Back in the glory days of the PS2, there was a little game that got a lot of hype and made owners of the system very excited. SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs was your typical 3rd person shooter, but it also brought a new aspect to the way we played: commanding your troops with a headset and your voice. Since that pioneering release in 2002, we have seen other games in the series and they have stuck with the same gameplay mechanic. With SOCOM 4, that principle remains unchanged, only this time you’re not a SEAL.
You play as Ops Commander Cullen Gary, in charge of a five-person NATO team charged with taking down an entire army occupying an unnamed country in Southeast Asia. The story has been done before and seems uninspired. There isn’t much character development, and what little there is centers only on Gray and the other playable character, Forty-Five. The only redeeming factor for the story is the voice acting. It is superbly done with some clever one-liners.
As previously stated, SOCOM 4 stays true to its heritage of squad-based gameplay. When you play as Gray, you are in control of two-man teams Blue and Gold. Blue Team’s specialty is mid-range combat with assault rifles as primary weapons, while the Gold Team’s specialty is long-range and suppression with silenced weapons and sniper rifles. Commanding the troops is a snap, as it is handled with the directional pad. To command the Blue Team to a location, simply point your cursor and press left on the d-pad. For the Gold Team, press right. If you want your teams to take out a specific target, just put your cursor on the enemy and press the appropriate button, and they will take them out. This is useful as the action gets rather intense towards the end of the game. I did, however, run into some problems with execution of orders. For instance, I targeted an enemy sniper for the Gold Team to take out.
I figured this wouldn’t be a problem, as the team was right next to me and I could see the enemy. After a couple of minutes, the team reported back that they didn’t have a visual. This happened more than once, which was surprising because the AI is some of the smartest I have encountered in some time. The good news is that you really don’t need to point out targets all that much as, like I said, your team is very intelligent and know when to shoot. In fact, you can let your team do all the dirty work for you. There is even a trophy for doing just that. But really, what’s the fun in that?
Playing as Forty-Five is entirely different. Since she is part of the Gold Team and uses silent techniques, her missions are stealth based. The gameplay is typical for stealth missions: stay in shadows and don’t be seen otherwise you will be killed. As I don’t have the patience for stealth and prefer to run around and shoot things, her missions were the most frustrating. Learning the layout of the map and enemy locations is purely trial and error; nothing new for stealth.
The most frustrating thing about this game is the fact that, unlike your teammates, Gray cannot be revived. Fortunately, checkpoints are handled well so you don’t have to start too far from where you died.
When you have completed the single player campaign, you can grab a few friends and try the co-op mission modes. There are a few different options here. You can create a quick match, join friends who are already playing co-op missions, create a custom co-op challenge, or just create a co-op game. If you just want to create a co-op game, you have two different choices. You can play Takedown, which has you fighting through enemy forces with the goal of eliminating the enemy VIP character. You can also play a game mode called Espionage, which has you fighting enemy forces to obtain and upload data. For the time I got to play these modes, I had a lot of fun. The intense action carries over from the single player campaign and does require you to stay in communication with your buddies. You’ll need them to cover your butt, and if they fail to do that, you will die. If you do find yourself dying a lot, you can customize the game by toning down the difficulty and quantity of enemy forces.
The customization doesn’t stop there. The weapons you acquire and level up in the single player are carried over to the multiplayer modes. Don’t get too excited, though. The weapon customization is awful. Each weapon can only be upgraded to 5 levels. Scopes and suppressors are the only unlockables. Thanks to other military combat games, we have been spoiled with customization. SOCOM simply does not deliver on this aspect.
Unfortunately, the competitive multiplayer was unavailable due to PSN outages. We will update our impressions right here as soon as the PSN is up and we are able to play online.
While SOCOM has its flaws, the game is very enjoyable. The single player campaign is fun, with squad command being easy to execute and an absolute necessity, but I had more fun with the multiplayer. I had a blast playing with friends, yelling at them to take out enemies that had me pinned down. If the minor problems are fixed, the game will be that much more enjoyable. Unfortunately, with a slew of other titles in this genre, it’s all too likely that SOCOM 4 will get lost in the crowd.
Review copy provided by publisher.