Since TimeSplitters 2 was getting a little long in the tooth, I was eager to find myself another PS2 based first person shooter to get my teeth into. And, over the last couple of weeks, I’ve solely been playing Socom II due to its immersive single player mode and addictive online play.
I assumed the headset control was going to be gimicky at first, but in single player mode it really does draw you into the game. A whispered warning through the earphone from your team mates as an enemy passes close by can have you holding your breath and freezing to the spot in a way that just wouldn’t carry the same weight through the main tv speakers. Additionally, the chat that goes on during online play can be both helpful and amusing, although you do get the occasional assclowns on there, who can thankfully be muted if they prove to be consistantly annoying.
An example of a comedy conversation from an online session early on a Saturday morning:
Player 1:*I think I can see some movement over by the gate*
Player 2 : Cool. Why are you whispering, by the way? They cant hear you.
Player 1 : *Because my mum is asleep!*
Player 2 : Not wishing to pry, but why are you playing Socom in your mum’s bedroom?
Player 3 : ..yeah – don’t tell us you sleep together!
Player 1 : NO! No! It’s just that the walls are very thin!
The voicecomm’s really does help you get to know the personalities of the people you’re playing with, and is essential for organising the tactical side of things during the game. I’ve had terse warnings hissed from a team mate who can see I’m about to step on a pressure mine, for instance, while feedback about enemy locations has helped secure a win against a team with a three man advantage in what looked like a lost battle. A team who talks together wins together in Socom II, while a team of freelancers who don’t communicate can be embarrassingly dismantled by even an average team on the opposiotion, so long as they help each other out.
Unfortunately there are flaws in the game, and bugs rear their head from time to time too. I seem to occasionally be victim of a bug that completely freezes the console when I’m being returned to the game lobby after a final round. I have to perform a hard switch off from the back of the console in order to re-boot when this happens, although thankfully it’s only affected me three or four times in about 20 hours of online play. The single player game is also plagued by audio glitches, where samples will play over one another, and AI glitches rear their head from time to time. Cut-scenes are also very untidy in places, and no matter how many of your four man team make it to the end of a mission, the cinematic will only show the human player’s character at the extraction point.
Other quirks include the online messaging system, which only lets you contact someone who is online – kind of pointless when you just want to leave a note for someone. The clan system, too, falls short in the usability department – although I can see a list of my clan-mates and what games they are taking part in if they’re online, I cant jump straight to the game from that menu. In fact, lack of attention to detail in the interface as a whole, makes it cumbersome and awkward to use – it’s just as well that once you find yourself in a game room, you tend to stay around for as long as you have time to play.
It’s just not the kind of polish I was hoping for from Zipper Interactive – a developer who produced Recoil, one of my favourite PC games ever, which was certainly a cleaner finished product than Socom II is – and Recoil is from five years ago now.
In game the controls are reasonable – with close quarters combat having a steep learning curve attached to it. The dual shock 2 is not really an ideal FPS controller, however the subtlety of the input in TimeSplitters 2 seems missing here, and it can be quite frustrating to die in combat due to getting in a bit of a funk with the controls. Throwing a grenade, for instance, is needlessly difficult, resulting in many suicides simply due to misjudging the path of a grenade and having it bounce back amongst your team for a frustrating end to the mission.
Those gripes aside, though, the game is great fun, and with a bit more polish would have made itself far more accessible to those without the perseverance to get accustomed to the quirks. I’m still working my way through the single player game, and I imagine I’ll be playing this online for some time to come, too, so look out for the username infoxicated in a jungle near you.