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SOCOM: A history of the classic squad shooter

We take a look back at Zipper's flagship PlayStation series...

Squad-based shooters are one of console gaming's staples nowadays, but it wasn't always so and one of the first series to pioneer the genre on the PS2 was Zipper Interactive's much-loved SOCOM series.

Hailed by PlayStation fans through its three major console and two handheld incarnations, with SOCOM 4 due to release next week, we decided to take a look back through Zipper's contribution to a classic gaming series.

But if you want to glimpse a taste of that future, don't forget we've got a bunch of SOCOM 4 coverage already online , with a single-player preview, multiplayer beta test, plus a bunch of news, screens and movies, all handily gathered on the SOCOM 4 game home page. But for now, on with the history lesson soldier.

SOCOM: US NAVY SEALS (PS2)

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The SOCOM series first debuted in 2002 and gave PS2 owners a huge number of firsts, placing them in command of an elite Navy Seals team in 12 missions spread across four regions of Alaska, Thailand, Congo and Turkmenistan. This was the era of heavy hitting PC shooters like Counter-Strike and Rainbow Six, but Navy Seals brought compelling covert ops to consoles for pretty much the first time, with a winning mix of stealth and action.

Yet it was Navy SEALs' multiplayer and online options that were the true breakthrough. SOCOM launched alongside the PS2 Online experience as one of its very first titles and allowed up to 12 players to experience SEALs vs Terrorists action in suppression, extraction and dereliction missions. It even included a USB headset so you could issue voice commands to your team, a huge deal at the time.

Scoring an impressive 82% average on Metacritic with the US Official PlayStation Magazine giving it a perfect 100% score, SOCOM US Navy Seals set down a marker, laying the format and foundations for the later success of the entire series. It was also Zipper Interactive's first major PlayStation release after working for years on PC titles like Crimson Skies and Mechwarrior 3.

SOCOM II: US NAVY SEALS (PS2)

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Such was the original SOCOM's success, that part II was developed in conjunction with the Naval Special Warfare Command, the US Navy's real-life special operations command unit.

Just one year later and the original SOCOM team of Spectre, Jester, Wardog, and Vandal reunited for the sequel, but were also joined by other guest special forces like the SAS for certain missions. New theatres of operations like Algeria, Brazil and Albania opened up, before the SEALs foiled a plot to detonate nuclear devices in the port of Seattle in an explosive grand finale.

Refined and improved, especially in multiplayer, SOCOM II was seen as significant advance on the original game, being broadband only, expanding the action to eight-a-side and including new features like friend lists and clan rosters. With over 12 additional maps and brand new features like turrets and breaching, SOCOM II was even more successful than the original, garnering an 87% Metacritic average and rave reviews from players.

SOCOM 3: US NAVY SEALS (PS2)

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SOCOM 3 took on a much more cosmopolitan feel (and curiously an Arabic rather than Roman numeral) with players controlling not only the usual SEALs but Britain's Special Boat Service and Poland's elite GROM special forces units, in a rollicking campaign that stretched from Africa to Poland via the straits of Gibraltar. Improved game options included vehicles and bigger levels and environments with more sophisticated missions, making this the best single-player SOCOM experience yet.

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