Platform: PlayStation 3
Classification: R16 - contains violence and offensive language.
Shortly after my SOCOM 4 multiplayer preview went live, I had the chance to explore its single-player campaign. Unfortunately, as with the multiplayer beta review, I was unable to test out the 3D TV mode, the controls for PlayStation Move, and PlayStation Eye.
If I were to sum up SOCOM 4's campaign in a sentence, it is like being shoved onto a rollercoaster. You have no idea how you got there, but the ride is thrilling. However, if you leave the rails, the ride falls apart.
From the word "go", SOCOM 4 is a very solid, if linear, third-person tactical shooter. The basic elements of the game are quite well put together; the gunplay is enjoyable, and with the absurd variety of weapons in the game – each with five associated mods (level-ups) associated with them – there's bound to be something each player finds enjoyable; your NPC allies are competent and don't steal the limelight; and the event scripting in each level gives a decent impression of intelligence, creating a cinematic feel.
The game takes a break from the constant firefights approximately every three levels, shifting to stealth-based night missions. They start off on a high note, promising intelligent guards that react to false sounds, and dead bodies, much in the same vein as Splinter Cell. And if you follow the path the game outlines for you, it might just look like it lives up to that promise.
Unfortunately, the stealth levels are where the AI really falls apart. Much like Crysis 2, enemies will not seek cover, sound an alarm, or react in any reasonable way when bullet holes riddle the scenery they are looking at, or their partner is shot in the head. Strangely, the AI will instead begin to close in on your position, guns trained on the player's precise location, calling out various threats and boasts even as dozens of their fellows are gunned down, simply because you have not tripped an arbitrary point on the stealth meter.
Tripping that point on the meter, or only landing a body shot, will cause all the enemy soldiers within a hundred meters to open fire immediately. This also carries over into the main game, where enemy soldiers seem to become psychic the moment players open fire. This isn't much of a problem at all if you play the game like a run-and-gun tactical shooter as expected, but it does highlight how poorly the game handles deviation from the rails.
The story is also somewhat poorly explained. Newcomers to the SOCOM series will likely end up confused until at least a third through the game; all that players learn about the main character until then is that he's Australian, a sociopath, and he's a part of NATO special forces. Likewise, players don't learn anything about the insurgent/terrorist group other than the name ("Naga”) until about a third in. The game's explanation of the story improves dramatically from there, but I shouldn't have to look up the main character's name (or the country the game takes place in!) on Wikipedia.
SOCOM 4's single-player campaign isn't bad, however. Its still fun to play through: the well-scripted events and variety of locations are all quite fun, and little touches such as the enemies actually speaking their native language are great. There just doesn't seem to be much reason to run through it a second time.
The real star of SOCOM 4, however, is the multiplayer. While it doesn't offer anything amazingly new over similar realistic shooters with character persistence (seemingly a genre in itself), it is fairly well-polished and refined.
New Zealand gamers will be delighted to hear that matchmaking is nearly instantaneous, and lag is practically imperceptible, even with 32 players from all corners of the globe. It seems that developer Zipper Interactive has gotten PlayStation 3 networking down to a fine art after its last game, MAG, which featured 256-player battles.
Not much has changed since our multiplayer preview, though a party system is set to be implemented with the next patch.
Overall, SOCOM 4 is a decent shooter. Its poor handling of going 'off the rails' is annoying, but playing through the campaign as intended is still a blast, and fans of multiplayer shooters will love the online gameplay.
Lasting Appeal: 7/10