SOCOM 3: U.S. Navy Seals Review

I think just about every guy in America goes through a phase while growing up where they want to be one of the good guy soldiers who can go anywhere and smite any evil they may find. It’s during this formative period where we collectively prove more interested in guns, heavy artillery, and explosions than we do about algebra and coherent grammar. Who out there grew up without at some point wanting to be a Navy SEAL? I mean prior to finding out just how brutal the training is, specifically during Hell Week? Anyone?

SOCOM 3: US Navy SEALs is a solid tactical shooter that takes gamers across the globe to different hot spots, and drops them off with orders to take out the local bad guys. This is exactly what military buffs enjoy doing: Playing as the good guys with a heaping helping of heavy artillery, hunting down terrorists, and doing it all from the comfort of their living room. If only the game had looked a lot better than it does, it might have earned a higher ranking in my book.

SOCOM 3: US Navy SEALs is a surprisingly drab game. I don’t doubt that the areas where SEALs are called to in the world are sparkling tourist resorts, but the PS2 is capable of a lot better than this. Environments are plainly laid out, the backgrounds appear to be basic bitmaps that scale depending on how close you are, and everything from the trees to the power lines looks like it was just set down by a designer. I guess the overall impression I had on the visuals was the lack of any organic feel to the environments the SEALs were in.

I cannot comment on the graphical accomplishments of the other games in the series, but SOCOM 3: US Navy SEALs failed to impress in this area. Rotating the camera around a vehicle traveling through the desert revealed tracks that appeared to be laid down on the sand as if the buggy had black paint on its tires and was leaving a trail behind. The Navy SEALs themselves appear to be the only character models with more than three moves because all of the non-player characters were stiff and lifeless even while attacking, defending and patrolling. I also bore witness to a few hiccups in the engine where NPC’s would get stuck on different environmental elements and just run in place, or enemies exiting vehicles would not so much exit as just appear inside the truck one minute and suddenly appear outside of it the next.

It wouldn’t be so bad if this were a limited instance, but this happens routinely throughout the game. It’s to SOCOM 3‘s credit that this does not detract from the fun of the game play as much as it might on a lesser title, but the problems are obvious enough to warrant a hit to the score.

I enjoyed the overall sound effects in SOCOM 3: US Navy SEALs. The various vehicles all have a different feel to them, which is hugely immersive. The different guns and explosives sound like they do in the real world, so any one expecting a cannon going off whenever they pull the trigger, a la Serious Sam, will be sorely disappointed. But this game strives for realism and achieves it for the most part in the audio department.

The voice acting, though, was another matter altogether. Someone needs to explain to me how some one can be from Chicago yet they sound like they’re doing a very bad Southern accent? The main character supposedly hails from the Windy City, yet whenever he spoke it was though he was aping a generic Southern accent, and doing a poor job of it to boot. Here’s a slight tip to the rest of the gaming world: We Southerners do not all sound like we just got off the farm yesterday, so stop trying.

As for the other characters, they do passable jobs but there is never a sense of true emotion. Regardless of how dire a situation may be, the woman directing operations always sounds like she’s just reading off a script instead of having a vested interest in the safety of the soldiers and accomplishment of their mission.

There are four total control schemes available for prospective SEALs, but only two of them are serviceable. The other two are just odd. The default scheme is Precision Shooter which arranges the controls for the twitch gamer in all of us, yet has the jump command mapped to the square button. This isn’t the first game I’ve seen do this, and it feels weird every time a developer does it. The rest of the mappings here include the X button for confirming selections and special actions, the triangle button for canceling selections, dropping inventory items, and changing the player’s stance. L1 swaps between weapons and R1 is the fire button. R2 cycles through the inventory and L2 goes through the various team commands. The R1 and L1 buttons also come into play while driving vehicles. Then the R1 button is accelerate and the L1 button is reverse.

