SOCOM has come a long way since it's original debut at E3 years and years ago. With the emergence of the next generation console, SOCOM fans have been licking their chops for a truly 'next gen' experience with the hardcore military driven title.
Could SCEA and Zipper Interactive deliver the goods? Come see.
Single Player Campaign
I had no idea that NATO related activities could be so badass. Go figure. Jame Gorman, with NATO peacekeepers, find their way into a pirate country that has threatened not only world peace, but the destruction of the world's economy. Pairing up with South Korean Special Forces, Gorman and group must infiltrate and stop the Naga insurgents (led by a nutcase called General Razad) from carrying out their terrorist plans.
While I can't give huge props for creative storytelling, I still found substance in the single player campaign mode. Each mission that you take (and there are 11) will put you in different types of scenarios with different types of obstacles putting your frustration and skills to the test. While most reviewers have panned the story, and some of them have good reason, I think the challenges you'll face along the way will keep you coming back for more. I know for games like this I have to be constantly put to task some way, even if it means sacrificing my happiness as a gamer, to keep me interested. Too many games these days take their single player campaign and make it an afterthought in comparison to the multiplayer campaign (see Call of Duty: Black Ops for details). I found a lot of things to like and a lot of variety to keep me interested in SOCOM 4. For example, you don't play as Gorman the entire game. Sometimes you'll switch off to '45' (South Korean Special Forces leader) and go on solo missions to break into Naga facilities. Towards the middle of the game you do this with 45 and you get to do a 'follow the Naga' mission, which requires you not to be seen. It changes up the typical 'run in and shoot' type of mission, and it's welcomed.
So, in other words, don't expect a straight run through and kill everything in sight sort of single player campaign; that's not what you're going to get from SOCOM 4. That element forgives the story in view and makes the game fun. I remember there was a few games this past year where I was like, "Lord, please let it end soon." This is not one of those games. You will find plenty of variety in the missions and you will want to keep playing, even when you can't remember what you're playing for.
As for gameplay elements, there's some positive and negatives to go around. The biggest positive I found with the gameplay is a tie between the controls and the friendly AI.
The controls were sluggish in the closed beta. I felt like turning one of my characters meant that I had to count to 5-6 seconds before my player achieved a full 180 degrees. I complained until poor Steven McGehee's ears couldn't take it about how a third-person shooter shouldn't feel like a chore to control. Thankfully, the game has been a bit 'looser' in terms of movement and it improved enough to make me happy. I honestly would have dreaded playing this for 8-9 hours if it playing the way it felt during the beta. It was SLOW. Props to Zipper Interactive for whatever they did because I didn't notice any sort of slow movement. It felt a lot like the first Uncharted in terms of movement (which is a great thing). As for the Move's involvement in making this part of the gameplay better, I still prefer the old controllers. Call me old fashion, but I didn't love the Wii and I haven't yet taken to the Move yet. Some people might like it, but my arms get way too tired for that much effort.
The other big positive for me is the friendly AI. There's nothing quite like seeing your teammates, when ordered through a series of buttons, take charge and remedy a situation on their own. There are so few games out there that make your comrades intelligent enough to take out enemies for you. Zipper Interactive did a superb job with this part of the game. You don't need another Rambo in the game; sometimes you need a huge amount of teamwork to pass a mission. You can always count on your soldiers to help you out when you need them to.
On the flipside to that coin, the enemy AI is pretty lackluster. Repetitive movements from enemies will make them easy targets. You will find times where enemies are clearly outnumbered and they will feel the need to charge at you. What enemies do that? If Zipper could capture the magic of EA's Crysis 2 enemies' AI and add them SOCOM 4's AI then you would have the most intelligent game in the world on both sides. Right now, there's only have a brain floating around the entire game.
Switching gears here, as you begin and progress in your missions you will find your arsenal expanding to make the gameplay more fun. You cannot only find weapons as you go, but you can also earn 'mods' (modifications) by achieving certain things in the game. For example, I have a wonderful knack for headshots. When I was playing '45' in the second or third mission, I found myself in a snipe happy area where a warship resides. While I had the hardest time accomplishing the mission (the difficulty can get crazy when its one against many), I found my headshot count going up and up with each try. I earned six weapon mods in this one mission. That allowed me to modify the weapons I had in some way, shape or form. The single player campaign allows users to mod weapons before the mission begins, which helps a lot especially when you know what you're in for. It's an easy, well-planned system that no one will be confused by. Folks, I can only assure you that it's worth your time and effort, as you'll find many wonderful weapons at your disposal by the end of the game.
