SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy SEALs (Available exclusively on the PlayStation 3)
ESRB Rating: M
Genre: Tactical Shooter
Developer: Zipper Interactive
Release Date: April 19, 2011
PlayStation Network Compatible
Parent Talk: SOCOM is a military tactical shooter. The ESRB rates it M for Mature and warns against blood, strong language and violence. That’s common for a game like this, and parents would do well to listen.
Review Basis: Completed the campaign on Normal difficulty in six and a half hours. Created and played through one solo custom map. 34% of trophies acquired. Don’t own a 3D-compatible HDTV, thus could not test the 3D functions of the game.
Review Warning: The PSN has been offline for over two weeks as of this writing. No online features could be tested. The review will be edited once it’s fixed. If any alterations need to be made to the final recommendation, they will be administered at that point in time.
Remember SOCOM Confrontation? Hopefully not, because it was an online-only tactical shooter plagued with so many problems that we insisted to avoid it at all costs. It came off as a faux SOCOM. It didn’t feature a single-player campaign and wasn’t developed by Zipper Interactive. That’s not the case for SOCOM 4. Zipper’s back in form and the series has evolved to attract a new audience and hardcore veterans. Was the wait for a ‘real’ SOCOM worth it, or have other franchises stolen its thunder?
The Great: (This section will be edited after the online portions are available again.)
+ New life for an aging series. SOCOM 4 is the fourth title in the franchise, as the name implies, and fans are used to the tried-and-true formula. What’s refreshing here is the completely different setting and totally unique squad. Its members don’t serve the same military, or even don CAMO. Think Modern Warfare a la SOCOM to get an idea. It works very well actually.
+ Same enjoyable tactical gameplay. Issue commands, secure positions and neutralize targets. If that’s what you want, SOCOM 4 has you covered. Orders are basic, meaning you can only tell your squad to advance to a new location, eliminate specific enemies or regroup. Full Spectrum Warrior this is not.
+ Solid Snake…sort of. Agent Forty-Five is the reconnaissance expert. It’s her job to scout ahead and analyze what the enemy is brewing. The problem is that these missions are too similar to each other. They all take place at night, and though you carry out different tasks, more variety would have been appreciated. Still, they do help diversify the overall game.
+ Great mode variety. SOCOM is known for variety, and not just for single player, but for all the series offers. There’s a standard campaign, a custom campaign mode where players create unique takes on six different maps (changing enemies numbers, their aggression level, etc). There are two online co-op modes and naturally the competitive online multiplayer. That’s a lot of content for your money.
+ Ranking up. One of SOCOM 4’s more redeeming qualities is the ability to upgrade your weapons. Simply use whatever weapon you wish to improve in any of the many modes. All your accomplishments count. Weapons increase in powerful, and can be equipped with scopes, silencers, etc.
+ Move support. The Move offers better aiming than your analog sticks, but also hinders movement. Sadly, the Sharpshooter doesn’t work anywhere near as well as it does for Killzone 3. The reason is simple: Zipper didn’t alter the control-scheme to match the peripheral.
+ Solid voice acting. The story isn’t presented well, but the acting is handled with care. The actors seemingly enjoyed their work. The two main characters speak 90% of the dialogue, with the rest of the squad interjecting little quips here and there. Unfortunately the enemy dialogue is what you expect from a shooter, mind-numbingly dull.
– Cliché story. When the shocking plot twist occurs around half way point, I would be shocked if anyone was surprised. There’s no backstory either. Of the five-man team, only two solders are supported with any sort of depth. Even the woman assisting over radio is lifeless.
– Lack of challenge. Playing on normal proved to be a breeze. I took my time, explored the various levels and still managed to finish the game in under seven hours…easily. Only one mission proved to be of any challenge. Up the difficulty to hard and you’re in for a brutal experience. Rockets will destroy your teammates at every corner and you don’t have the luxury of bringing them back to life every two seconds as you do on the other difficulty settings. Given that ninety percent of the population will only play the game on normal, a little balance would have gone a long way.
– Dumb AI. Your squad is virtually unstoppable on Normal, but they’re hardly the sharpest pencils. If a teammate follows you up a flight of stairs, it’s sometimes a chore to go back down in passing him. The enemies are brainless too. If everyone rushes an area, somehow only you stick out. That’s not smarts, it’s cheesy. Other times enemies look right at you and fail to engage. Not exactly impressive, eh?
– Lack of strategy. This stems from the lame AI. Without a challenge, the commands aren’t critical to use. If you play above Normal, that changes, but shouldn’t the default setting force you to use commands?
– Linear…very linear. Another hindrace for command use is the linear nature of the environments. Fences prevent you from flanking enemies or effectively executing advanced strategies. I thought the point of the PS3 was advancing gaming, but sometimes I wonder if I’m playing a PS2 game thanks to the inability to clear magical obstacles.
– I can save, but not be saved. What gives? If your teammates fall during combat, you can race over and revive them, but it’s game over if you go down. Does that make sense? I don’t think Zipper is a fan of Killzone 3.
The graphics are dated. PS2 textures, foliage that you clip through constantly, and linear level design makes SOCOM 4 look older than it is. After playing Killzone 3, SOCOM 4 could have obviously used extra time in the oven. It’s not ugly, as the squad enjoys high-res polygons that animate well, but not much else.
SOCOM 4 is a good, but not great tactical shooter. There are better ones out there. That doesn’t mean SOCOM is down for the count just yet. Zipper knows this genre well, and we’re hopeful that the guys will return to the drawing board. They want to make the series more accessible, but I think they’re going about it the wrong way. SOCOM should be complex and deep, appealing to the hardcore shooter fans out there. I want a rich and long experience that challenges me to use my squad effectively. Hopefully Zipper senses change needs after reading what everyone has to say about their latest. Final recommendation: rent it and see if you become addicted to the online multiplayer.