|Dev: Zipper Interactive|
|Pub: Sony Computer Entertainment|
|Release: April 19, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Steve Haske
When the original SOCOM: US Navy SEALs came out, it was an interesting concept. The game was as meticulous as it was methodical, and instead of rushing in guns blazing—which would assuredly get you killed in a very Counter-Strike style manner (read: quickly), you had to plan your every move, switching between members of your covert ops team in order to strike with the best laid plans.
If you played it right, which admittedly wasn't all that easy because of the AI's tendency to disobey orders or give away positions, a seasoned strategist could take down a whole map of enemies in a just a few minutes. Naturally the developers have had to cut away from that slower, Rainbow Six-like approach over the past several years, in order to stay current with market trends. Real life accounts of war, which often detail days of unyielding boredom, punctuated by moments of intense panic, fear, and violence when one's life may actually be in danger, are so far from the norm of what's expected in our "realistic" depictions of it in video games that the original SOCOM would never hold the attention of gamers who have been raised to expect an explosion or a gun battle going off every few minutes. So it is that SOCOM 4 manages to—quite easily, in fact—lose itself in an already overcrowded market.
To put it lightly, SOCOM 4 is a mess. It's obviously trying to be Call of Duty, which is understandable because every military-minded game has to be if they want to stay commercially relevant. But in doing so, SOCOM 4 just feels like a rehash of a game you've already played a hundred times before, and it doesn't even handling rehashing well. As it is, the game is still a tactical shooter, albeit one that's not up to date with modern game standards. It has the basic shell of a cover shooter, though you can't always blind fire or slide into cover with ease. You still have two "teams" of two people each that you can direct and lead, or order to concentrate fire on a particular enemy, but they still don't listen to you half the time. Stealth and planning are no longer an option (except in non-combat missions), meaning you have to send out very basic tactical orders on the fly with no real way to effectively pre-plan an assault. Even if you could lay it all out in advance, it wouldn't really matter, since you have to end up unrealistically playing commando anyway. At least that's what regenerating health is for, right?
I'd be willing to accept these changes to the series formula more if the game's AI and related-programming weren't so woefully inept. Your two teams, blue and gold, specialize in mid-to-short range assault and mid-long range sniping and covert ops, respectively. The distinction is nice, since you can in theory, say, send blue to a flanking position on the battlefield while target units directly by tapping the "issue gold orders" button when your reticle is on an enemy. However, blue won't get there half the time (or they just disappear) and if you're a few pixels off target, you'll send the seemingly armor-light gold marching straight to their doom by mistake, since target and directing a team to a particular location is handled with one button each. Other times you'll tell your team to flank either side of a battlefield, only to have the AI baffled as to what you mean.