For a lot of gamers, SOCOM 4 is a long time coming. As the purported return to form for a series that jumpstarted the PlayStation 2 online craze back in 2002, SOCOM, for many, is all about a combination of skill and teamwork. Though SOCOM’s real bread and butter is, and always has been, in its multiplayer, a certain incident with the PlayStation Network has prevented any decent play time with that element in SOCOM 4.
However, Zipper Interactive’s return to the series that started it all for them, promised not only to bring the multiplayer back to its roots, but to deliver a single player experience that was equally as rich and compelling. Did it succeed?
Now having experienced the single player in its entirety, I can attest that SOCOM 4 is a big change for the series – at least as far as the campaign is concerned. The real question is whether or not that evolution is a step in the right direction for the series or simply Zipper Interactive trying to make a shooter that can draw fans of Call of Duty or Battlefield.
The thing that gamers will notice from the beginning of SOCOM 4 is how hard the game tries to tell a compelling story. Using every trick in the book, from double crosses to enemies becoming friends, SOCOM 4 features a mishmash of any halfway decent war-based storyline, none of which is particularly interesting on its own.
This isn’t helped by the characters of SOCOM 4 who feel like caricatures of assumed wartime personalities. There is the stoic veteran, the loud-mouthed weapons expert, and the “why can’t we all just get along” newcomer. Each character is forgettable and interchangeable to the point that the idea of a tactical squad is lost on the player.
It’s actually a positive that the team-based element is lost on the player because SOCOM 4 borders on mind-numbing simplicity. The combat that makes the multiplayer shine so well – the idea that precise bullets can dispatch an enemy swiftly – makes for a single player where no real danger is felt. Sure, the game tries to amp up the difficulty by armoring or increasing the number of its enemies, but it never challenges the player enough to do anything but work on their own.
Third person shooters have fared worse, but SOCOM 4 isn’t going to rival heavily single player-focused shooters. By combining the audio/visual component of the game with the intense action set pieces, there is enough to make the game feel engaging, but only marginally so. You won’t get bored with SOCOM 4‘s combat, but you will feel yourself wanting something more.
SOCOM 4‘s single player features team mechanics – being able to call out targets or send team members to strategic positions – but rarely will those commands do anything but help speed your progress through a particular mission. At times you might find yourself pinned down, or even dying as a result of a finicky cover system that haphazardly lets bullets through it, but for the most part, large groups of enemies can be taken out swiftly and without issue. The mechanics work well when used, it’s just the necessity for them comes up once in a blue moon.
That’s not to say that the combat doesn’t have its depth – weapons can be customized and upgraded after continued use – it’s just an element that will be lost on most gamers. Combat is absolutely the single player’s strongest point, but that isn’t saying much. As the experience continues to unfold, and the missions begin to add variety, that’s where SOCOM 4 really falls apart.
Keeping with the topic of simplistic scenarios, there are stealth missions in SOCOM 4 that are meant to help alleviate the monotony of full on combat. Unfortunately, those missions are more meditations in being able to walk from point A to point B rather than something where a slow pace and a carefully thought out plan win out.
Like many stealth missions in other games, SOCOM 4 uses a light meter to gauge how well hidden the player is. It sounds good in theory, but in practice the feature falls flat. The meter is meant more to discourage players from running right out in the open rather than coercing them into keeping to a pre-determined route. There were times when I was literally one foot in front of a character, but they could not see me because I was in a designated “shadow” area.
What could have been a perfect change of pace – a counterpoint to the run-and-gun missions – instead turned into a series of three “nature hikes.” They’re lacking in excitement, interesting mechanics, or even worthwhile storytelling. Stealth missions have long been considered the bane of the action-oriented game’s existence, and this is why.
All in all, the single player of SOCOM 4 feels like an attempt to borrow some concepts from a few popular shooters and skin them with the SOCOM façade. The story is irrelevant as are the characters, but that would be okay had the combat been engaging.
There are times when you feel the tactical mechanics might be necessary, but flying solo works just as well, if not better. The only real saving grace SOCOM 4’s single player has is that most gamers wont even notice it exists, choosing instead to go straight for multiplayer.
If SOCOM 4 was simply a single player experience it would be better left ignored, but multiplayer beta experience has shown a wealth of options for both old fans and newcomers. Be on the lookout for Game Rant’s review of the multiplayer just as soon as the PSN comes back up.