If the terms flank, covert and assault pique your interest, this is for you. With the release of SOCOM 4 for the PlayStation 3, armchair Navy Seals can once again order their teams to perform the aforementioned maneuvers – or just go in with their guns blazing. Though the series has always had a heavy focus on realism in its story and gameplay design, there’s also a lot of arcade elements implemented, which helps please all types of shooter fans.
This iteration is no different, as a machismo team of NATO soldiers finds its way into a conflict in Malaysia, where a professional military group and traditional bandits have taken up arms against out of state officials. Take control of Operations Commander Cullen Gray and his blue team of NATO soldiers, plus a rescued group of South Korean operatives, as you fight against those who have killed and maimed those who’s backs you cover.
The game’s lengthy campaign sees you fighting through the streets, jungles and ruins of Malaysia, over the course of fourteen lengthy missions, while you try to find out who is behind a recent attack on a NATO base of operations. As you progress, you will uncover new secrets that link a military group known as ClawHammer, who funded Navy Seals operations in previous Socom games, to the violence and destruction that you’re fighting against.
This means that, not only are you going to be taking on your traditional grunt enemies of various classes, but the game will also end up changing things up by pitting you against large amounts of trained military professionals as well. Keep to cover and watch your six because you never know where enemies may pop up, or just how many there are. Your team is your lifeline and you are theirs. If one of you is to fall in battle, then the mission is a failure, and we certainly don’t want that, do we? The world is depending on you, Commander. Don’t let it down.
In real-life, NATO forces and Navy Seals are well-trained in various different respects. The devlopment team at Zipper Interactive have always been good at understanding this, implementing various mission and gameplay types into their SOCOM titles. The latest iteration is now different, featuring two prevalent and distinctly different play styles, with altered mission variety found within. These two types include stealth and the general covert/attack missions that those used to the series are very familiar with by now.
Those missions ask you to infiltrate different areas, attack enemy convoys, or steal information, using your impressive abilities and team skills. Being careful and keeping to the shadows and tall grass are both important, but freedom is given to try to complete the missions as befits your unique play style. If you want to instruct your team (using the directional pad) to take out all enemy targets quietly, you can do that. Or, you can take most of them out yourself, in various different ways. Just remember that you have a great assault team on your side, as well as an excellent group of covert operatives who are great at long-range sniping. Make sure to use them wisely and you will succeed.
During the stealth missions, you take control of Forty-Five – a member of the South Korean operatives that you rescue near the beginning of the game’s campaign. Her missions take her into dark areas of the country, such as an old shipping port, where she must scale buildings and objects in the environment in order to get to her objective (and back) without being seen. Generally, when you’re seen, you’re toast. That means that you must be quiet – especially in the way that you take out the enemies you must dispose of to get by unnoticed.
To achieve this result, she is equipped with a stealth kill attack, that can take enemies out silently from behind with just a click of the right joystick, as well as a silenced sniper rifle. Usually, these missions aren’t that difficult if you follow a quiet path and always make sure to check before acting. They’re also quite entertaining, making good use of traditional SOCOM mechanics, plus the included stealth attack ability. The game features a great checkpoint system, so you won’t have to worry about having to complete tough sections over and over again if you fail the one that follows. It’s usually pretty understanding, saving after each difficult encounter in any type of mission, which is nice.
This is one campaign that you cannot take lightly. It’s challenging (especially on its two variations of the hard difficulty option) and will not hold your hand for long. SOCOM 4 is unforgiving, but it’s fair. If you try to run and gun, your enemies will drop you quickly. Though, if you use a good mixture of stealth and assault, as well as team commands, you should do quite well. The game’s mechanics work really well and it’s a fun experience, though there’s one noticeable issue, and that is the camera.
Though Zipper Interactive have mentioned that they moved the camera further back from your character than it was in the game’s multiplayer beta, it’s still too close in both single player and multiplayer. This means that your character can sometimes get in the camera’s way, obscuring your view for a moment until you move the camera control joystick. It only happens occasionally, but can be frustrating. Other than that, the game doesn’t suffer from any other noticeable flaws, though some missions can become a bit repetitive, and the servers tend to have some issues at times.