The only difference between the Precision Shooter scheme and the next one, called Scout, is whether the left thumbstick strafes and the right one rotates the player’s view or vice versa. That’s it.

The next two control schemes are called Commando and Frogman and the differences between these two are negligible except for the jump command. With the Commando settings, jump is mapped so that the player must push down on the left thumbstick, whereas Frogman maps jump back to the square button. There are a few other differences between these two control settings and the other two, but all of them are so close in nature that it practically comes down to nitpicking. All of the settings, except for Commando’s left thumbstick jump button, work just as well as the next one. None of them are perfect, but they get the job done during the heat of combat.

The way the player coordinates their squad mates is through the command menu, and once this is activated you select which team you wish to direct and then select which orders to give out. Your squad mates will then respond accordingly. It’s a little better than the way Brothers in Arms handled the idea since SOCOM 3: US Navy SEALs actually pauses and lets you issue out the orders instead of doing it under real-time enemy fire, but the counter-point is that it’s very easy to get stuck crouching while your squad is rushed by enemies. As such, switching from a stealth approach to a run-and-gun approach on the fly is frequently necessary, and sometimes it can be tricky to do.

SOCOM 3: US Navy SEALs is another tactical shooter game, and a pretty good one at that. I can’t say it plays any better than the other SOCOM titles as this reviewer has remained ignorant of the series up until now. But getting the chance to play a Navy SEAL in a variety of global hot spots is a fun diversion for the weekend gamer, and it certainly provides more than its fair share of action. The story that plays out on the global stage is an interesting one, and is certainly as timely as ever with the different challenges we face today as a society. Different terrorists are involved in wrong-doing in several countries, and its up to the Navy SEALs to find the enemy and show them the error of their ways.

I liked how SOCOM 3: US Navy SEALs forces the player to use their wits as much as their trigger finger, but sometimes this is hampered by poor enemy and squad AI. For example, an early mission requires the player to assault a small fortress in Africa where there is a radio transmitter near an in-door well. As you approach the target, you are notified that there is an alternate and stealthier approach available. Right as I planned to move in that direction, one of my squad members spotted an enemy and opened fire. I then realized I had forgotten to tell them to hold their fire before I redirected them. The ensuing gunfight saw my squad immediately cut in half and the mission was immediately labeled a failure. But it was not because I failed to reach the target, but because one of the KIA squad members was needed to hook up with local resistance leaders. For the life of me, I could not find that small detail in the briefing or mission notes.

Taking down terrorists is a difficult job, and fortunately the player is outfitted right from the start with a variety of weapons, equipment, and vehicles to accomplish the mission. Vehicles play an integral part in SOCOM 3: US Navy SEALs and it’s highly enjoyable to be able to swap positions inside the vehicle by simply hitting one of the directional buttons. Since each mission is fairly lengthy, it’s easy enough to not only stumble onto bonus objectives, but also to find different ways of approaching a target. The game tries to set up each mission so that the player can tackle it any way they see fit, but more times than not it’s better to just go in with guns blazing. Or order your squad to go in with guns blazing, while you pick up the rear and take out any enemy stragglers. At least the game’s load and save times are quick, which is always a huge benefit with any game.

There is a lot of fun to be had with SOCOM 3: US Navy SEALs and it does not lack in the unlockable department. Players can unlock music tracks, the ability to play as different terrorists in multiplayer, and different weapons and features in the other series titles. This last point I found most interesting because if players complete certain goals in SOCOM 3: US Navy SEALs, then they can unlock different weapons and assorted goodies in other games in the series. That’s just a cool idea for a set of games, and it’s a good way to unify them. PlayStation 2 owners with Sony’s broadband connection can also play online against dozens of opponents once the single player campaign is completed.

As for the single-player portion of the game, it’s certainly fun the first time through but afterwards it may tend to drag. The story is pretty directly told, and once you’ve seen it then you might not care enough to see it again. But the game remains a solid entertainment for the weekend gamer and those of us obsessed with the US military.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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