Speaking of the game, props have to be given for the visuals. While the character modeling is still behind the Crysis and Medal of Honor of the world, it's still on par with a Call of Duty. Good facial structures mixed with detailed body parts, equals good characters. The real show of the visuals lies within the environments. You'll get rich, never-ending landscapes in the missions you'll go through. The details outshine the fighters and you'll find yourself admiring the surroundings. Everything seems alive and it really put me in the atmosphere with these characters and they were pounding through missions. Again, they were very impressive, though I've certainly seen better in other games.
On a quick note, the soundtrack and acting were superb. I enjoyed the voice-overs and really loved the composed piece that went along with the game. I always say that music is 90% of a production, mainly because it puts you in the mood to keep going in a game, and SOCOM's sountrack fits the bill perfectly. Bear McCreary did a fantastic job with the music and I hope people appreciate it. It's one of the better soundtracks I've heard this year.
Wrapping up the single player part of the game, I felt like the story could have certainly been better. One of the greatest flaws of first-person shooters these days is the lack of a really great storyline. Crysis 2 had a superb story attached to it that really put me in the mood to play the game. Call of Duty: Black Ops didn't snag me with the story. SOCOM 4 has a storyline, but it's not memorable. The action, the weapons and the different environments make up for it, but had they established a movie-like story then this could have been one of the better FPS single player campaigns to hit the market in 2011. As it is, the story lacks, but the action is still fun and addictive. You will want to complete the game, even after its flaws. I can say with all honesty that the single player campaign didn't seem like an afterthought. It just needed a bit more brainstorming.
So here's why everyone is going to purchase the game, and don't act like it's not the reason. Zipper Interactive has taken everything they learned from their MAG series (and of course their past SOCOM titles) and put together a pretty solid multiplayer experience. Here's the catch though, if you like Call of Duty: Black Ops and live/die by it then you're going to be frustrated. Most of the hate this title is getting is from people who worship the ground Black Ops crawls on, and that's fine. Much like the Medal of Honor series, I think SOCOM's fighting is tight, unforgiving and probably closer to war than CoD could ever hope to be. It has always been more of a hardcore war sim, much like the Operation Flashpoint titles, where one bullet can ruin your day. So when you get into the multiplayer experience please don't go into it with a light heart and guns blazing; you're going to have to act like you're in a war. There aren't any remote control toys rolling around with bombs strapped to them. There isn't any Halo-esque hopping around like a goofball avoiding gunfire. This is a roll-up-your-sleeves type of war game that will require you to get down and dirty with your aiming and strategy.
This game was made for hardcore war fans. That's about as plain and simple as I can make it. So if you're in the mood to get pinned down and slowly fight your way out of a situation then you've come to the right place.
Anyway, with that said, let's talk about the different types of modes you'll be diving into. Here's what to expect with online modes/types:
This is your more traditional online choice of play for most players. This is what most people will probably play with and they won't be disappointed with what they get. Here's what you're looking at with Competitive online play.
- Uplink: This is a neat type of game. Probably the most related to 'capture the flag', uplink has one team that has sensitive data points on their side of the map. The attacking team needs to infiltrate and obtain the data (and bring it back with them). I played this a lot during the closed beta session for SOCOM 4 and enjoyed it quite a bit. You are forced to play as a team in this competitive match, which is something that is needed in online games today. There's a lot of fire fighting in waves with this type of game.
- Bombsquad: Following the same theme, bombsquad has one player that has to defuse bombs set strategically on the map. The 'bomb tech' is tough to bring down and is generally guarded by folks. I think it's a bit one-sided at times in this game, but it's still intriguing to see the teamwork that players put into it.
- Last Defense: Another closed beta type I played was last defense. With this game type there are three points on the map that the attacking team most overtake. Once they overtake these spots then the enemy base is revealed to the attacking team (which ends up in a huge fire fight). I like it, as it does encourage strong teamwork on both sides. The game gets interesting with bigger maps.
- Suppression: It's team against team in this type of game. You are either the insurgents or the SpecOps forces. Either way, it's team against team, where the body count racks up until time expires.
