The U.S. Navy SEALs are at it again.
Last year, Sony and Zipper Interactive combined a powerful squad-based combat game with a nifty headset and unleashed "Socom: U.S. Navy SEALS" on PlayStation II owners.
It was a huge success, despite some flaws.
Most of those flaws have been fixed, and "Socom II: U.S. Navy SEALS" is now available for action fans everywhere, with a dozen complex and trying missions, featuring multiple objectives.
The game is designed for online play for up to 16 players, but the single-player game is excellent, whether you use the headset or the drop-down menu from the controller to issue commands.
This time, the four-man squad, armed to the teeth, has been sent off to handle a series of highly dangerous missions beginning in Albania and moving on to other chores around the globe.
You play as the leader of the team, with Jester as your backup in Able element. Bravo element is Wardog and Vandal. Each man has specific skills and areas of expertise which you can call on as necessary.
It is vital that you become familiar with how to use the team, since you really can't do everything on your own. While you do give the orders, your team members are smart enough to violate them if they have to, shooting enemies despite a hold-your-fire command if they're about to be discovered.
In some squad-based games, if your character dies, you can continue to play as one of the other members of your team. That's not the case here, so if you're going into a danger zone, send one of your teammates ahead to scout the area and dispatch any enemies.
Stealth is the key to your success. You spend a lot of time crawling through bushes, sneaking along river banks and creeping through buildings and streets, trying either to avoid enemies or take them out silently.
There's even a command that lets you pick up fallen enemies and hide the bodies.
Be patient. Stealth can be wearing as you creep along on your belly for minutes at a time to avoid alerting enemies to your presence, but it's often the difference between success and failure.
Also trying are the night vision goggles, which let you see in pitch darkness but provide a fuzzy green picture and eliminate the radar warning screen which normally appears in the upper right hand corner of the screen.
Sony's online play is a broadband-based system, and the game offers a variety of online-only play modes, including Breach, Demolition, Suppression and Escort.
Graphics get an A. The soldiers are nicely detailed and animated, and the environments are just as good, with excellent textures and perfect use of color. Dim the lights and you almost feel as if you're in a combat zone.
Control also gets an A. Once you're familiar with how things work, the scheme makes perfect sense. It gives you complete control over your character and, with the microphone or drop-down menu, your entire squad.
Sound is another A. Weapons effects are excellent, from huge explosions to the "pfut!" of silenced pistols. The score swells to annoying levels at times, but even that seems to fit. The voice work is decent; pay attention to the captions when your enemies show up, because they speak in their native tongues.
"Socom II: U.S. Navy SEALS" gets an enthusiastic A. The developers have taken an already excellent game and tweaked it close to perfection. If action is your bag, you will love it.
"Socom II: U.S. Navy SEALS" is rated M, for ages 17 and up.
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