Game: SOCOM: Special Forces
Developr: Zipper Interactive
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Available on: PlayStation 3 only
Third-person shooters are a popular video game format at the moment, so we currently have a bucket load to choose from. Predictably, the offerings range from the spectacular to the absolute dire. Arguably, the king of the third person shooter world these days is the Gears of War franchise, with the third title looming ever closer. But can anyone step up to the plate and take on the king? The latest challenger to enter the fray is SOCOM: Special Forces.
SOCOM has been around for quite a while now, and Special Forces is the fourth in the series. Although the games have generally been good titles, they never usually set the third-person shooter world alight. But with this new installment the developers claim to have upped the ante by using the Playstation Move as a controller option and offering “an all new experience” in the form of a 32-person online multiplayer mode. But can it take on the throne? Or have its tactics become FUBAR? Well, lock and load your weapons and let’s find out!
STORY: There is no back-story as such, and when you start the campaign mode, you receive little introduction to the main characters and are pretty much thrown into the thick of the plot. You play as a Brit (or an American depending on which country you buy the game from) called Cullen Gray, who can be more affectionately known as “Ops Commander”. As Cullen, you are initially in command of a three-man team, but as you progress through the game you upscale to a five-man team for NATO. Cullen and his team are in an unnamed part of Asia and they are attempting to quell a rebellion from a group called Naga.
The shit hits the fan very quickly, as NATO are overwhelmed by Naga forces and Cullen and his team have to try and protect the main base. Unfortunately they are too late as the main base is destroyed, killing the commander of the operation (who is called Gorman) in the process. Consequently, Cullen and his team end up gallivanting around Asia trying to stop Naga, but are they the only ones involved? Could there be much more at stake? You’ll have to buy the game to find out!
The storyline is not bad, but it does throw you in without much back story, so at first you are left wondering what is going on. However, the narrative is well played out and you do connect with the characters on a base level, finding yourself caring about them and what happens to them. It makes for a genuinely gripping and enjoyable story which is well worth a play through.
GRAPHICS: This is quite a subtle but beautiful-looking game. At first, you don’t really notice the surrounding area as you are usually too busy killing bad guys or looking for positions for your team to put the maximum firepower down on your enemy. But if you take a minute to look around, you notice that the surrounding flora and fauna is actually quite breathtaking, though it is not without its faults.
For example, in one part of the game you are wondering through plane wreckage which, despite being very well-designed, contains some cargo netting that doesn’t look natural. It is as if it was thrown in at the last minute because someone had the overwhelming urge to include it, and it therefore looks odd. Also, if you are aiming at an enemy and there is a big plant behind you, the game’s third-person camera causes the plant to fade out a little. This makes for a very hazy view, resulting in an experience which can only be described as trying to shoot someone with a ghost in your sights.
For the majority, the facial animations of the characters are quite impressive for all bar two characters. Cullen really does look plastic, with crazy blue cat eyes that make him look quite bizarre, and “forty-five” (who is a Korean woman in your team, specializing in covert ops) has hair that looks like it was made out of Plasticine. The developers do seem to have put effort into the design (Gorman’s facial animations look very impressive) but to make two of the main characters look downright weird is really confusing. It’s like the team started off really well with the character design and then just got a bit complacent.
SOUND: The general effects and noises are as you would expect them to be, with every gunshot and explosion sounding crisp and realistic. The voice acting is very believable, although the main character (who is supposed to be a Brit) does occasionally come across as either Australian or South African.
In the cut scenes however, the voices do go quiet on occasion and the only reason I still knew what was going on is because I had the subtitles on. Whether this is a bug or a surround sound issue is unknown, but one would think that this sort of thing would have been spotted during the testing process.
GAMEPLAY: There are two controller methods to play this title with, one is your bog-standard controller and the other is with the PlayStation Move and Navigation controller (Nunchuk/left side of controller). The PlayStation Move method takes a little time to get used to but when you get the hang of it, it makes this title even better. It feels more accurate, more fluid and most importantly, more fun!
Yes, there is nothing wrong with playing the game with the normal controller, but using the PlayStation Move feels oddly more natural to play. You still have to reload via a button press and it probably would have made things quicker if the the Killzone 3 method (twist, baby!) had been incorporated, but PlayStation Move does feel like the way the game was meant to be played. Your controls for the normal controller are as you would expect them to be (L1-aim, R1-shoot etc.) and easy to master, so either way you’ll be gunning people down in no time.
SOCOM also incorporates a cover system, which works as you might expect. That said, trying to obtain the correct firing position can sometimes be a little tricky, meaning that you have to move your character a few centimeters to be able to switch from firing from the side of cover to on top. You will also sometimes find yourself shooting your own cover, which can be a slight drawback (especially if the enemy is advancing on you quickly) and can lead you to make rash decisions which get your character killed.
To play SOCOM, you cannot rush in, all guns blazing and expect to not come out looking like a colander. You have to think tactically and use your A.I. team to set up ambushes and attacks. Your team can be split into pairs, with Cullen remaining as the commander. The first pair is called “blue team”, and is comprised of your heavy gunners and explosive experts. They can put down some serious firepower which enable Cullen and the others to pick the enemy off. Blue team can either be activated by picking a point where you would like them to be, or they can be commanded to take someone out using the left directional button.
The other team is “gold team”, who specialize in covert ops. If you want people taken out quietly or you want a sniper taken out, you can put gold team into a position or select targets by pressing the right directional button. You can set either team on a path of your choosing just by selecting various points with the directional buttons, right or left depending on the team.
The tactical aspect of this game is a very nice touch and if you utilize it properly, you can get through the game with relative ease. This isn’t a bad thing as tactical play makes for a very rewarding game experience. In general, the gameplay is not only well thought out and nicely executed, but it is especially enjoyable when played with PlayStation Move.
LONGEVITY: The single player aspect of SOCOM will only take you around 6-7 hours to finish, depending on the difficulty. You may want to play through again to try and find all the Intel (which gets you a trophy), but after that you are more than likely never to go back to it, unless the developers release some DLC for the single player mode. But with an emphasis on the multiplayer aspect of this title, this eventuality is highly unlikely. If you want a third-person shooter to play over a weekend then this game will fill your time nicely.
VERDICT: Although SOCOM: Special Forces won’t set the third person shooter world alight, it is quite a good title to play through. The storyline does throw you in without much back story and can make you wonder what is going on, but as you progress you do begin to connect with the characters. Though not without flaws, the gameplay is pretty good and made even more interesting and enjoyable by the inclusion of PlayStation Move controls.
The graphics are generally good, and although some characters look like they are wearing a Bo’ Selecta! mask, the majority of the graphics are very well executed. It is a shame that we couldn’t play through the multiplayer aspect, as this may have increased the score, but as a single player campaign, it is quite enjoyable and a makes decent attempt at taking on other third-person shooters. If you are a fan of the series, then you shouldn’t be disappointed.