It wasn't really clear to me that the media didn't understand this franchise until SOCOM 3 hit...and it got amazing reviews. One of my favourite (as in so obscenely obtuse) lines being from the IGN review of SOCOM 3, "SOCOM 3 is packed to the brim with new features, content, game types and more that will no doubt quench the parched thirst of SOCOM fans everywhere"...lol ya right. It should have been blasted.
SOCOM 1/2 have a ton of depth, some of the best maps ever in any online shooter (built around 1 mode, incredibly unique, amazingly paced, asymmetrical, so many 'spots' that players could get to that in many cases weren't discovered until months after release, etc), great gunplay, the best online lobby system I've ever experienced, round-based gameplay that is a lot different than what you see in most shooters, and an incredibly dedicated community on top of all that. Even with all it's technical issues (frame rate drops, hit detection problems, occasional network issues that caused you to drop) the people who got into it were able to look past those issues and have a really great experience.
People that "got" SOCOM realized very quickly that SOCOM 3's online was broken. Wide open spaces of nothing, vehicles that dominated the game and were poorly implemented, a frame rate that was even worse than the first two, uninspiring, dull and boring maps, etc. There was a lot wrong with the game, yet it still got great reviews because it hit those special bullet points, "Vehicles", "32 players", "Big maps", "Multiple modes per map", etc. This is one of those things that really piss me off in the gaming media today. It's become about the bullet points rather than what makes the game actually fun.
No vehicles, less players, and smaller maps DO make these games better. Not everyone has to do the same thing with a "bigger is better" attitude. The gamers/media complains that everything is the same, yet if there online shooters aren't all massive, epic-scale, everything but the kitchen sink, games, they cry about it.
That's not to say that every person who reviewed the game was this ignorant to what was happening to out favourite online gaming franchise at the time. I tried to convince myself for at least a month that SOCOM 3 was good and not broken. But then you start noticing that feeling you had for the first two wasn't present in SOCOM 3. The number of players started to drop off. The people you played with on SOCOM 1/2 weren't coming on as frequently anymore. Until finally you gave up and came to terms with what had happened.
Maybe I'm being slightly melodramatic, but I'm sure most of you went through a similar experience. Zipper tried something different with SOCOM 3 after the media, and many fans, pushed them into it, thinking it would make the game better. The fans quickly discovered it didn't, while the majority of the media breezed over it like they did with every SOCOM game prior, didn't "get" what had happened, and gave it high critical acclaim due to all the features it was packed with. Even though the majority of those features took away from the experience.