SOCOM / Sony / Playstation 2
One of the few screens not too dark to snap a shot of

SOCOM was one of the early crop of "squad" FPS games, in which you're required to not just sneak and shoot, but manage three to seven other dudes along with you in a military operation. Obviously this genre lends itself better to online play, where (allegedly) intelligent humans can fill all these roles and communicate on the fly.

SOCOM for the PS2 does have a strong multiplayer component, which is probably its best feature. Of course, this being released in the early 2000s, all the official servers have long since gone dark. There might be some patchy fan servers you can connect to to play a handful of people by going through some jury-rigging of your PS2 and broadband, I dunno. Too much for me.

Single-player is a nightmare due mostly to terrible AI and molasses aim, though there's a number of other negative bits that we'll get to.

Let's start with the AI. The very first moments of the first mission are an indicator as to what you can expect from the game. You start out with a squad of four, one of whom is forced to follow you at all times. You're on board a ship full of Russian weapon smugglers, hiding behind some crates on the deck, a la Metal Gear Solid 2's opening. If you simply take a couple steps out into the shadows to keep an eye on some nearby guards and eavesdrop on their conversation, any number of random things can happen. Your forced companion might take it upon himself to swiftly kill both of them for you. Or he might try to kill them and botch it up, allowing one to run away and warn the others. Or he might stay stuck behind the starting crates, constantly laying down then getting up then laying down again spastically. You never know.

The game tries to emphasize sneaking, but between the shit AI companions you are forced to drag around and the generally impossible-to-sneak-all-the-way-through placement of enemies, every level I ever played degenerated into one long Rambo session pretty quickly. The game tries for the "realism" of one shot in a vital area killing you or the enemies instantly, but throws your little SEAL squad into completely unrealistic situations, expecting 4 dudes to clear an area of like 50 or 60 guys all by themselves. You aren't really punished with mission failure in most cases for going Rambo John J. , except when alerting guards might make them set off bombs or make a radio call or something that forces aborting a mission. Usually, sneaking is your secondary goal, and you just get a better "mission rating" at the end for managing to pull it off. The one problem with Ramboing the game is that the guy forced to follow you at all times is your translator, and he isn't all that bright about using cover in firefights, so if he gets killed you can't understand the enemies for the rest of the game. The only thing that balances all this out at all is that the enemies are dumb as shit too.

Dark, murky environments and a scrunched and low-detail HUD for weapons and items doesn't help the action either. In terms of graphics SOCOM was lagging behind the times for 2003, looking more like the caliber of a 1999 PC game. It's hard to tell at even a short distance if a crouched soldier facing the other way is one of your grey-clad SEALs or one of the grey-clad enemies, and if you put your sights on them to identify them, your companions might merrily pop away at them ruining whatever planned approach you were going for.

Molasses aim and a generally unintuitive layout of basic moves on the gamepad also hampers navigation, especially when there's such a razor-thin margin of error in this game with the overwhelming odds against you and the one-shot kills. The levels basically come down to a plodding routine of "repeat and die over and over until you know exactly what's coming next all the way through. And then hope the AI doesn't go retarted on you at a critical moment."

This is the danger of emphasizing multiplayer on a console that you don't plan to maintain a consistent, enduring online network for, and making the single-player experience an afterthought. Once the network goes down the game is basically worthless. Unlike, say, Counter-Strike on the PC, which came out years before this, and still has a massive user base playing it in 2011 and likely will for years to come.

Videos :

* Gameplay Video