As the name states, we are in the fourth console instalment of the SOCOM franchise, even though we’ve seen a number of other sub-titles of the franchise appear over the years on the PSP and PlayStation 2. In its second outing on the PlayStation 3, following from a very lacklustre debut on the console with SOCOM Confrontation, its original developers Zipper Interactive returns to the franchise to carry on from where it had left off, bringing with them the best SOCOM yet to PS3 gamers.
Predominantly known for its multiplayer, SOCOM 4’s own solo campaign mode surprised me a fair bit – it’s a bit good! I had the impression that this game was going to be fundamentally an online shooter however, its single player campaign really holds its own and brings with it some great gameplay experiences that is on par with even the most dedicated solo campaigns these days.
The solo campaign, which can also be played cooperatively, follows Cullen Gray, who leads a five-man team through Malaysia, fighting against the native Naga rebels and the mercenaries of ClawHammer. As the game’s story unfolds you experience twists and turns that leave you with plenty of people to shoot at and blow up – great! Each location has been well crafted with some levels looking and feeling very plausible and well lived-in, such as the game’s shantytowns and urban areas that are played in latter levels.
As gameplay goes the campaign is mostly played inside a fairly liner path, however in some levels you are less restricted as to where you can attack and flank your foes. The game’s AI isn’t too shabby either. At times your enemies can put up a challenging fight, but most of the time your enemies can easily be played with due to their easily predicted tactics.
Life and death in the campaign mostly comes down to the sheer number of enemies that are targeting you at a single time, however there are moments in the game were you get the choice to either go stealthy and avoid your enemies at all cost, or go John Rambo and jump in with your guns blazing. Whichever method you choose to take mostly results in an intense gaming experience; whether that be avoiding patrols of troops to surviving the onslaught of over a dozen very well alert rebels. In certain missions in the campaign you take over another member of the team and covertly go through the level without alerting any enemies. Thankfully these levels help break up the many ‘gun-ho’ moments in the remaining levels and help to slow the game down a notch to catch your breath.
On normal difficulty you can breeze through the campaign in around six hours, which seems to be the fashion in a game’s length these days. So if you are very keen - or like me you couldn’t put the game down due to it being far too enjoyable - then you can beat the solo campaign mode in around a day’s play.
Graphically, the game can hold its own against some of the rich ‘eye candy’ titles out there on PS3. It certainly doesn’t fall under the limitations of being a framerate-friendly online shooter, however the scale of the online maps have been reduced and do feel less elaborate than the solo campaign’s levels. As I mentioned earlier, each location feels well put together, with carefully placed scenery, buildings and obstacles that make you feel as if you are fighting in a living, breathing environment. The level of visuals have been carried over to each of the five main characters in the game too - giving even more reason for its developers to use them during the game’s cut-scenes rather than use any pre-rendered sequences.
Once you’ve played through the solo campaign you’re going to be prepared to tackle the game’s online modes; which is great if you are new to the SOCOM franchise. There are four main game types to choose from: Suppression, Bomb Squad, Last Defence and Uplink. In addition to these game modes there are some extra sub modes that take these main modes and create smaller map versions of them. There is also a Melody mode that rotates a ‘pick and mix’ selection of all these modes and keeps things fresh by loading a different mode each time. On top of this there are Standard, Classic and Custom settings for each of these modes - so overall there is plenty of depth here to keep you entertained in the online area of this game.
Regardless of their name, each mode brings the usual collection of first-person shooter game types. Suppression is your standard team deathmatch mode, where both teams face off each other to achieve highest kill count before the time runs out. Bomb Squad plays out like a VIP mode, where the attacking team has a randomly selected player who becomes the Bomb Technician. That player’s goal is to disarm up to three bombs located around the map whilst the rest of their team protects them. The defenders aim is to do their best to kill the Bomb Tech along with their team. Last Defence mode is a capture and control mode where players capture A, B and C points; once captured the enemies HQ is the new target to be destroyed. Finally there is Uplink, which is SOCOM 4’s capture the flag mode, where teams steal data cards from each of the three data points in the map and then take them back to their base to secure them.
Personally I found the Suppression mode to be totally carnage online, with up to thirty-two players running about like headless chickens. As a newcomer to SOCOM4 I found myself totally overwhelmed in this mode and needed something a little more peaceful and, well, structured. Being a Battlefield player my favourites where Last Defence and Uplink, both of which felt similar to Battlefield’s Rush and Conquest modes. The game’s Melody mode is also a good way to taste these particular modes as I found it hard to get into these two modes directly from the Game Types menu.
With a gripping solo campaign, its depth of online modes and its passionate following of online players, SOCOM 4 has enough ingredients within its makeup to keep its disc firmly locked inside your PS3 console. Even if you are not a fan of the online element I recommend that you still check out its solo campaign. You might even be surprised that after you have beaten the single-player mode you might transfer over to its online side. At least that is what its developers hope you will do.