While making Combined Assault, developers Zipper decided to focus on offline play, a bold move for a franchise built on a reputation as one of the finest online shooters. OK, there are ten new maps and four-way co-op multi-player, but Zipper don't just want you to buy this because it's the best online shooter for PS2. They want you to buy it because it's the best offline shooter as well. Unfortunately, it isn't.
In Combined Assault you'll play through a single-campaign set in the fictional country of Adjikistan. But despite being concentrated within just one nation, there is a fair variety to the levels. You might decide to blow up a tanker and secure the docks in the morning sun, knock out a helicopter base at around lunch and escort a convoy past hostile roadblocks in the afternoon - before heading to the snowy mountains to take out enemy cave systems that night. (Although it has to be said, SOCOM looks and plays better outdoors than it does in some of the dreary and repetitive indoor sections.)
Dumb and dumber
But the bottom line is that a squad shooter is really only as good as its AI. And much like its predecessors, SOCOM is crippled by your team-mates' inconsistency and idiocy. Sometimes they'll completely ignore your orders. Path-finding is clearly an issue so you'll often find someone repeatedly walking into a wall instead of providing covering fire. We watched in horror once as a man walked off a roof, like a lemming to his death. And if your mates avoid that, they'll often take peculiar routes that leave them pointlessly exposed to enemy fire.
Since the AI is so unreliable, SOCOM isn't designed to rely on tactics. You're encouraged to lead from the front, setting your team to the 'follow' and 'fire at will' commands. This makes it easier to play the game, though, of course, it results in less rewarding thrills than if you were to play properly. Except you can't. Phew.
So far, so SOCOM. Online there's not enough new here. Offline, what's done well is done better elsewhere - any of the Conflict games, for instance - and what's done badly isn't worth discovering. Let's hope Zipper can realise SOCOM's offline potential on PlayStation 3.
Overall Crap squadmate AI and a lack of advancement online. Got any other SOCOMs? Then don't bother.