SOCOM 4, the latest from Redmond, Washington's Zipper Interactive's long running SOCOM series. After taking some time off from the series did they come back strong or just go through the motions? Cover me, I'm going in.
Set in Malaysia, SOCOM 4 puts you in the boots of Ops Commander Cullen Gray. Along with Gray are four other NATO special-ops personnel, fellow Navy SEALS Schweitzer and Wells and South Korean operatives Cpl. Chung and Lt. Park. Lt. Park is notable for not only being the main character you play as in stealth missions, but she is the first female combat field op in the SOCOM series. As South Korea has women serve in combat arms positions, Zipper wanted to portray a real life situation.
The initial mission is to help take care of a rebel faction known as the Naga. When the NATO base that Gray's SEALS are working out of becomes over run, it becomes a battle across the countryside to rejoin the NATO forces. Along the way you will engage in data recovery and sabotage missions. Basically it's a five-man special ops team vs. an entire rebel army.
Controls and Gameplay
The gameplay of SOCOM 4 continues to be a third person squad-based tactical shooter. You can issue orders to your squad-mates or just drag them along, though you'll die a lot less if you tactically deploy your squad.
One of the more interesting things about SOCOM 4 is you have three ways of controlling the action, classic controller, Sony Move, or Sony Move in the Sharpshooter Gun peripheral. The classic controller will be instantly familiar with anyone who have played the series before and it works just fine.
The addition of the Sony Move is surprisingly good. At a media event earlier this year I tried the Move out for SOCOM 4 and was really not impressed, yet I now prefer it. It makes aiming, and guiding were your squad-mates should deploy pretty easy. Sadly the same can't be said for Move in the Sharpshooter Gun peripheral. While it works the major drawback of the Sharpshooter is that you have to hold it in the shooting position for the whole time. In the real world you would hold a rifle nose up or down, at the ready, as you move. Holding it in a shooting position, even a relaxed shooting position will quickly tire your arms out. Another problem is trying pause the game. The "Start" button is not in an ideal position on the side of the barrel and if you use it more than a few times during a mission you will have to recalibrate the Move (which can be done quick while in the pause menu, but it shouldn't be needed this often).
The online multiplayer is split between competitive and cooperative modes. Competitive modes include variations on the "capture the flag" and "deathmatch" styles. For example, in Uplink, a "capture the flag" style match, you have to download data from computer stations found on the map. Instead of just grabbing and running, the team has to defend the person downloading the data. Once downloaded the team can then move to the next download point.
As you play online you gain experience points for things you do (kills, captures, assists, etc). As you rank up you will unlock improvements for yourself and your weapons. Like any other online shooter expect to die a lot at first until you get the feel for what's going on. After a while you'll be racking up the points too.
Graphics and Sound
I found no problems with the realistic graphics in SOCOM 4. They looked gorgeous and smooth and unlike many shooters now days, somewhat colorful.
The audio is great. The soundtrack keeps to the background and sets mood well. The voice acting is solid, even if they get an occasionally cheesy line.
While SOCOM 4 was released earlier in April, Sony's hacker attack problem really prevented me from doing a proper review.
I think the one thing that really stood out to me was the difference between the game from a few months earlier at the press event and what was actually released. The amount of polish Zipper put in really makes this game go from just OK to damn good. While the story was light, the action was intense, but not in a "run and gun" sense. You had to be tactical. Some missions involve stealth, those, for me, provided a nice break and balance from the rest of the game. I loves me some good stealth action.
Though the single player campaign is short, there is some replay-ability with it through custom missions and co-op. Multiplayer is fairly well stocked with maps and modes, with Zipper promising more to come in DLC. In fact, as of this writing, Sony is doing their "Welcome Back" event for the re-launch of the PlayStation Network. Part of that is 30 days of free PlayStation Plus, which happens to have two free pieces of DLC for SOCOM 4. A map titled "Abandoned" and a shotgun weapon pack .
Light on story, but heavy on action with good multiplayer, SOCOM 4 is a worthy addition to the series. I give it a 4 out of 5.
SOCOM 4 is rated M for Mature for Blood, Strong Language, Violence by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). It is available now exclusively on the Sony PlayStation 3. For more information see the SOCOM web site.