When it debuted in 2002, the third-person tactical shooter SOCOM was the title that put online console multiplayer on the map. At one point, the military marvel was so popular that Sony boasted that its fanbase spent more time smiting terrorists than Xbox Live users spent on the services entire worldwide library. You can imagine, then, the level of anticipation when Sony announced the development of a PS3 sequel, despite reservations from fans regarding a change of developers.
Spoiler: SOCOM: Confrontations awful launch with numerous bugs and sloppy UI confirmed their fears. Fear quickly turned to disappointment when Confrontation stumbled out of the gate with numerous bugs and a sloppy user interface, leaving many longtime fans of the franchise clamoring for the folks at Zipper to return to the helm. As a hardcore SOCOM player whos logged over 250 hours on the latest installment alone, I was right there with them.
Thankfully, weve now got a Zipper-born sequel in SOCOM 4. Billed as a tweak on classic SOCOM sensibilities with a Modern Warfare makeover, S4 is a competent action title with a ton of admirable features. But is it a game worthy of the time-honored tea-bagging, trash-talking, gun-toting tradition of the PlayStation 2s legacy? The answer is a resounding no. Its certainly not a bad game, but for a title that promised to hold true to the spirit of one of my favorite franchises, I cant help but wonder why S4 is so unabashedly indifferent to everything that made the series great.
For starters, lets talk about combat. Gone are the games signature gun battles centered around balance, tension and timing. In their place we have a headshot-happy shooting gallery born of constant, unavoidable conflict, due largely to key changes in the games design philosophy. Maps are much smaller than in previous iterations, making them more akin to wide-open paintball arenas than battlefields, and theres typically no less than a dozen potential points of exposure from any given cover spot, meaning that anything short of a corner camp in an actual corner leads to complete exposure, with or without something to hide behind.
Speaking of cover, one of SOCOM 4s key additions is a Gears of War-style system that falls short of the Epic games five-year-old standards. Swapping between cover points is a cumbersome liability and, when coupled with the fact that objects in the world often fail to provide protection from the games omniscient enemy AI, you end up with a system that had me begging for d-pad leans and Confrontations simple Sixaxis system.
As a matter of fact, many of the games calculated modernizations have a feel of inadvertent regression. The new control scheme (which relies heavily on the zoom-to-shoot method popularized by Call of Duty) removes a great deal of technique from gunplay. The simplified grenade mechanic is useless, and the antsy over-the-shoulder camera is atrocious in close quarters. Moreover, the lack of lobbies, removal of push-to-talk communication, and a post-game focus on individual accomplishments and trophies has transitioned SOCOM from a series that rewarded skill and dominance to a feel-good grindfest that feels somewhat childish by comparison.
The new multiplayer modes are welcome additions, but seem largely tuned for Respawn. Objectives take too long to execute and often require four to five teammates to survive due to the aforementioned openness of the games levels, which means Classic Mode rapidly degenerates into Suppression, regardless of the underlying goal. Moreover, its safe to say that most fans would trade all these changes for another crack at the seriess signature mode, Demolition, which is conspicuously absent from the retail release.
This is offset somewhat by the games beautiful, robust single-player campaign and co-op mission offerings, but again, why on earth cant I play through the campaign with friends? Considering the pain involved in babysitting the brain-dead meatheads in my squad, it would have redeemed a lot of the missteps mentioned above. But instead were treated to a series of context-free simulations?
Zippers return to the helm set hopes high for a pure, polished return to form, but what we end up with here is a game that tries so hard to follow the leader that it forgets itself in the process. Its an adequate piece of entertainment, but despite what the logo might lead ypu to believe, this is not a SOCOM game. Considering the current flood of me-too military shooters, thats a real disappointment.
The Good: The best-looking SOCOM to date
The Bad: Weapon differentiation, stealth missions and painful dialogue
The Ugly: No co-op campaign? Really?
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: Zipper Interactive
Players: 1, 2-4 co-op, 2-32 multiplayer
ESRB Rating: M