This Veteran Needs
a Few More Patches
SOCOM is hardcore. There’s no getting around it. The series – debuting back on the PlayStation 2 – was the poster child for Sony online play; many consumers picked up network adapters to play the SOCOM series and nothing else. If one was outside looking in, it was initially hard to get the appeal of the series. Yet devotees knew where its strength lay: a focus on team play that locked out run-and-gun mavericks, and map design with such meticulous attention to detail that each virtual acre mattered.
When word came that the series’ originator – Zipper Interactive – was jumping off the development wagon and turning responsibility over to the newer, Slant Six Games, SOCOM fans’ eyebrows twitched in unison. The sophomore developer had previously only handled two SOCOM games on the PSP. Did Slant Six do the series justice? For the most part, yes, but some design decisions and nagging bugs make for a game that’s more of an extended beta than a proper release. Nevertheless, SOCOM has made the next logical jump and now is available for your PlayStation 3 (either via disc or as a PSN download).
Let’s get some install details and bug talk out of the way. Those picking up the disc version of SOCOM will have to sit through a 20-minute install to move over the 2.7 gigs of necessary game data. Normally that wouldn’t be a terrible proposition, but there’s also a 470 megabyte patch (which moves the game up to version 1.10) to download and install. Even after that, all is not said and done. Gamers may end up with corrupted data (even though they haven’t played yet) and have to delete profile data to properly start.
Don’t assume that the current patch will guarantee smooth play. We made sure to play on public servers so we could deliver an evenhanded review of net play and, even after the patch, it’s very hit-or-miss. Network initialization errors were encountered quite often – this resulted in no play whatsoever. Stat tracking broke and match join times ranged anywhere from a modest 20 seconds to well over a minute. The game also froze on multiple occasions, requiring reboots.
Before getting into action, you can customize the two default classes: commandos and mercenaries (special classes are only available to clan players). You can change the default head profile and put a backward cap on your mercenary, but character tailoring is more about function than style. Camo profiles for three settings – desert, night, and urban – can be saved, giving you a set of outfits for the right occasion. Body armor is split up into two areas: torso and legs. Since you have three profiles to chose from – light, medium, and heavy – you can deck yourself out in all heavy gear or mix-and-match, throwing heavy armor on your torso and a lighter set on your legs, so you still have a decent degree of mobility.
Personalizing your weapon payload is important. You have two weapons slots: a primary and secondary one. The primary includes assault rifles, submachine guns, shotguns, machine guns, and sniper rifles. Secondary guns are limited to handguns. There’s also two gear slots that can hold everything from M67 frag grenades and ANM8 White Smoke to C4 and Claymore mines. To top it all off, you can add scopes, laser sights, and bipods to many primary weapons. These gear profiles can be saved, should you need to swap on-the-fly during multiplayer matches.
So, say you’ve got your customized character and this is your first SOCOM game. Naturally, you look for a tutorial or some kind of single-player campaign so you can learn the ropes instead of going into a multiplayer baptism by fire. Here’s your problem: Confrontation contains no single-player or tutorial mode (this could be patched in later – Warhawk, for example, now includes a tutorial it didn’t have at launch). For the hardcore, this may not be a concern, but for beginners, this is an acceptable complaint. There’s no explanation of what the eight game modes mean – you’ve just got to jump online and hope to pick up the fundamentals along the way. This sink-or-swim mentality may discourage a lot of gamers from trying out Confrontation.
Online play is split into channels, which are labeled by zone. Once inside a zone, you can create or join a game. There’s no matchmaking, so you’ve got to carefully go over match descriptions or you’ll find yourself in a formidable situation. Also, Slant Six made a weird decision about match exits. Instead of popping you back in the game lobby or respective channel, quitting a match throws you back to the main game menu and by the time you find the right channel again, it may be full.
Gripes aside, online play is very rewarding. SOCOM has never been a game that honors shoot-from-the-hip players. In fact, running and shooting is a bad tactical combo. You can sprint, but you have to stop and ready your weapon before you can fire. This encourages players to think before each move instead of haphazardly running around a map. Also, there’s the group dynamic – if you don’t coordinate with your team, you won’t last long. Teams that work together stay alive together. By planning out choke points and moving in small packs, an efficient team can move across a map with grace, something not seen in many shooters.
Not only does the way Confrontation play fuel coordination, but so do its modes and maps. Demolition has you either planting a bomb inside an enemy base or defusing it before a timer runs out. Control mode puts a series of capture points on a map, but, unlike many Battlefield-esque games that require you to control the point, all you have to do is perform the initial capture and move to the next point. By not having a constant back-and-forth, it makes each cap all the more punishing and rewards a well-thought out defense.
Extraction – a simple hold or rescue the hostage mode – also stands out. By allowing the mercenary side to issue follow-orders to hostages, it changes the flow of play. You may start out a match on the mercenary side with all your hostages in one big room that has three points of entry – not a great defensive position. However, you can shepherd the hostages to an area like an elevated, closed room with only one entrance – effectively giving you a prime choke point for when the commandos attempt their rescue. All of a sudden, you’ve turned what was a defensive game into more of an offensive gambit. Not a bad way to turn the tables.
Confrontation may only have seven maps, but they’re all incredibly well thought out. For example, Crossroads (a remake from a previous SOCOM game) has a series of connected rooftops and narrow alleyways juxtaposed by open market squares. Quarantine features an abandoned lab littered with crumbling catwalks and tight corridors. Urban Wasteland – a bombed downtown area – has underground sewer passages, shattered parking decks (providing excellent sniper spots), and mountains of debris, making for plenty of cover when moving from point-to-point.
The biggest benefit SOCOM receives from jumping to the PlayStation 3 is the draw distance. Past games had graphical fog that obstructed your view. Now you can literally see across the entire map. This clarity comes at a price: you’ll see low-res textures pasted to walls and occasionally encounter graphical glitches; on one occasion all the walls on a side of the map disappeared, revealing a vast expanse of nothingness in the distance. The audio is impressive for its attention to environmental detail. If a gun fires in a tunnel, it lets out a proper echo, whereas if it’s fired in a padded room, the sound is muffled. Also, gunfire is positional, so you can tell if someone is firing from close by or tucked back in the distance.
SOCOM has always catered to the hardcore and Confrontation is no different in this regard. Slant Six has done an admirable job updating the formula of past games, but the decision to wipe the single-player slate clean and the copious amounts of bugs are standout problems.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.4 Graphics
There aren’t a lot of fancy effects on display, and there’s the occasional glitch and lo-res texture, but Confrontation has it where it counts: long draw distance and solid level geometry. Oh, and this is weird: why do the menus feel sluggish? 3.5 Control
The control scheme may come off as counterintuitive to many first-person shooter fans, but once you wrap your head around it, you’ll find it surprisingly functional. The Sixaxis implementation works okay, but isn’t astounding. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Being an online-only title, the music department is quite sparse, but the effects on display are top-notch. Gunfire sounds great and when combined with the environmentally sensitive audio and positional effects; it assembles a great sonic package. 3.7 Play Value
The net play is extremely rewarding … when it works. Even after a massive patch, there are still network initialization errors and problems with stat tracking. The lack of any tutorial or single-player is disheartening, as it makes it harder for newcomers to step into the franchise. 3.7 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.