Since its debut on the PS2, the SOCOM series has distinguished itself from the competition as a third person tactical shooter. While many others in the genre place you in the shoes of an unstoppable individual, SOCOM has focused on squad-based strategic combat in which a surprisingly small amount of shots can take you down. As a runaway success for both the PS2 and PSP, SOCOM’s first PS3 installment (Confrontation) was considered by many as a let down. SOCOM 4: US Navy SEALs (appropriately named “Special Forces” outside the US) was designed to address the problem of its predecessor.
SOCOM 4 largely achieves its goals. It succeeds with a better than average single player campaign and thoroughly enjoyable multiplayer modes. In this review I will evaluate SOCOM 4 and discuss how it works with the PS Move Sharp Shooter peripheral.
The big improvement over Confrontation is the return of a single player campaign. The campaign provides a solid seven hours of gameplay (more if you play it on hard like I did) and does a really good job preparing you for multiplayer.
The story starts off well as you command a five person squad to stop a Southeast Asian revolutionary before descending to the typical betrayal/cover-up story line which has become quite common in many modern shooters. This is not to say it’s miserable, or even annoying – I just found myself disinterested in the plot halfway through the game.
One of the first things you notice is SOCOM 4 has nothing to do with Navy SEALs. As “Ops Commander” Cullen Gray (standard video game white guy with dark hair hero), you lead a five man NATO special forces squad through several missions in Malaysia.
Supporting characters include two operatives (American in my version, but whose nationalities vary depending on the game’s region) and two South Korean operatives. Even in the US version there is no mention of elite SEALs nor do the uniforms give any designation. Which is disappointing but fine – Zipper is obviously aiming for a global audience, but might have missed an opportunity to really cash in with Seal Team 6. That’s what sequels are for.
Don’t expect to get to know your teammates well. Character development is limited to Cullen and Korean sniper 45, who are both predictably the two characters you play as.
Graphically we have a mixed bag. Character renders are sharp, detailed and at times match the visuals seen in some of the PS3’s best first party games but other times (especially when indoors or at night) certain textures can look generic and just downright ugly.
The voice acting and sound effects are top notch and were incredible on my surround sound system and Turtle Beach PX5 Headphones. Explosions rock appropriately, while sounds of bullets ripping through enemies’ bodies is both rich and real. Melon bursting headshots steal the show as I have never heard a more satisfying effect.
SOCOM 4 provides squad-based experience complemented by a few stealth missions for variety. As the squad commander, it’s your duty to move your teammates into position with simple controls to mark positions and enemies to be eliminated. The simple controls and inherent strategic element feel satisfying but are actually too easy. If you consider yourself competent with shooters, play on the ‘Hard’ level of difficulty.
Your squad mates have the ability to revive each other as you have the ability to revive them. Don’t expect them to return the favor however, they just don’t have that ability. When you die you die, even with allies next to you.
Your squad mates’ AI isn’t anything special either. Sure you can tell them were to go and place them behind cover to set up the perfect trap and often enough it will work, but that’s not to say you won’t encounter times when they get detected or start a firefight before your trap is set. Also, don’t be surprised to have them occasionally get stuck for no apparent reason.
Levels won’t feel as varied as most games in this genre because the game takes place in a singular realistic Southeast Asian setting as opposed to a global adventure. However, the stealth missions in which you play as 45 offer a much needed change of pace. While not as well developed as what you’d see in Metal Gear or Splinter Cell, stealth missions require strategy and are often a good mix of trial and error.