Review – SOCOM 4

SOCOM 4 has been deployed. Is the game worthy enough for the franchise, or does it need to go through boot camp again? Read our review to find out.

The SOCOM series is well known for it’s authentic third person tactics. SOCOM Confrontation was the first title for the PS3 and was met with less than enthusiastic reviews, and most felt it didn’t measure up to the SOCOM name. Bugs and glitches abounded, and it never did live up to its full potential. Where Confrontation failed miserably, Socom 4 excels to the top of the class.

Socom 4 adds in a full offline campaign that takes you to South East Asia, and involves the Strait of Malacca, a major shipping channel that is being threatened by a known terrorist. It is up to you and your fellow Marines to track him down and deal with him expeditiously. You’ll travel through lush jungles, and war torn cities, fighting through AI that at times seems smarter than your average bad guy.

For the most part, you’ll play as the Special Ops Commander. His personal history with the country he now stands in goes a long ways to describe the type of person he is. You may find yourself struggling to like the guy at one point, and feeling a sense of pride at another. He is made out to be a complex character, and that’s a good thing. Stubbornness and hardheadedness are just a couple of his key traits, but honor and loyalty are his credo. Early on in your campaign you’ll meet up with a couple of Korean NATO soldiers that will join your squad. One of these is First Lieutenant Park Yoon-Hee, aka Forty Five. A stubborn, but loyal soldier that is capable of holding her own in any given firefight, but more well known for her clandestine skills. You will have a couple of levels where you are playing as her and are tasked with sneaking into, and out of, an enemy base.

Move Up

The storyline and dialogue is well thought out, and doesn’t feel forced or cliched for a video game. While Lt. Park’s commentary is laced with a few f bombs here and there, she doesn’t come across as a brash soldier type and those f bombs don’t feel thrown in for good measure. Her language, and the use of those f bombs, lead you to feel the urgency in the situation. She is known to drop a cliche now and then, but not to the point of irritation. Occasional humor should always be welcome.

Game play follows the SOCOM tradition of being a third person tactical shooter. Rambo isn’t really welcome here. You’ll have to learn how to command your team properly, and position them to be the most effective, and protected. You control both teams separately, and learning how to use them becomes paramount when playing on the harder difficulties. If someone one goes down, you can crouch over top of them and heal them, so all is not lost as long as they still have a pulse. If someone does bite the dust, you’ll have to go back to the nearest checkpoint though.

The cover system works nicely, even though blind firing is not available. Just walk up to an object that is considered cover and press circle. Some cover is destructible, so be careful where you decide to hide. Picket fences might be nice for a few seconds, but they are destroyed rather quickly by gunfire and give little to no protection to frags. Isn’t that how it should be?

One thing we found disappointing is that with the increase in difficulty, the IQ of your team mates drops considerably while the IQ of the bad guys increases tenfold. While that is one way to make the game harder, it seems odd that your guys become almost stupid and forget how to use cover at times. Playing tactically on Elite (the hardest setting) is the only way you’ll ever get through some of the tougher levels.

There are a couple of levels that have you playing as 45. These are sneak missions and it is your goal to remain undetected at all times. Sticking to the shadows and high grass gives you decent cover most of the time, but occasionally a bad guy will walk pretty close and become suspicious. You have the ability to toss a bullet shell in another direction and that will, for the most part, draw the bad guy’s attention away from you. You can then continue on to your objective. Playing on Elite requires much patience, as the bad guys don’t seem as easily distracted. Apparently cell phone reception in this country is pretty darn good, since quite a few of the sentries spend a lot of time chatting away on them. Killing some of the bad guys quietly is your only option at times, but you can pick up the corpse and hide it in the weeds to remain undetected. One nice twist on the game play is after playing through a level as 45, you’ll get to come back to the same map with your full team and in broad daylight. That gave the game a nice feeling of realism and continuity.

The addition of the sneak missions, and the compelling story line and characters, made the roughly 7 hour campaign very enjoyable. There are also collectibles hidden throughout each level in the campaign, so completionists are given some decent replayability. There are three pieces of intel to find on each level, and one bloody orange (tarocco).

SOCOM has always been at its best when playing online, and this release is no different. If you aren’t the competitive type but want to play online, you can play cooperatively with up to four other players. Missions are either assault or intel. In assault, you go from way point to way point, killing the bad guys and hunting down the insurgent officers. The intel missions have you fighting through the bad guys to reach the intel. In both modes you can adjust the difficulty level and the number of bad guys. Setting the number of bad guys to high and the difficulty to its hardest setting can make the game hectic and life threatening, but oh so fun. Voice chat is available for those with headsets, and working together is really the best way to play cooperatively. There are only six maps for this mode, and you can play them offline by yourself, but online with other human players on your team is the better way to play.

For the players out there that are looking for some human vs. human action, online competitive multiplayer is the way to go. The matches support up to 32 players across four core game types: Suppression (team deathmatch), Uplink (capture the flag), Bomb Squad (defuse/defend bombs with one player boasting a bomb suit and improved weaponry), and Last Defense (when one team captures all three points, secondary target objectives are revealed). The first two types are basic fare for online play but Bomb Squad takes the game to another level. Bomb Squad starts out as a team deathmatch until you locate the bomb technician. At that point it becomes a frantic hunt to kill the VIP. For the other team, you’ll need to escort the bomb tech and cluster around him so that his location remains hidden to the other team. Last Defense is your basic zones game. The modes are unforgiving, and death may become an active part of your game play. Headshots are one hit kills, and a couple of shots to the body are just as effective. There is little to no room for mistakes, and using caution and cover becomes paramount to your survival.

Bomb Squad

SOCOM 4’s graphics look very smooth and polished, with just a few minor glitches here and there, but nothing that will take away from the overall experience. The variety of environments is very large. You are taken from lush jungles, to jungles of concrete, and to the streets of a third world fishing village. The game supports stereoscopic 3D for those gamers that have made the 3D plunge. We did get to see and play the game at GDC in 3D earlier this year, and it was very impressive. PlayStation Move support is also available, and the PS Move Sharpshooter is well suited for the game.

Sharpshooter Bundle

The music for the game has a very good instrumental feel to it and the tempo does well to match the gameplay situation and sets the tone for where you are and what’s going on at the time.

SOCOM’s first entrance onto the PS3 turned out to be disappointing and buggy at best with problems galore. SOCOM 4 on the other hand looks and feels polished, with little to no problems whatsoever. The franchise has just found its saving grace.

Get the game. Get the Sharpshooter. Have a blast.