover and began returning fire when all of a sudden we heard a heavy thud, followed by a nasty grunt and someone yelling "Man down! Man down!" Apparently, our teammate Simple decided to leap off the top of the building in an attempt to follow us. Simple is as Simple does, we suppose.
Each level provides the illusion of an expansive area in which you'll have the freedom to tackle your various objectives in whatever way you see fit. But you'll see through this guise as they are peppered with cliffs, hills too steep to cross and doors that won't open. These obstacles make each mission play out in a linear manner as you complete each of the objectives in the intended order. Straying from the path will result in lots of backtracking or sudden death by enemy fire - both negative options, in our opinion.
The crosstalk feature is probably the biggest deal in this sequel. You'll be able to sync your data from Combined Assault with the new Fireteam Bravo 2 the PSP allowing you to unlock extra characters, weapons sets, movies, and most importantly, extra mission events. For example, if you complete a crosstalk mission objective in Combined Assault by taking out squad of mercenaries, those troops will not pose a threat to your team when playing through that area in Fireteam Bravo 2.
This feature offers more depth, but is it worth shelling out another 40 bucks for Fireteam Bravo 2 to get more mission objectives and dialogues? We don't think so. Since many of the missions in Fireteam Bravo 2 take place in the same areas as the ones in Combined Assault, playing through both single player campaigns to complete all the crosstalk objectives gets old fast, and becomes more of an obsessive chore than a fun pastime.
But let's put our criticisms of the single player campaign and crosstalk feature aside for now. After all, SOCOM still stands tall as the top dog of online shooters for PS2 and everything you loved about SOCOM 3's intense multiplayer action is present in Combined Assault's multiplayer modes.
Don't get us wrong. We loved SOCOM 3. But in the end, Combined Assault feels more like an average expansion pack. The new multiplayer maps are welcome and well designed but there are only 10 of them, making it feel like you're playing SOCOM 3 1/2 instead of the legitimate sequel you paid for. Combined Assault does introduce a 4 player co-op mode into the mix, but why would you opt for that when 32 player matches are going on all around you?
If you still login regularly for online fragathons, picking up Combined Assault is a no-brainer. But if your copy of SOCOM 3 has been collecting dust since the last map pack was released earlier this year, you won't be missing out on much if you pass on this underwhelming improvement to a really great game.