Nothing Like A SEAL!
Why is SOCOM 4 important? That’s a good question. With the beta run of the game beginning, gamers want to know why this should be the shooter to play in a world filled with Call of Duty, Killzone, Medal of Honor, and more. Back in the day, the SOCOM series was one of the only reasons to take your PlayStation 2 online. In this generation, however, online play is more a necessity than a shiny selling point. Just what can SOCOM do to stand out in a market that is saturated with realistic warfare-based first-person shooters?
At first glance, SOCOM 4 seems like it isn’t trying to stand out as much as it is trying to join the club. Gone are the old school health bars, which have been replaced by the industry standard of health that regenerates over time. Run and gun tactics have given way to strategic cover-based shooting, and the game takes a page from the Battlefield series by making most if not all of its cover destructible. However, this is where the cookie-cutter similarities end.
SOCOM has always been about squad-based combat. Players are able to give commands to their team members while simultaneously controlling one character directly. In SOCOM 4, you are able to issue specific squad-based commands, set movement waypoints, tweak the behavior of your squad members, or even let the A.I. take over and just go on a shooting spree. In this installment, the player can also enter “Command Mode,” which is a sort of strategic bullet time where the action slows down in order to let you make decisions for your squad.
The single-player campaign will feature fourteen long missions that vary in their objectives. Players will receive active intel in the middle of gameplay, which could change their objectives in different ways. Sometimes players will be tasked to confront the enemy head-on, while other times they will be forced to infiltrate opponent strongholds more stealthily. Taking a page from Call of Duty, SOCOM 4 now allows players to call in support in order to attack with air-strikes and other special tactical maneuvers. It’s a departure from the system’s normal formula, but it has worked in the past for other franchises, and it will probably work now.
FPSes live or die according to their multiplayer suite, and SOCOM 4’s multiplayer is shaping up to be quite interesting. The game supports up to thirty-two players at once, which is something that, to this date, only PC shooters have really been able to pull off (with the exception of certain titles like M.A.G. that weren’t very successful anyway). SOCOM 4 will feature both co-operative and competitive multiplayer, and will include the basic modes of Uplink (capture the flag) and Suppression (team deathmatch). Players will earn experience and unlock new guns and gun modifications as they level up but that’s where the similarities to other shooters end (*cough cough* Call of Duty *cough*).
SOCOM 4’s other multiplayer modes are titled Last Defense and Bomb Squad. In Last Defense, players are tasked to capture and hold three strategic points on the map in order to make the enemy’s base vulnerable. At that point the goal is to rush the enemy’s base and hold it for a certain amount of time without being overrun by your opponent. Bomb Squad, on the other hand, puts one player in the role of a bomb-defusal technician and tasks him with defusing three bombs scattered across the map. The technician takes less damage and has access to an auto shot gun and a grenade launcher but he is the only one who can defuse the bombs. That means that the rest of the team has to protect him while he does his job. Last Defense is a fusion of capture point and bomb placement gameplay styles, and Bomb Squad is a fusion of V.I.P. escort and bomb placement; both of them look really fun.
The feel of the multiplayer is also pretty unique. Though players get to modify their load outs as much as they like, bullets, on the whole, pretty much kill people. The game has a Counter-Strike vibe to it, rewarding players who are good at using cover and quick to the trigger. To balance this out, special tactical maneuvers like air-strikes aren’t given out by way of kill-streaks. Instead, they are given out whenever you complete an important objective on the map (like capturing a point). This allows everyone to get a taste of power, and even lets the newbies come back from behind with a well-placed sprint to a control point followed by a bombing run.
However, SOCOM 4 is not all good. Back at least year’s E3 I played the game’s Move-based controls, and they were downright horrible. The reticle didn’t move where you wanted it to, and you fumbled around with the controller far more than you would with simple analog sticks. The game also advertises that it will have full 3D compatibility, but that too is a bit of a stretch. When I tried the 3D I frequently saw double images, and when the 3D did work, it didn’t add anything to the game. It was actually more disorienting than immersive. It felt like how those old B movies used 3D to produce jump-out scares.
In addition, those four multiplayer modes were the only modes announced. If that is all we are getting in the multiplayer suite, then the game will pale in comparison to other shooters that feature far more varieties of gameplay. The single-player story doesn’t do a whole lot for me either. The SOCOM development team has described it as something that goes “beyond the typical bounds of military shooters,” but at this point all we really know is that Americans are working together with Koreans on missions set in Asia. That doesn’t seem all that “beyond the bounds” of normal shooter stories to me.
The SOCOM 4 private beta just started. It will become available to PlayStation Plus users on March 22, and then on March 29 it will open up to anyone who has a Killzone 3 voucher. On April 5th, two weeks before the game’s release, the beta will go public and everyone will get a chance to play. In my opinion, everyone should take this opportunity to decide whether or not SOCOM 4 is the game for them. You won’t find a gigantic multiplayer suite filled with tons of different modes, but you will find a shooter with a lot of depth in the characters you make, the squads you command, and the missions you undertake. Will SOCOM be able to challenge the FPS greats out there? Will it make people look at the PS3 as a legitimate console for FPS gaming? Only time will tell, but I think it will do just fine.