All in all, I know that Zipper Interactive (and SCEA) have more up their sleeve when with comes to expanding this portion of online play. I think what you get right out of the box is impressive, but hopefully there is more DLC to come. People will play this portion of the game religiously, though I have to admit it's not as flashy as a CoD or Halo. Guess what? I'm okay with that. I would play this and Medal of Honor over the other two any given day of the week. I like the hardcore, balls to the wall war feel that this gives. There won't be 10-year olds cursing me online with SOCOM (as there aren't any on Medal of Honor thank GOD).
Anyway, moving on...
Grab your friends and form a squad. Online Cooperative is such a nice feature, especially if you have friends outside of your state. Here you can customize your campaign and spend as much time as you want saving the world. While there, here are the available types of games you play in Cooperative.
- Takedown: If you can picture the single player campaign mode in an online wrap, with five of your friends as support then you get what Takedown is about. You hunt an enemy officer through multiple phases of a mission, while battling his support. Shows a lot of nice teamwork and it's fun if you have the right friends. What's great about this is that the location of the officer and his support is randomly generated each time you play the mission (keeps it fresh).
- Espionage: Your basic sneak, get intel and then fight your way out type of mission. I am more of a traditionalist and I prefer less sneaking and more gunfire. I think it will work for most people, but I didn't care for it much.
Again, Cooperative mode is more for the set of gamers that love playing together online. I'm less of a PC person and prefer more fire and less co-op.
As for modifications, you basically go through the same thing that you see in the single player campaign. You earn modifications with accomplishments on the field. You can use those to adjust weapons and ruin someone's day (which is always fun). The real treat of this game is that you get 10 wonderful maps right out of the box. Each map has its own personality and is not built the same way. What amazes me most about these maps, outside of the intricate details that Zipper has put into them, is how most of them are simply gigantic. There are times where I was literally disoriented by my placement in a map. There were more than enough times where I had to stop and look around to make sure I knew exactly where I needed to be. I'm not joking, the maps are freaking huge. I've played Call of Duty and Medal of Honor for years, but I've never felt so 'small' on a map like this before. What's funny is that I've played MAG non-stop for a week, which is Zipper's huge-ass online game, but because of the intricate details placed on things like plants, broken buildings, and multiple levels I truly felt surrounded by an environment that has engulfed me. It's tough to see enemies coming sometimes and it's difficult to find clear paths through areas, which makes for some great online play. I know people might be overwhelmed or frustrated with not being able to see clearly, but again I must come back to the realism the game is trying to establish with such huge environments.
I'm sure more maps are planned, but for now I'm happy with what they've made. I won't go into detail about the maps, but just expect different maps with different attributes for success and failure. Much like the game, it won't be easy and it won't be cut and dry.
With all this said, are there any issues with the online game? One of the biggest frustrations I ran into when I was online (both with the final release and the closed beta) was the awkward spawn points. There were times where I was placed in the same location I died and the person who killed me was still in the area (and killed me again). The game seems to ignore the fact that enemies are in a particular area when it decides to respawn you. It's true that you can choose different respawn points, but if you forget then there will be times where you'll be screwed, which becomes frustrating. Medal of Honor was recently updated and it has this problem now as well (which wasn't an issue when it was first released). That was my biggest issue with online play.
If I had to pin down another complaint it would also be the 80/20 sniping. 80 percent of the time you're going to 'nail' your target. 20 percent of the time your clear path for a deadly bullet will be blocked by an imaginary object. For example, I had a clear shot in one stage through a burnt car (that had no windows) right into the head of another sniper. The scope had this guy right in the crosshair and the bullet mysteriously didn't go through the burnt frame. It didn't hit the frame, but it never made it to the target (even after five rapid shots). What did make it through the frame was the enemy's bullet that found its way perfectly to my body. There are times in the game where this is the case, which can be completely frustrating, especially for snipers.
Other than these complaints the online play was fun. There's plenty to really love about the online play and not everyone will embrace it. Stick with it and you get addicted, as I will certainly be playing this game (like I do MoH) for months to come.
So, with all this said is the game worth your money? Yes, I think that if you're looking for a more realistic style of play then it is. Sure the game has its issues with very repetitive A.I. and a straightforward storyline, but in the end the story is a quick preparation for the lasting appeal of online play.