Friday, December 29, 2006
Good: Online Co-op
Bad: A.I. problems; Trial-and-error heavy
Basically: Just a mission pack
Reviewing a Socom game is a lot like reviewing a new Madden or Tony Hawk game. Usually there are a few minor improvements or small features, but the overall gameplay, control and presentation remains the same. In some ways Combined Assault follows this formula to the letter, in other ways it does not.
Once again you control a group of four Navy Seals as you engage a foreign enemy in both rural and urban settings. The control scheme is the same and the wannabe Henry Gregson-Williams soundtrack also makes a return.
Unfortunately this means that the A.I. issues, sluggish control and trial-and-error heavy gameplay of past installments are also present. While, for the most part, the enemy A.I. is much better, your squadmates are still pretty damn stupid. Sometimes they fire into solid objects, other times they refuse to follow group orders, forcing you to address them individually.
The most frustrating aspect of your squad is their refusal to engage the enemy unless given the Fire At Will command. Unless that command is issued your team looks on, presumably thinking about the weather, last night's episode of Grey's Anatomy or some other distraction while enemy forces fill their bodies with bullets.
Running around with the Fire At Will command engaged doesn't work either because your squad will seek out the enemy, giving away your position and often botching stealth-dependent secondary objectives.
The structure of the mission objectives is still frustrating. One mistake on your (or more than likely, your squadmates') part leads to failed objectives and forced restarts and since enemies are on random patrols it's almost impossible replicate your attack pattern. This combined with some very unmanageable squadmates makes anything close to strategy impossible.
There is, however, one substantial feature that separates Combined Assault from previous titles in the series: four-player cooperative Campaign Mode.
Playing Combined Assault online with three other players is ideal. It single-handedly fixes any of the aforementioned A.I. issues because now real people control all of the characters. For the first time in the series the missions actually become about teamwork and cooperation, something the developers always strived for but never really met.
Other, less remarkable improvements include the ability to pick your next mission, rather than follow a predetermined course and play a single mission, online or off, with whatever parameters you decide.
The online modes from the previous games are all intact and it's even possible to play against people who own Socom 3. Just make sure you have room on your memory card because you'll have to download a three megabyte patch before you can get started.
Once you do you'll find a largely lag-free experience, but like every other Socom game, the level of enjoyment will depend largely on your ability to find a team that understands the importance of teamwork and that playing Socom like a standard FPS won't get you anywhere but dead, fast.
The presentation of Combined Assault borders on propaganda. Sure, it is a simulation and therefore features plenty of military details like weapon fire-rates and authentic squad commands and the story is fictional and takes place in a fictitious country but it's propaganda nonetheless.
When the game boots up you're greeted with an ad for the Navy Seals followed by a combat montage of Seals kicking ass and taking names set to an epic overture. Once in actual combat you'll find missions that ask you to scour caves for terrorist sects or search for enemy combatants within a rural town. In the latter mission you're advised to detain any civilians to ensure their safety. When this is done they say things like, "I've seen enough bloodshed," "I've done nothing wrong," or "I don't want to die." Realism.
Of course none of that is new, just annoying. While Socom US Navy Seals: Combined Assault suffers from many of the shortcomings of previous titles (sluggish controls, stupid A.I.) it features enough new and worthwhile content to elevate it out of the ranks of a standard sequel.
First Play: 7.5
Replay Value: 6.0
Game Play: 7.0