Fans have been waiting years for SOCOM 4 and now that it's finally here they expect a lot from the first party shooter. With a complete campaign and the promise of multiplayer poised to appease old and new fans alike, SOCOM 4 sounds sweet. It is a good game, though it just never becomes a great one.
In SOCOM 4 you play as Cullen Gray, the Ops Commander on a five person NATO team, trying to stop a crazy revolutionary from destroying a waterway and taking over an unnamed Southeast Asia country. Only Gray and Forty-Five, the two playable characters, get any sort of character development. The other three are just there. If you want a better story than "five dudes defeat an entire army" look elsewhere, but the voice acting is well done, even if some of the lines are ham-fisted ("Here's his pen. Make sure you stab him with it.").
SOCOM 4 is a squad-based game with a few stealth missions thrown in. As Ops Com you can issue commands to your team, moving them into position, marking enemies, or making sure the squad keeps it tight as you infiltrate enemy bases. Your involvement in the combat is up to you. However, the game is easier than it ought to be. Your team's very good at their jobs, and the enemy AI is dumb. Unless you're playing on Hard, your squad will automatically kill everyone if you let them. If they die, they can even revive each other. However, unlike games like Killzone, your squadmates cannot revive you (what gives?). When the game did get challenging near the end, or when I upped the difficulty to Hard, I enjoyed the strategy in issuing commands. It became crucial to order a hit on a sniper or tell the team to move from cover before rockets found them. Plus the added difficulty made my squad mates that much more vulnerable, removing their ability to easily revive each other infinitely, making them feel like actual soldiers and not robots.
The single-player campaign is fun, with some very tense moments: at one point your team is holding a position, fighting off waves of enemies while staying out of the way of missiles, for example. SOCOM 4 uses sound really well to up the intensity of battles, and the sound of a skull exploding after a well placed headshot is quite satisfying. The stealth missions, though mostly trial-and-error, are a fun change of pace that allows you to play as Forty-Five.
At approximately six hours, the campaign short, though that is unfortunately a standard length for a shooter these days. Whereas games like Battlefield: Bad Company 2 take you all over the world, SOCOM 4 limits you to a small area with a lot of very similar levels. Those levels don't feel restrictively linear, but they're not eye-catching – there are only so many dirt roads lined with underbrush and decrepit bridges I can look at before it starts to feel the same. Texture quality is not consistent through the game. Seeing well-rendered characters standing in a room with furniture that looks like it was stolen from an early PS2 game is jarring. Jungles and cities look nice enough, but characters clip right through the underbrush (where you spend a good deal of your time), and only a few objects in the game are destructible.
Outside of the single-player campaign is a set of co-op mission modes. The two mission types can be played on six maps, making co-op nearly as long as the single player campaign. Co-op with three other friends was by far my favorite experience with the game. You can revive each other, scream at each other through headsets to cover you – nearly everything the single player campaign offers. No one is actually the Ops Com, though, so nobody can mark targets or set waypoints, which would have been cool.
Competitive multiplayer for SOCOM 4 has been changed from the previous games, but there are options to make it more like the PS2 versions. I like having this level of control. I like being able to control respawns, health regeneration, or whether players can take cover. For ranked matches, the games are split between new rules, and classic rules, letting you decide.
While there are only four multiplayer game modes in SOCOM 4, I enjoyed all of them. Three are standard shooter game types like a team deathmatch (Suppression) and a capture the flag style game mode (Uplink), but Bomb Squad stands out. One member of the team is the bomb technician, complete with Hurt Locker inspired ultra padded suit. Their team has to cover them, as they make their way to three bombs, attempting to defuse them. However, classic mode makes Bomb Squad really hard to win. Matches will sometimes end 30 seconds in because a well placed bullet killed our Jeremy Renner wannabe.
Thankfully, the nine multiplayer maps are more varied than the single player campaign. There are dusty shanty towns, WWII-era bases, jungles, and, my favorite, Rush Hour, a vehicle strewn patch of freeway in the middle of a war torn city. Not all of them are gems, but they're all good.
In addition to your rank leveling up as you play, the weapons you use also level up, earning mods that make them more efficient and powerful. The improved scopes are the most noticeable changes, and can make a significant difference in both single-and multiplayer.
SOCOM 4 was one of the first games shown off using the Playstation Move controller, and it offers full motion support for both the standard Move controller, and the sharp shooter gun peripheral Sony has been advertising recently. After playing with both, I found myself going back to the Dualshock 3. Using the wand and nunchuk works well enough, similar to how the better Wii shooters control. If you prefer an easier time aiming while sacrificing your ability to turn around quickly, then you've got it. However, I was not feeling the sharpshooter. The game doesn't change the button configuration, making it awkward to slip into cover and pop out of it to aim. That's annoying as hell for a cover based shooter.