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SOCOM But Not Forgotten

Ed Smith | 9 Feb 2013 09:00
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I'm sorry, SOCOM II. I tried my best, I really did.

The plan was simple: In protest of SOCOM II's servers being permanently closed at the end of August, I was to order myself an NTSC copy of the game, log on and stage a one-man sit in, refusing to leave the British server until normal service resumed.

I can't help feeling that everything since SOCOM II has been a step backwards.

I didn't even make it to the main menu. Thanks to my gourmet of a PlayStation-refusing North American PS2 games (the PAL version can't be used online anymore) my hopes of salvaging SOCOM II were dashed, snuffed out by finickity region locks and backwards incompatibly. My favorite game of all time is about to disappear forever; all that's left to play is the offline campaign mode, and I'm sure the heartless sods will soon find a way to delete that, too.

I should have seen it coming. When Zipper, the Washington-based developer responsible for SOCOM, MAG and Unit 13 closed their doors in March 2012, it was only a matter of time before SOCOM followed suit. This is a game that hasn't seen full servers since 2005 - seven years, Modern Warfare and a new console generation later, there's no-one left to play SOCOM II, let alone run it. Save for a few die-hard cultists, SOCOM is about to die alone.

We call it progress. With the sleek, aforementioned giants of online multiplayer drawing console gamers in by the millions, antiques like SOCOM don't stand a chance. This isn't like PC gaming, where a hardcore community of modders and ninjas can keep a game running well past its sell-by date: This is the console market, where games only survive as long as the hardware that runs them.

The same goes for Zipper Interactive, who never made it big on the PlayStation 3. A medium hitter during the sixth generation, Zipper struggled with the transition to more powerful consoles. Online-only FPS MAG couldn't win over the Call of Duty crowd; squad shooter Unit 13 failed to turn a profit from the already small Vita market. The financial precedent set by EA and Activision has made it difficult for small studios to survive even a single bad investment. Such is the fate of Zipper, Sony Liverpool, and the other lesser studios that have been bulldozed this year to make way for bigger earners.

Like I said; progress. Except, I can't help feeling that everything since SOCOM II has been a step backwards. Battlefield's buildings fall apart nicely, and the guns sound even gunnier, but I never get the sense of community I had when I was playing SOCOM. I love using my hard-earned Masterkey in CoD, but I don't remember the last time I logged in just to talk to someone. I don't feel like I'm playing multiplayer anymore - all these dogtags and level-ups mean I'm always looking out for number one.

Without any of that bumph, the SOCOM II community thrived. Launching in November 2003 - in the days when you needed a network adapter and a lot of patience before you could get your PS2 online - SOCOM II quickly became the Playstation Network's most popular attraction, pulling in a daily playership of around three-thousand (back when that kind of figure was still impressive). The online hub was simple: You logged in, scrolled the servers, picked a game you liked the look of and jumped straight in. Matches were eight-a-side - SEALs v Terrorists - and when you died, you died. You'd have to spectate until the next round started.

With respawns turned off, just leaving the base felt like suicide; the unlucky half of your team would get picked off quickly by an enemy gambit of hopeful grenades. Survive that, and the rest of the match became unbearably tense. Savvy players knew which corners of the map to stay clear of; any SOCOM II vets reading this will still feel vulnerable when they remember the beaches on Fish Hook. The rest of us just did what came natural, taking up sniper's roosts if the map was tiered, stalking from alley to alley if things called for a more close-quarters approach. Even by 2003 standards, the gameplay was decidedly simple: The Capture the Bomb and Hostage Rescue modes were just variations on the basic Team Deathmatch premise. But although I won't forget how much fun I had with the shooting (I still daydream about that no-scope pistol headshot I landed, even though the guy had run past my draw distance) it's not the kills that I remember SOCOM II for - it's the teamwork.

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