There is little point in denying it, SOCOM has its fans and has its enemies. However, this new entry into the series is one of the most accomplished third-person shooters to be released in quite a while.
In previous years, SOCOM had not been my kind of game. I’ve played the beta of Confrontation and played SOCOM II but at the time they didn’t do it for me, however with SOCOM 4 developer Zipper has entered the market in a unique position having taken what it learned from the release of 256 player shooter M.A.G as well as its previous release Confrontation, the result is a game which bridges the gap between the hardcore and the newcomer.
To say anything SOCOM 4 had been dumbed down to fit into the new culture of shooters would be an extremely unfair statement. SOCOM 4 still holds the assets that captured legions of fans, but at the same time makes the series easier to access for new players. There are many places within the game that M.A.G’s shadow hulks over the SOCOM’s design, which to the many millions of players will be a happy sight. That said, SOCOM is still SOCOM, it is still a third person shooter and it’s happy to remain that way.
SOCOM 4 brings back the single player mode that was missing from Slant Six’s entry into the series, which places you as Cullen Gray, an Operations Commander for a five person NATO force. You have been sent to put down a revolutionary, who has plans to destroy a waterway and to capture an unnamed Southeast Asian country. The plot isn’t the strongest point of the game as it boils down to a five man team (four men and one woman) taking on a revolutionary army on their own, if you think the storyline of films like the Expendables you’re pretty much there.
You take control of two characters in the game, one being Gray and the other being Forty-Five, as the story progresses these two characters are fleshed out and given some pretty interesting character development. Unfortunately the secondary characters are pretty much there to shoot at what they are told to and nothing much else, which for a squad based game, makes it feel a little lacklustre. The flow of SOCOM is broken up with the night based stealth missions of Forty-Five interlinked between the daytime assault missions of Gray. When in control of Grey, you are given the full power of the squad and they are broken into two teams of two for you to direct.
As with most games that feature projectile weapons of some sort in games nowadays, SOCOM 4 offers stealth missions; in these missions you are given control of Forty-Five but not the rest of the squad. These stealth missions are a trial and error affair but they are a great way to break down the continuous gunning pace of the main missions.
What does make SOCOM shine is its squad controls, a simple tap of the directional buttons are all you need to issue almost all the commands to your troops. You can order them attack a position or target individual enemies for simultaneous take-downs. Added to this the fact that the team’s AI is very good and they will take down any hostiles in range without your say so if left to their own devices. This means that you can either take part in combat or sit back and watch your squad mates execute your orders, without any great effect on gameplay. Your team mates can also revive each other in the heat of battle, but cannot do the same for you for some reason; maybe they don’t have commander med kits?
Unfortunately, this is where the good AI ends. Enemies will happily walk in your sights or even sometimes your fire. This makes taking out rooms full of soldiers a little too easy, however this is only the case if you play on any other difficulty than hard. On hard, the enemy AI seem to have their lobotomy reversed and actually know how to fight. Also in a change of pace, your team mates seem to have been lobotomised as they become less of a fighting machine and lose their reviving skills. To be fair, hard actually makes the game. You need to look at each firefight you enter with a tactical edge and it also leaves your team more under your direction, which makes you feel more like a commander than a spectator to the battles of the game.
SOCOM 4’s campaign is only 14 missions long and clocks in at around 6 to 7 hours long, which is the general time for most shooters now, but still, it does leave you feeling a little short changed, especially as the game’s levels are set in small very linear areas that echo the forced march of games like Call of Duty instead of Battlefield: Bad Company. When you consider some of SOCOM’s environments and textures look a little dated and there’s very little in a destructive sense, then you do feel a little bit like the game is a last gen effort, at least in the looks department. Unfortunately the animations of not only yourself but every character who is killed, give off a look like they are just throwing themselves at the floor as they die. It’s a shame as landing a headshot, gives you a very satisfying sound which pushes you on to your next.
Moving outside the single player, you are confronted with a co-op mode that allows for two mission types to be played over six maps. The idea is the same as single player, move through a map achieving objectives. The fighting with up to three other players is great fun. No one plays the role of the commander here, which would have added an extra bonus to this mode if that was the case, yelling at your mates to watch for gunfire and move round to flanking positions gives you a great sense of team work.
In competitive play, the game offers four modes, but each is customisable to change the gameplay to how you feel. Of the four game modes, three are normal modes such as team deathmatch (Suppression) and uplink which is a capture the flag style mode. What stands out the most is Bomb Squad, in this mode you need to disarm three bombs planted around the maps. The defuser is kitted out in full padded suit style and the team is charged with defending him, the opposing team need to protect their bombs and either let the go of, or kill the defuser.
Key to the success of the multiplayer is the maps; they are far better than what you get on the single player and offer some great experiences. The game comes with nine in total, offering locations from jungle bases to shanty towns, but the best is a map called Rush Hour which places you in a highway that is swathed in cars under the dying lights of a war torn city, pretty epic stuff!
In both single player and multiplayer stats carry, therefore as your character levels up in the multiplayer they also gain experience with your chosen weapon that can then be carried over to your single player game to access new mods for your weapons. These mods include new scopes and suppressors for your assault rifles as well as mods to increase your firepower and accuracy.
Finally, moving on to one of the most mooted points of the game, the PlayStation Move control. What Zipper have done with the motion controller is impressive, it feels good to play and after a little training most of the controls become second nature. In spite of this, there are some points when you miss the simpleness of the dualshock pad. Hugging a piece of cover can be problematic with peeking not being half as easy as you would need. But if you do play the game with Move, you will need the Sharpshooter add-on which makes the entire experience far more comfortable and easier.
SOCOM 4 is not the greatest game and it does have flaws, the experience is solid if a little brief in the single player and the multiplayer fairs the better of the two modes. In the mist of large scale releases like Crysis 2 and Portal 2, SOCOM 4 may get lost, but those who have been waiting for this game will not be disappointed.
SOCOM 4 is available to order now, click here to buy.