Ever since the release of the original SOCOM on the PlayStation 2, the series has been known for its tactical action and great online multiplayer modes. This sequel follows suit, providing a very in-depth competitive multiplayer mode, with a ton of different modes and options, though it doesn’t borrow any of the modes from previous titles in the series. Classic settings from the series’ past are covered, as each of the game’s competitive modes are available for play using the series’ trademark one life settings.
However, Zipper Interactive have also decided to try to please those who are into modes with respawns, by tweaking the component’s core settings to allow for unlimited respawns. This results in a much more traditional experience that most gamers are more used to, where you can try to go for the best kill/death ratio in deathmatches or try to protect your team in objective-based modes, without ever having to worry about that life being your one and only.
If you do really well, you will be rewarded with killstreak rewards, such as an aerial bombing run. Veterans of the series will perhaps oppose these new settings, but they don’t have to use them. Everybody can be happy, which is great news to those who might have avoided the series in the past, due to its respawn restrictions. Custom options and modes are also available on certain occasions, with game modes such as sniper alley. Though, they were locked and unavailable during this review session.
As mentioned previously, SOCOM 4 features traditional deathmatch modes as well as objective-based game types. Its core suppression mode pits two teams against each-other, with score and time limits under the new settings and a last man standing mentality using classic settings. This mode is available for play on two distinctly different map types: large or small, meaning that you can choose for chaotic and intimate battles in tight locations or large-scale warfare in huge arenas. Each settings option provides a different experience, as does the choice of map size. Though suppression is the only game type that offers you this choice.
The other modes take place on relatively large maps, asking you to complete team-based tasks such as guiding bomb techs to armed bombs that need to be defused (while the other team aggressively defends them), taking over control points to learn the location of the enemy’s base or attempting to steal the enemy’s important data files. Each of the aforementioned modes are incredibly competitive, fun and challenging. To be honest, there really wasn’t a weak link within them. All of them had their own style, altered objectives (allowing for strategy changes) and competitive qualities/reasons. The community is also quite good at working together to achieve a common goal, whether it be offense, defense or total decimation of the opposition.
In keeping with their customization features, the development team went the extra mile to include custom mission editors for both single player and co-operative online use. Take on the enemy in two different game types with several friends on your flank, or using the relatively intelligent artificial intelligence partners. There are two different modes available to be played on several maps, with objectives ranging from taking out enemy generals to stealing information.
It’s a nice bonus that really rounds out the experience, by adding some nice replayability. They also did a good job in allowing the campaign’s level upgrading system (based on experience/kills) to carry over to this mode. The online multiplayer modes feature their own weapon progression system, to try to keep things on an equal playing field. Co-op is a great feature for this series, and it’s evident once you start playing customized mission types.
Presentation-wise, SOCOM 4 is an impressive feat. Its original orchestral soundtrack is loud, crisp and fits the game very well. Not to mention its great voice acting and decent scripted dialogue. However, the visuals are really the star here. Each of the Malaysian environments that you battle through and destroy are beautiful, with great texture work and design. There is a lot of variety within the locations, their visuals and their overall design, which is nice and will surely be welcomed by gamers.
Each character model is well-designed, but the main characters’ facial features, animations and overall designs are exceptional. They tend to look quite lifelike and are very believable. This is one game that definitely takes advantage of the PlayStation 3′s prowess, and will be a showpiece for gamers who like to impress those who look down on the hobby and art form.
Overall, SOCOM 4 is a great package. It’s very well-made, despite featuring the odd hiccup and a camera that is much too close to the main character’s back. Some nice variety, a plethora of options and two fully featured and engaging modes make it tough to turn down or stop playing. Though there are some hints of repetition in a few of the missions and a couple other issues, fans of the series will be overjoyed with this outing.
It takes the series’ well-liked elements and transports them to a much more vibrant and creative setting. Those who were worried that this game would stray too far from the pack need not fret because it’s still the same core gameplay experience. PlayStation 3 owners may have suffered through an unfortunate recent online outage, but this title was well-worth the wait. Of course, some lucky gamers got to play it for about a week before the PSN went down. This is one covert mission that is well-worth its admission price.