Originally created 09/18/02

Stealth leads to victory in 'SOCOM: U.S. Navy Seals' game

In war, you're either smart or you're dead.

That's one of the things that makes "SOCOM: U.S. Navy Seals" such a great gaming experience. Developed by Zipper Interactive and published by Sony for the PlayStation 2, it's the best combat game I've seen since "Halo" or "Medal of Honor: Frontline."

All three share the need for stealth. In SOCOM, sneaking up on your enemy and dispatching him silently - or avoiding him altogether - is usually the best way to proceed. You have to be smart - and sneaky - to beat this game.

SOCOM also serves as Sony's debut in the online market. If you have a broadband connection, you can assemble a team of human players and take on others around the country.

This generally eliminates one of SOCOM's few single-player failures - your AI opponents often are just too stupid to live. Find two enemies standing together and shoot one. The other usually will stand there long enough for you to shoot him, too.

Presumably, human opposition will be a bit less dense.

To aid in your endeavors, online and off, the game comes bundled with a headset which you can use to give voice commands to your squad. You can also give the commands using the controller and a drop-down menu, but it's a lot more fun to bark orders into the microphone.

Drives the dog crazy, too.

In single-player format, you lead your three team members through a dozen globe-trotting missions of increasing difficulty - rescuing hostages, retrieving stolen intelligence, wiping out terrorists.

While you can lose your entire squad and continue, if you are killed it's game over. If you're saving your progress, which you can do at the successful completion of each level, you return to the start of the current mission.

You have a wide variety of weapons to choose from, and you can arm each team member to enhance your ability to handle the task at hand.

I'd suggest always choosing silenced firearms. Opening up with a stolen AK-47 or other unmuffled weapon defeats the stealth aspect of the game and will quickly attract a crowd of the wrong kind of people. You also have the option of killing with a knife or your rifle butt if you can creep close enough to use them.

Keep your squad close. Team members will watch your back and let you know when they've dispatched a threat.

Graphics get a B+. You are often working in the dark, or with a haze shrouding the combat zone, and colors are muted and subtle. The eerie scenes provide a great feeling of impending doom. The combatants are nicely drawn, with appropriate camouflage and weapons, and appear almost human as they sneak through the underbrush.

Sound gets an A. Background noise is excellent, as is the voice acting, including conversations in other languages which are translated in subtitles. Weapons sounds are quite realistic.

Control gets a B+. While you quickly learn to control your SEAL, full use of the controller takes a while to grasp and is perhaps more complicated than it needs to be. Voice command is a great addition to the game; it saves you time and really adds to the sense of reality.

"SOCOM: U.S. Navy Seals" gets a B+ for its extremely realistic look at covert combat. It's an excellent game for the solitary player or the growing number of online gamers. It's so realistic that it's rated M, for ages 17 and up.

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