Jeremy Jastrzab
26 Apr, 2011

SOCOM: Special Forces Review

PS3 Review | After a strategic war shooter? SOCOM and get it...
SOCOM, a venerable series produced at the height of Sony and PlayStation 2 dominance and innovation, followed with a number of titles after the 2002 debut. The strategic third person shooter debuted with the addition of a headset, which allowed you to command your squad with your own voice. For a while, things were fine and dandy, as three successful PS2 and two fine PSP titles seemed to set up the franchise for life. But just like a lot of Sony decisions in the current generation, something went awry. And saying that SOCOM: Special Forces (officially SOCOM 4 is better than SOCOM: Confrontation frankly, isn’t saying much.

SOCOM: Special Forces marks a return to the proper lineage of the series, with the original developers Zipper Interactive. Furthermore, it’s among the few ‘core’ titles that boasts full PlayStation Move support, meaning that you play with just the Wand and Navigation controller, or pop them both into the plastic peripheral know as the ‘Sharpshooter’. Unfortunately, that means that the voice commands have been completely forsaken. Without such a distinguishing feature, some may argue that SOCOM: Special Forces has a big task ahead in trying to compete with the massive shooter market that has been hugely competitive this year.

Running the gamut of war cliches.

Running the gamut of war cliches.
In short, SOCOM: Special Forces doesn’t quite deliver. Things don’t get off to a great start, as the story is a pretty lacklustre effort. It tells a rather typical war tale set in some tropical south-east Asian locale. Locals are rebelling and NATO has sent some peace troops. The proverbial fan takes a beating and in the throes of civil war, the NATO commander is looking for his redemption following a previously failed south-east Asian mission. While it gets off to a very slow start, it manages to peak at the right time, but overall, the effort is very predictable and forgettable.

As for the gameplay, it feels as if the developers have tried to retain the (archaic) experiences of the PlayStation 2 and shoe-horn all the new and exciting aspects over the top to try and modernise the title. The most obvious aspect of this is the addition of cover mechanics, which end up symbolising everything that ends up wrong with SOCOM 4. While it’s a clear attempt to keep up with the times, the implementation of it is completely amateur. The controls are too cute, as there is too much ambiguity mapped into the functions (e.g. sometimes pressing left will move you along cover, or take you out of it), and often pressing the cover button simply sometimes won’t work.

For a game so heavily based in cover, this sounds like a recipe of disaster. So while it’s disappointing, it thankfully is still somewhat functional. You’ll still be able to do all the functions that you’d expect with any self-respecting cover shooter. It works, just not always as you want it to. The core shooting itself is satisfying enough and works fine. You’ll have a good variety of weapons, all of which will upgrade as you use them on the battlefield. Between each mission, you can choose between your upgraded weapons, or ones that you’d like to start maxing out. It’s a cute touch, but it never tells you what is upgraded at each level and one that you don’t really need to succeed.

We just wanted to use a bathroom!

We just wanted to use a bathroom!
The strategic element is still here, as you’ll be with a squad of four (not including yourself) for most of the game. This group is split in two, where the blue team is better for mid-ranged combat and the gold team is better for long ranged combat. You can command each team individually to either head to specified locations or to attack specific targets. So it’s basic but functional. Often, the strategic element comes off more as an option than a necessity.

To cater for environments that are conducive to stop-and-pop gunplay, this means a fairly linear mission track. It’s something that you’ll only notice quite early in the game, as it’s a slow starter. The scale of battles and battlefields slowly escalates to the point of actually being endearing and enjoyable, to the point where you’ll actually think about how to tackle the different scenarios. Like the story, the action peaks at the right moments too, so at least this is done well enough. The destructible environments will help keep you on your toes too, as you scramble for new cover. To mix things up, you’ve got a couple of espionage mission too. These are fairly basic stealth affairs, occasionally marred by trail-and-error gameplay, but ultimately succeeding in providing a break in play.

