Online This MonthMatt Leone
As any cynical PC or Xbox gamer will tell you, a big reason why the SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs series has been so successful on PS2 is its lack of competition. While tactical shooters are being run into the ground on other platforms, the few that make their way to Sony’s console are generally along the lines of watered-down Kool-Aid—kinda muddy looking and a poor imitation of the real thing (see exhibit Ghost Recon). SOCOM has always been the exception.
But with SOCOM 3 (coming this October to PS2), developer Zipper Interactive is looking to create an online military shooter that can compete with the big boys as well. Land and water vehicles? Check. 32 players? Check. New modes and community features? Sir, yes, sir.
Taking on Xbox Live
It may seem overly ambitious just for one game, but No. 3’s community interface promises more than what we’ve seen in any PS2 title, and it even looks to challenge Microsoft’s acclaimed Xbox Live service in some ways. Yet according to Zipper Interactive Multiplayer Designer CJ Heine, the motivation for the new interface didn’t come from Microsoft. Rather, it’s the result of online fan support of the previous games. “We looked around on the Internet and saw players forming smaller SOCOM communities on various message boards and websites,” he says. “We really wanted to pull all of that together and offer a place within SOCOM 3 where they could form a central community.” This community site will give players access to leaderboards, mail, message boards, FAQs, and so on. Also, many of these features will be available via both the PS2 and any computer you come across.
The ability to look up game stats on a PC may remind some players of the much-praised Bungie.net website set up for Halo 2, but Sony CEA Senior Producer Seth Luisi claims SOCOM’s support in this area will outmatch even that of the Xbox hit. “The community features that we’ve added to SOCOM 3 are far beyond those found in any other online action games,” says Luisi. “The SOCOM series has a history of innovating community features that other companies are just now starting to copy, such as integrated clans, ladder ranking [SOCOM I], and skill levels [SOCOM II].”
Mode 6 and Mode 7
Supporting the game’s focus on community is control point, a new online mode built around the idea of team communication. Here, each team has to mark five specific locations on a map (control point is best suited for SOCOM 3’s larger battlefields), but the twist is that it’s not a tug of war. Instead, both teams can have marks on the same location, so the mode turns into a race to see which team can get to all the locations first. “Rather than obligating players to defend claimed locations, players are always on the move to try and help in the fight for the next unclaimed control point location,” says Heine. “Players are going to find that the teams that emphasize communication and practice multiple strategies for reaching each control point location will be very successful with this game type.”
Convoy, another all-new online mode, puts its emphasis on the vehicles. One team has to protect and guide a group of vehicles through a map, stopping to pick up cargo along the way, while the other team tries to prevent just that. “These cargo trucks are an easy target for the opposing team to destroy, and protecting the trucks will come down to how well the players on foot can clear out the enemy positions and let the players driving the cargo trucks safely complete their route,” says Heine.
Among SOCOM 3’s many new community features is a “clan challenge” system that, among other things, cuts down a lot of the hassle involved in getting players together. “We wanted to streamline the process for clans to compete against each other, and the clan challenge system does this by automating many of the steps that clans would normally have to do on their own,” says Multiplayer Designer CJ
Heine. “Things that have been automated include finding suitable opponents to challenge, coordinating a time to play, and choosing any special game conditions.”
Clans will also have their own ranking ladders this time around, where the squad’s position will be based on overall team performance instead of individual statistics. And due to the increase in players allowed in a game at once, clans will now support up to 32 players.
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Copyright © 2005 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Electronic Gaming Monthly.