When you think back to Sony PlayStation 2’s heyday, it’s hard to not bring up flagship military shooter series, SOCOM. At a time when online an infrastructure wasn’t even a thought for Sony, it was Zipper Interactive’s tactical title that would create the push needed for the mythical modem add-on to the PS2. And, as they say, ‘the rest is history.’
It’s been 9 years since the series debuted in 2002, and in that span of time, we’ve seen 9 titles across 3 Sony platforms. The most recent was the online only and critically shunned SOCOM: Confrontation, which came to us from developer, Slant Six. With SOCOM 4, series creator, Zipper Interactive, is back in the captain’s chair; however, with so much changing in the realm of shooters, can a SOCOM title still keep up?
Now if you can think back to the Game Developers Conference of last year, you’ll remember that Sony made a rather big splash with its shiny new Move Controller and along with the motion peripheral, they also had plenty of titles to demo their new controller. Among those titles was SOCOM 4. The reason I bring this up is because after playing through the SOCOM 4 campaign and comparing it to footage seen over a year ago, I firmly believe that the title was already ready back then, but, instead, was delayed to be used as a selling point for Sony’s motion controller.
Unfortunately, the first thing you’ll notice when you initially start up the title is just how much loading is going on (with a mandatory install to boot). While it’s something that we’ve been forced to become accustomed to with earlier titles in the current generation, it’s starting to really get old, especially when it comes to first party titles. It’s weird when other Sony developers like Santa Monica Studios and Naughty Dog can pull these things off with ease; yet Zipper just can’t figure it out.
Once you get passed the initial loading, it’s time to jump into action. SOCOM 4’s campaign takes place in Malaysia, and opens up in a coastal city whose harbors are also part of the Strait of Malacca (key economic body of water that connects the Indian and Pacific oceans, according to Wikipedia). You play mostly as NATO Special Forces agent, Cullen Grey, who after a wild turn of events at the beginning of the campaign, becomes the commander of a team made up of potty-mouthed operatives, Schweitzer and Wells (Blue Team), as well as South Korean special ops, Forty-Five and Chung.
After their base camp, along with the coastal city its based in is pretty much destroyed by rebel forces known as the Naga, who are led by the ruthless General Razad, it’s up to our team of operatives to eliminate the threat and bring some stability to the region. In doing so, you’ll have to traverse the Malaysian jungle and take down only a few thousand soldiers along your way. Mix all of that in with a twist here, a turn there, and the fact that Culler and Razad have a “history,” and you get a story that some of you out there may actually care for. Things can get pretty convoluted, so make sure to keep your ears open during the cutscenes. If not, you’ll have no idea why you’re killing so many rebels.
One of the biggest bright spots in SOCOM 4 has to be the gameplay. While the series was always known for its leaning cover system (ahead of its time back in 2002), for this year’s version, Zipper has caught up with the times, and transitioned to a sticky cover system. If you’re under attack or need to plan one, simply walk up against a surface, press circle and voilà, you’re covered. Once stuck onto cover, you can shift from left to right, stand up, crouch down, and, of course, peek around corners (which can also be used for blind firing).
When talking about gameplay, one thing that cannot be left out is mentioning PlayStation Move functionality. I made it my duty to play about 75% of the campaign using the controller and you know what? if I did it again, this would be the way I’d do it. I’m not sure if it was the sheer excitement of finally using the Move for a core title that went straight to my head, but I have to say that I loved it. I have had the chance to play with the Sharpshooter peripheral, and while I think that may provide the definitive experience, the move controller alone is definitely no slouch.
When playing with the move, like my mention of it during my Sharpshooter preview, there’s something about the accuracy that just makes it that much more awesome. And, while this may sound crazy, I have to say that I found the game to be easier with the motion peripheral as it turned SOCOM 4 into a glorified military version of Time Crisis, where taking down wave after wave of enemies had me feeling more like Harry Potter waving a magic wand, and less like John Rambo holding an M60.
When playing with a DualShock 3 controller, I found myself to be much more tactical; but as soon as I went back to the Move, I felt like i turned on “God Mode” or something. It’s a hell of a way to save ammo (because of the accuracy), considering it’s possible to get through most situations with nothing but headshots. If you have a move controller, now is the time to dust it off.
Sound design in SOCOM 4 is definitely another highlight. The title provides for a great use of sound no matter the situation. Whether you’re in a city, a seaport, or in the jungle (which you’ll be in a lot), it all sounds really good. The constant banter between Blue and Gold team always sounds on point in relation to your characters location. There’s great use of all channels in the 5.1 setup and composer, Bear McCreary’s tunes always seem to come on during the most heroic points.
For those of you living under a rock, SOCOM 4 held a multiplayer beta (closed and open) for about 8 weeks leading up to launch. And if you were among those people who actually participated, you’ll be pleased to know that not much has changed (except the obvious addition of maps). Whether or not that’s a good or bad thing remains to be seen; however, if you ask the SOCOM purists, overall, the game online (while fun) doesn’t have the same magic found in the classics from almost a decade ago.
The game has a handful of brand new game types, some of which are fresh takes on multiplayer classics. As someone who spent hundreds of hours playing the older games, anyone on the same boat as me will immediately realize the game types that are noticeably absent, including extraction and sabotage. I get why Zipper went the route of “let’s try something new and different”, and, while I’m all about adding more elements to the already robust multiplayer, they shouldn’t have abandoned the game types that made SOCOM— well SOCOM.
There is support for clans, and battles can be pretty intense, especially when you consider that there are 32 people running around shooting each other. However, when you take into account that many of the same “floating grenade” bugs and the like still made it through the beta and into the final version, I don’t think that SOCOM will return as the apple of Sony’s online eye; not for this generation at least.
I know this may sound strange, but overall, the title just doesn’t feel like a 2011 game. And I’m not sure if it’s the overdramatic B-movie attempt at a story or the fact that it doesn’t look as good as the rest of Sony’s 2011 line-up that makes me feel this way. It also feels like a game that was just held back for reasons unknown (See: Sell Move Controllers Above). This doesn’t mean it’s a bad game per se; it’s just not what I expected from Zipper and a SOCOM title at this stage of the game. While there are some highlights and intense moments scattered throughout, I believe that fans of the series (and owners of the Move) should play this one, but others will probably just find a forgettable and mediocre experience.
- Title: SOCOM 4: US Navy SEALs
- Platform Reviewed: PS3
- Developer: Zipper Interactive
- Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment of America
- MSRP: $59.99
- Release Date: April 19, 2011
- Review Copy Info: A copy of this game was provided to DualShockers Inc by the publisher for review purposes.