For a development team that has been in the business for a while, there a number of very little decisions and omissions, all pointing to archaic and amateur designs. The attempted simplification of the strategic elements has made for a crammed controller interface, which hasn’t been efficiently utilised. Some have too many functions and others haven’t got enough. Other omissions at the basic level include the lack of binoculars, which would have been really handy in a number of scenarios and you would have thought necessary. At a more basic gameplay level, the lack of basic abilities such as grenade cooking or your partner’s inability to revive or poor hit detection are serious enough to raise eyebrows.

Why so serious?

Why so serious?
However, the most astonishingly amateur aspect of the game is the ridiculously erratic AI; you might as well expect a box shot of SOCOM: Special Forces under ‘erratic’ in the dictionary. The amazing contrast between the best of the AI and worst is greater than night and day. At its best, your partners will engage enemies and execute your commands with aplomb. At its worst, they’ll find paths to places you didn’t think existed and miss enemies in front of them. Enemy AI is similarly erratic, with some guys playing kamikaze, and other sniping you through the tiniest of gaps. In the least, you’ll find that it always surprises…

The story clocks in at a rather standard (well, by modern standards) six or so hours, that thankfully don’t outstay their welcome. Afterwards, you can build your own campaigns, using the existing campaign missions as a template. It’s a novel idea, more than anything. As with any modern self-respecting shooter, the entire campaign can be played through with up to four players in co-op. No one takes ‘command’ so you can’t set waypoints and give commands, but being able to ‘tell’ someone directly is much more effective. Competitive multiplayer returns to its roots, with the option of playing in classic PS2 styled rules and options or by taking the Confrontation route.

Across four modes (deathmatch, Suppression, Uplink and Bomb Squad), the nine (admittedly variable) maps, and including your upgradeable weaponry, you’ve got a solid enough multiplayer experience but probably not one that you’d give your life up for. While the game has the option of playing with the PlayStation Move, it never enhances what you can do with the normal controller. Interestingly, you’ll find using the sharpshooter works best with your body in a side on position, really encouraging you to ‘get into it’. It works well enough when you get used to it (with the changes in the sharpshooter needing a bit more time to adjust) and is quite accurate too, but at the end, these motion-controlling options will come off as an acquired taste.

You're going to get it now...

You're going to get it now...
Graphically, SOCOM: Special Forces starts out quite rough, but by the end, players will appreciate some of the details in the environments, as you contrast through small villages, slums, the jungle and cities. The highlight is how dynamically destructible the environments are – as cover disappears and isn’t always safe – but it’s a little unnerving at how a lot of the core graphics have been lifted directly off the PS2 versions. Or maybe that’s the result of being spoiled by so many aesthetic beauties this year alone. Funnily enough, the voice of your main characters will depend on your region – as we have soldiers with Australian accents. Unfortunately, aside from some familiar tracks, this was the most memorable feature of the audio side.

Those who give SOCOM: Special Forces a go will find a game that starts off slow, but eventually develops into an experience that will provide some neat thrills and spills. While the story is quite throwaway, the action peaks at the right time, and there is enough of a progression curve and enough variety to be satisfying. The back-to-the-roots multiplayer is better than Confrontation and while the Move controls and multiplayer work well enough once you get used to them, they’re quite an acquired taste. Instead, the game is marred by a disconnect between the will to keep the game an ‘authentic’ SOCOM experience and an attempt to modernise it. The ideas are there, but in such a crowded market, being OK and functional isn’t enough.
The Score
There is fun to be had here, but by being unable to connect past distinguishing features and moderns sensibilites, SOCOM: Special Forces is unable to do enough to stand out of the crowd.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related SOCOM: Special Forces Content

SOCOM 4 campaign trailer
11 Apr, 2011 Zipper goes solo.
SOCOM 4 map videos
30 Mar, 2011 Where to camp?
SOCOM 4 'Bomb Squad' trailer
09 Mar, 2011 Hurt Locker: The Video Game.
2 years ago
Single player can get really frustrating as mentioned above but I only bought it for the multiplayer which is pretty good fun once you get into it. Definitely not for everyone though.
2 years ago
Did the reviewer play SOCOM 1?
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  21/04/2011 (Confirmed)

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