Preview: SOCOM 4

April 6, 2011

Editor’s note: writer Paul Bishop took a look at the beta for Zipper Interactive’s SOCOM 4, out April 19th. Here are his impressions.

While the name SOCOM stands for something for a lot of die-hard fans, SOCOM 4 takes the core gameplay and updates it with some Call of Duty mechanics, and throws in a good measure of MAG multiplayer awesomeness. Almost a reimagining of the series, this title hopes to lure in the fanboys and the newbies with a revamped scheme. 16-on-16 battles make for great action, as the PS3 shows its true colors maintaining these complex confrontations without missing a beat. The game is beautifully rendered, and character models are some of the most detailed available for a multiplayer title. Unfortunately, the two beta maps only show a washed-out color scheme. The Port Authority map has a reason to be drab and gray due to the shipyard location, but the Assault and Battery semi-jungle map could be more lush.

As you accomplish kills and wins, you gain experience toward your multiplayer avatar, earning new skins and unlocking additional weapons. Each multiplayer match consists of two teams, the Special Ops and the Insurgents. In previous titles there was a very clear visual difference between the two teams, but that has been abandoned for character models that feel more real. In addition to the skin changes, team members are marked with blue and their PSN ID above their heads, while opposing team members will have a red diamond above theirs. Unfortunately, the blue name tracker has a split second delay when it pops on screen, causing more than a few friendly fire errors. Similarly, the red diamond does help to differentiate your enemies, but feels unfair when you happen to get close enough to a crate and see that indicator behind it, practically yelling at you that an ambush is waiting around the corner. Since this is played in third-person perspective you think that you would have better peripheral vision, but since the camera seems to be too close to the back of your head, enemies can still sneak up behind you when you least expect it.

The weapons are more than abundant, and only a couple hours of dedicated play will get you the experience to open virtually all up. Killing with a specific weapon nets you gun specific experience that will allow you to level-up your weapon with better modifications to accuracy. One change to the SOCOM formula is the use of expanding reticules to denote recoil, instead of the slowly-rising type which you can control. It is this change and some subtle accuracy calculations that will cause more sporadic headshots depending upon the weapon you are using. This will only frustrate the die-hard perfectionists out there who strive for pure headshots rather than artificially calculated ones. Melee knifing of enemies seems to be a little out of whack as well, as the window of successful attack is too narrow for as wide as the knife arc is presented on the screen.

From the multiplayer menu, you can select specific types of battles to join or create your own clan challenge with your friends. Classic is best used when you have enough friends with the Bluetooth capability to communicate effectively, working as a team to take out your enemies. For random quick-play matches, the comm is only a detractor, as you are forced to listen to the garbled mumblings of random nitwits. SOCOM attempted to integrate the communication on the controller by requiring you to hit the D-pad up to allow you to talk. Unfortunately, this only muddles things, as you fumble to hit that while trying to limit your comment to roughly ten-seconds. After that, a pause is required before you can speak again.

Another muddling of controls occurs with the weapon selection, as you select between primary, alternate and sub-modes such as different types of grenades. It is convenient you can do this while running, but the extra combination of button presses to get what you want tends to be distracting in a game that you want to be as fluid as possible. Using the Move controller for some of these actions became extremely cumbersome, and if you are not playing with gun peripheral I don’t know how you can manage playing at all between holding the navigation controller and trigger. Similar to Killzone 3, the Move controller completely changes the feel of the game, and while in the end I did not prefer it I could imagine a lot of die-hards taking up the challenge to master this play-style.

SOCOM 4 shows a lot of promise for multiplayer shooters. It is fast, fun, beautiful and extremely challenging and, consequently, rewarding. If Zipper can fix a few of the nits associated with the title, this could be the true next-generation multiplayer title that die-hards and newbies could embrace equally.