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PS3 Review – SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy SEALs

April 13, 2011 Written by Daniel Bischoff

Unlike other SOCOM games released for the PS3, SOCOM 4 returns to Zipper Interactive’s experienced hands for a numerical sequel worthy of the SOCOM name. With a full campaign mode, online co-op missions, and the biggest online multiplayer mode the SOCOM series has ever offered, do you even need full PlayStation Move support? Still, in an online world of fast paced first person shooters, can a tactical third-person shooter survive?

I wasn’t entirely sure of the answer to that question myself. New to the PlayStation brand, SOCOM 4 was my first foray into the storied online tactical shooter. Friends would always say how great SOCOM was but the series has never been a system seller. Not knowing what to expect was a blessing and a curse at the same time. I forgave faults that were disguised as design choices but was confused on more than one occasion. Despite being green to the series, a few things stuck out as definitive plusses and minuses.

SOCOM 4‘s single player campaign puts you in control of Cullen Gray, the epitome of everything you’ve already seen in a military game’s narrative character. As the Operations Commander, Gray is tasked with every objective you’ve already seen in every other military game. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Ops Com is tasked with a bunch of different missions in Southeast Asia. Gray picks up a pair of South Korean operatives within the first fifteen minutes of the game and orders them around like he does his token Navy Seals. Honestly, Zipper treats every character as disposable to the point that their lives only matter so you don’t fail out of the campaign. I would regularly command each squad ahead of me just so I wouldn’t take the first round from an enemy sniper.

It doesn’t help that the story in SOCOM 4 is totally confusing and off-putting. At first I thought I was just missing all of the backstory from previous SOCOM games. How stupid of me to think that anyone behind SOCOM 4‘s narrative would care about any established backstory. You can probably guess the ending before the opening cut scene finishes and if you don’t there’s nothing mind-blowing after that anyways.

Campaign missions alternate between all out firefights and stealth missions. There are some interesting set pieces where gun fire erupts across the current setting, but as engaging as those are the firefight missions completely ignore other gameplay elements like tactical orders and flanking. They turn every mission into a series of shooting galleries which feel totally out-of-place in such a tactically oriented game. In the stealth missions you take control of Yoon-Hee Park, codename “Forty-Five.” I won’t get into the sexism behind making the sole female character a stealth-oriented soldier, but I will say that the stealth missions she stars in are so linear and, well, boring that they won’t be pleasing feminist and male gamers alike.

What’s more, SOCOM 4‘s single player suffers from abhorrent difficulty spikes. It’s not like you won’t know what you’re doing, but you will feel like a failure no matter the difficulty level you’ve chosen. Later missions really stick it to you without warning. The first objectives in a jungle mission were simple enough, especially thanks to the ability to order my unit out in the open, but when I turned the corner several rockets landed right in my face. SOCOM 4‘s campaign is long enough and doesn’t need the sense of time-wasting I was left with. I wanted to walk away from the game on several occasions. If it weren’t for the multiplayer rewards I reaped from finishing the campaign, I’d advise you not to waste your time.

SOCOM 4‘s competitive multiplayer is really the game’s saving grace. Matches are responsive and game types are varied. You can go old school and play rounds with one life per player or try new modes like Bomb Squad which pits teams against each other defending and defusing bombs. Either way won’t fail you. Games are normally filled to the brim with 32 players and maps that are just big enough to hold all of the action in.

One thing I can praise SOCOM for is the ability to retool your load out when you die. Is a pesky sniper getting the best of you? Spawn with a long-range rifle yourself and hunt the bastard down. Find yourself outgunned in small spaces? Time to switch your secondary weapon over to a shotgun or submachine gun. SOCOM 4‘s multiplayer is easily the strongest option on the game’s menu.

No matter what you’re doing, kills will earn you weapon mods. That means across all game modes and game types each kill you earn will build up to that much-needed silencer, scope, or under-barrel shotgun. Just like my inexperience helped and hurt my single-player experience, the weapon leveling system will hurt your arsenal. Do you switch it up and try a new gun or stick with old fully customized, fully outfitted faithful?

Luckily, SOCOM 4‘s co-op missions will allow you a ton of computer player opponents to headshot you way to all those weapon parts without having to dive back into the messy single player campaign. Co-op missions range from shooting digital fish in a barrel to having your ass and your friends’ asses handed to you. There’s no soul crushing difficulty spikes here though. You’ll be fully aware of increased enemy threats before you even select a mission.

Oh, and SOCOM 4 supports the Move controller and stereoscopic 3D. While my experience with 3D in SOCOM 4 was short-lived, it also felt completely unnecessary. There’s a reason 3D isn’t a selling point like it was for Killzone 3. Move support on the other hand does feel fast, responsive, and comfortable. If you’ve got the sharpshooter peripheral you’ll probably enjoy hitting the reload button like I did. Adjusting the sensitivity of the Move to your liking is critical and while the game is certainly enjoyable with it, it doesn’t make up for any of SOCOM 4‘s shortcomings. You’ll probably also get your ass kicked if you take it online unless you’ve had your hand surgically replaced by the Move.

When I sat down to write, I was prepared to be more positive about SOCOM 4. Multiplayer and co-op make for a ton of fun and the game is built solid from the ground up, but don’t waste your money if you only plan on playing SOCOM 4‘s single-player campaign. Maybe you’ve already been playing the beta over PSN. If you’re enjoying that then SOCOM 4 is a must-buy. If you’re not… well quit playing the beta! Why are you forcing yourself to do that?

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

+ Online multiplayer and co-op.

+/- Move and 3D support anyone?

– The same sniper killed me over and over and over again in the campaign.

7 out of 10