The SOCOM series returns to the PS2 with the third instalment of the popular combat and command game.

The SEALs return, this time tackling bad guys and protecting the Good ‘ol US of A from, well, a collection of stereotypical foes. SOCOM shot to fame based on its innovative use of the TCM headset, allowing the player to control the fireteams by voice command.

Of course, this element is still present, but despite the mockery from anyone else in the house as you talk to the TV, a single button press will now issue the order you most often require.

As far as graphics and gameplay goes, this will slot in where the two previous incarnations left off, and fans of the series will be in there and through the latest instalment pretty quickly. Graphics perhaps is becoming something of a let down when compared alongside the more powerful options out there. It this was a PC game, I’d be disappointed and, of course, the Xbox360 has the potential to do more.

In essence, this means that this game needs to win on originality, gameplay and storyline. But does it? I’m not convinced.

To start with the areas of operation feel a bit samey. Ok, I know that North Africa remains an interesting location, but there is a degree stereotyping that some gamers might feel detracts from the game. Whilst the “baddies” are speaking Arabic, the “resistance” conduct their parlance in French. Yes, they do speak French in North Africa, but you still get the sense of West vs. East.

The score is provided in most part orchestrally, which again made the game a bit samey. It seems that the US special forces are accompanied by a 70-piece orchestra in games and Hollywood these days. Think of the SEALs in The Rock, or most things from the Tom Clancy stable.

Further on the audio side we have an interesting divide. The in-game sound is great, the weapon signatures are interesting and varied. However, the briefing sections seem a little clunky – the news reporter speaking over a crackly signal is a poor effect, then followed by the mission briefing which is not clearly delivered. You can also read the mission briefing, but the text is small to the point that you generally can’t be bothered.

Finally there is a degree of linearity that I find difficult to indulge. You have your mission objectives, which are ok, but you can find yourself failing a mission because you do something the game doesn’t expect. For example, in one level you approach a fortified location, and over the river are two observation posts laying down effective fire on your position. The initial response is to clear the OPs, then take on the larger target. WRONG! Sprinting over a nearby bridge triggers a warning that you are “leaving the mission area” and that you should return or you will be extracted. Bang, you fail if you don’t turn back and it’s an unnecessary restriction in some situations.

But what is positive? The use of vehicles, of course, on both land and water. This, generally speaking, applies to most of the vehicles you discover. The maps are generally bigger than before, but you do find that bushes and signposts are solid so you don’t really get a free roaming map, you are very much restricted to “the path” or “the alternative path”. It’s not as linear as Medal of Honor, but doesn’t give you the freedom that you’ll find in other games. Although you have the ability to jump and climb, you can’t always do this where it doesn’t want you to.

Verdict

So does SOCOM 3 breathe life back into the series? Well yes. It still maintains the strengths it had in the previous versions, so you can guarantee that it will sell well. I think the biggest problem here is that stacked-up against a number of other games, you begin to question firstly the originality, and secondly, the PS2. It’s a sorry state to get too, but unfortunately it happens to be the truth.

There is a twist though. The game is compatible with PSP game Frieteam Bravo, and also happy with network play, so there is a fair amount here to entertain. Yes, it’s playable, yes, fun for FPS and squad-based combat fans, but it does feel a little old and a little less exciting than the last time round.