Publisher: Sony Consumer Entertainment
Developer: Zipper Interactive
Genre: Tactical Shooter
Release date: Available now
These days, modern warfare is all about the set-piece and those scripted pieces of Michael Bayhem where all hell breaks loose and things blow up real good. The world may be toppling all around the player but with the advent of rechargeable shields that come standard with most contemporary shooters, players can afford to stop for a moment and soak in the blitzkrieg (and a few thousand bullets) before getting going again. Most shooters have become the equivalent of the summer blockbuster and as far removed from the grounded reality of real war as a Governator flick. SOCOM 4: US Navy Seals is finally hitting the ground on the PS3, but it remains to be seen whether this series sticks to its strategic roots or heeds the current Call of Duty.
SOCOM 4: US Navy Seals is the latest in the long-running tactical shooter series that first began on the PlayStation 2. The series, like the Tom Clancy Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon properties, initially sprung to life as realistic shooters; where one shot was all it took to take you down. Unlike many of the others, SOCOM employs a third-person perspective, allowing players to see the majority of their character as they scramble from cover to cover working through a series of engagements in a war-torn Southeast Asian nation. As with the Clancy titles, the story feels ripped from nightmare headlines, and a dizzying array of real-life and near-future tech are paraded before the player, giving you the chance to try your hand at some real world armaments.
In the solo campaign, players can take control of their support squads, providing simple tactical commands which allow you to methodically work your way through each skirmish and chokepoint. The player can provide commands to attack certain targets, provide suppressing fire, or hold an area, while using overhead mapping to get a better lay of the land. This continues through a brief narrative (roughly 5 to 6 hours) that tracks your six day assault on the besieged nation. On the online front, the game features your standard multiplayer matches (supporting up to 32 players) as well as a handful of 5-player co-op missions.
SOCOM is clearly in the grips of an identity crisis. Shooters have made some major leaps in blurring the line between cinema and the console, and this one seems as if it wants to keep one foot in the tactical field while covering the same ground as the blockbuster action thrillers that Call of Duty has us expecting each time out. To accomplish this, the game often throws major action set-pieces at you without really giving the player any reason to care about what they’re fighting for. The story and characters are as generic as I’ve come across in the genre, and I often simply continued the fight from one checkpoint to the next because that’s what you do. Rinse and repeat. Not once did I feel as if I was turning the tide of war – nor did I feel invested in my actions.
By now, cover-based mechanics are expected in a tactical shooter. SOCOM was doing this long before Gears of War hit us with the roadie run from block to block, but this cover system feels like a stale remnant of a fading era. The animations are flat (almost PS2 quality ), which coupled with the anemic visuals make it look like a launch title. We’re deep into the PS3 life cycle and after seeing the impressive sites on display in the Uncharted series, SOCOM 4‘s crumbling cities and jungle take a huge step back. Online play fares slightly better. It’s there that you’ll find a more strategic game, if only because the cult of SOCOM demands it. It has a healthy fan base and I think that those who are looking for a more strategic war game are best to skip the campaign and head directly online.
SOCOM 4 is a real shame. Zipper is one of Sony’s heralded developers and fans have been looking forward to this title for years, but a lot has changed in that time. This would have been a killer title at launch, but gamers demand more polish from their shooters at this stage. While it’s nice to see 3D and Move support (something that Sony is doing more of with their hardcore titles than the competition), it’s not enough to recommend if the game isn’t fun, and unfortunately, SOCOM 4 doesn’t offer much to anyone outside of the staunchest series supporters. Fight the good fight elsewhere!