Allow me to preface this entire review with the fact that is my first time playing a SOCOM game and given the state of Sony’s PSN service this review focuses solely on the single player portion of SOCOM 4. While I’m a fan of most shooters, I prefer the more tactical style shooters that feature load outs versus run-and-gun titles that feature power weapons. SOCOM 4 is the second offering of the series on the PS3. The first game, Confrontation, received just average reviews. Can SOCOM 4 improve on this and push the series forward?
If a game like MAG is Sony’s take on run-and-gun shooters like Battlefield, I view the SOCOM games, that are more tactical shooters, to be in the vein of the Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six series. As with the rest of the games in the series, SOCOM 4 is played from a third person perspective with some first person characteristics such as when you aim down the gun sights when using the different guns. The single player campaign is set in Malaysia and centers around fighting a rogue mercenary group. The plot isn’t anything new or innovative, but it’s functional enough although you just won’t be remarking to anyone about how great the story was after you’re done. SOCOM 4 also introduces stealth-based levels into the mix alongside the traditional tactical shooter action.
As you play through the game, you can pick up guns to add to your arsenal. Using different weapons levels them up through five levels. Each level unlocks certain modifications that can be used for that weapon such as different scopes that can help with zoom or modified stocks that might help with accuracy. This provides a small incentive for replayability as you try to level up your weapons and open up new mods. I’m sure this really impacts the online play, but given the issues with PSN I can’t comment any further. What I do like is that these mods aren’t all that complex and they are easy to change in the loadout screen before missions begin. There are the typical weapon class types and plenty of weapons within each, which adds to deployability. There is also replayability in playing through the game’s missions using different weapon classes (ie. sniper vs heavy machine guns vs assualt rifles, etc) as you can approach each scenario and level in a different way.
The controls are one of the stronger points to the game. The default button layout was great for my liking with the execption of having to use the L2 button to bring up a weapons menu. This is more of a personal preference as I have issues with Sony’s controller (I’m not a fan). Thankfully there is a quick weapon swap button that solves this issue. I also find Sony’s thumbsticks a bit too easy to click in. Melee is mapped to the right thumbstick and I found myself meleeing when fighting at short range which inevitably ended in far too many untimely deaths. Frustrating to say the least!
Everything starts out promisingly, but as you play through the game things become too repetitive for my liking. My biggest gripes are that there’s really nothing here that pushes the genre forward and there’s too much trial-and-error gameplay for my liking. While everything is implemented well, you’ll have seen it all before in other games, often done better too. Cover is one example. I really like the fact that if you can see a body part of an enemy you can shoot it. You have to be directly against cover to use it too. That can make things difficult if you’re running for cover under heavy fire. The game could really use some sort of transition animation as you approach cover. As for my other issue, while I applaud the attempt at stealth, the trial and error issue is most prevalent (but not limited to) in these levels. I just don’t find this type of gameplay enjoyable. Having to play portions of levels over and over and over again trying to find just the right path or timing is not fun. It gets so tiring and monotonous.
SOCOM 4 does feature online multiplayer support for up to 32 players and offers a good sample of game modes. It also smartly features cooperative play for up to five players with the promise of additional cooperative levels to come. When PSN is back up and working we’ll try and get some of our opinions up here.
Visually, character models look good during gameplay, but they are really generic looking and show a lack of life during cut scenes. This doesn’t effect gameplay but it hampers your immersion into the game. The game’s environments begin with such promise in the first level, but begin they begin to feel very repetitive towards the end of the game. Levels play out in a very linear fashion but the game does a decent job of hiding this with plenty of environmental detail.
The special effects are average at best. There’s plenty of explosions and they are okay enough, but they lack a certain impact. I chalk this up to a distinct lack of environmental damage. When a truck or something blows up and nothing around it is touched or even charred you lose that sense of believability.
Technically speaking, the framerate appears solid throughout. There are no periods of slowdown which is nice. This might sound a little sadistic, but there are some decent blood effects. This does sound weird, but when you’re playing a shooter you want to know when you’ve hit someone. SOCOM definitely does that without being overly gory.
Aurally, SOCOM 4 toes the line of being decidedly average. The sounds of war (the shooting, explosions, etc) are solid. Other areas don’t fare as well though. The very first level grabbed my attention immediately with tons of impressive sounds such as gunfire echoing off of surrounding buildings. Such attention to detail always impresses me and is even more impressive when played at high volume and surround sound.
Unfortunately, this is not complemented with the game’s dialog, which is pretty laughable. Part of this might be because I just finished playing Portal 2 which features some of the best voice acting I’ve heard in a game, but the dialog in SOCOM 4 comes across as very sterile. There is some chatter during gameplay as well. NPC’s will offer chatter here and there but a lot of it is repetitive. On a more promising note, the game’s soundtrack fits the different levels extremely well. One stand out example is during the stealthy levels where the music adds a tangible sense of tension.
SOCOM 4 is a good tactical shooter, but is falls short from being a great game because it really doens’t do anything new and flounders in an area or two. As decently as it plays, it just feels as if it could benefit from a bit more polish. This is typically something I see around the holidays, but given the spring release of SOCOM 4 I am wondering why they didn’t let this one cook a little longer. Oh and one more thing. Why does every main character in a Sony game have to look and sound like Nathan Drake?