Thursday, June 23, 2011

Action-a-plenty in "SOCOM 4"


Developed by: Zipper Interactive
Published by: Sony Computer Entertainment
Available: NOW
Available on: PS3 exclusive
Price: $59.99
Genre: First-person shooter
Rating: M for Mature

I'm old school. I am old enough to remember SOCOM AND have been a fan since it was released in 2002. It was an awesome third person tactical shooter series and sold gobs on the PlayStation 2. When Slant Six released SOCOM: Confrontation, it was greeted with a chorus of low scores. Despite the 256-player matches, the game wasn't very successful. SOCOM 4 faced a tough mission - to regain disappointed SOCOM fans. Did Zipper pull it off?

Developed by Zipper Interactive - the same studio that made the original SOCOM, and published by Sony Computer Entertainment, SOCOM 4 takes a very different approach to SOCOM this time around. Unlike the last SOCOM, SOCOM 4 offers a single-player mode that's very good and thought-provoking. It has a robust online multiplayer mode as well as co-op - a big plus. More on multiplayer later.

SOCOM 4 follows Cullen Gray, a veteran special forces officer who leads a team of four soldiers. Two of the operatives are Navy S.E.A.L.s, the other two are Korean special forces. The characters are playable in co-op. However, when the soldiers are under computer control, look out. You can give squads commands - you use the directional pad to issue an order to each team. You can also order them to engage targets, advance or clear buildings.

Gray is tasked with getting to the bottom of an invasion/surprise attack in a Malaysian country. The deeper Gray digs, the more he realizes he's the only thing stopping an international incident from happening. The plot isn't complicated, though there are a few twists that are definitely unexpected.

The action is intense. When bullets start flying, seek cover - and fast. Your squad, however, doesn't mind being bullet sponges. You'll find your teammates having to patch each other up so much, you'd think they are extras on General Hospital. However, when you get killed or down for the count, your squad won't use the same effort to help you. Interesting.

There are a few missions where you play as the sexy female operative, Forty-Five. You pick her and another Korean spec-ops soldier after their airplane is shot down. Zipper decided to add a few stealth missions that show off Forty-Five's ability to vanish. The missions are difficult and require restraint. Don't expect to go blazing into an enemy camp. You have to go in silent and swift - do your mission, then go back in with your squad. If you get detected, you're in a world of hurt. You don't have grenades - just bullet casing to distract enemies. Gray and other teammates play during the missions and as long as you listen to them, they will help you avoid being detected.

The multiplayer modes are good - when I got connected. I tried quite a few times to jump into a co-op multiplayer session online. However, there are several online modes to choose from. Some of the modes include:

Suppression: Kill enemy players.
Bomb Squad: Use Special Bomb techs to defuse bombs
Last Defense: Capture sectors to find enemy headquarters
Uplink: Capture enemy's valuable data

There's a type of level-up system in the game. The more you use a weapon, the more points you earn to use on weapon upgrades. You can also change your weapon loadouts before every mission.

The game shifts between intense firefights and Forty-Five's stealth missions. It's a good balance and a welcome change of pace, though Forty-Five's missions can be frustrating.

Controls are solid. I did run across a few glitches but nothing that affected gameplay. I did notice with respawns, if you progressed far enough, your enemies, who were spraying you with enough bullets to help the war effort in Afghanistan, when you respawn, your enemies are nowhere to found. Strange, huh?

Graphics fluctuate between awesome and meh. Sometimes, the level looks awesome - other times, it's ok. The characters look good. The explosions look great. Zipper definitely nails the tropic feel with the game, and the urban environments look good.

Audio is good, though the chatter from your squad is redundant. The quotes are funny, especially a statement that Forty-Five makes early in the game when she suggests Gray stab a superior with a pen. LOL.

Overall, it is a game worth of the SOCOM name.

The verdict? 8 (out of 10). SOCOM 4 isn't a great game. It won't win an Oscar for excellent story development. What is does do is bring a good, single-player shooter to the PlayStation 3. It is definitely better than Confrontation and will keep you engaged. While it's not SOCOM from the PS2 days, it is a good effort. Hopefully, the next offering will bring back the glory days to a storied franchise.

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