Review SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy Seals

Greg Tito | 25 Apr 2011 20:00
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What makes a great shooter? Is it the pacing between firefights? The number of weapons at your disposal? The presentation of the cutscenes? Can well-executed characters and voiceacting trump mechanics or does how you shoot your gun and kill your enemies rule all? Does the visceral feeling of battle quickly pump the blood through your veins when you play? Can you feel the pull of story drawing you into the combat so that the experience truly transcends the genre into becoming an integral part of gamer culture at large? I can't answer any of those questions - all I know is that SOCOM 4 doesn't accomplish any of it. SOCOM 4 isn't awful, there is fun to be had with its tactical mechanics, but the game doesn't do any of things above or wow me in any significant way.

The first SOCOM: U.S. Navy Seals came out on the PS2 in 2002 and offered a somewhat realistic simulation of how special operatives behave in combat. The gimmick of speaking orders to your teammates through the PS2 headset never worked exactly as advertised, but SOCOM was still well-received because you were forced to carefully move through hostile territory in order to complete your objectives. The sequels on the PS2 and PSP cemented the SOCOM brand as one of the most respected by gun nuts and military types for at least attempting to portray modern engagements realistically.

Building on that reputation, SOCOM 4 sells itself as a tactical shooter - those two words are plastered all over the box art and the opening dialogue boxes of the game - but much of the realism has been blasted away in the name of accessibility. I suppose that's why so much energy was wasted in crafting such an astoundingly unimaginative story. The campaign begins by introducing the wooden character of OpsComm in the midst of a revolution in a fictional nation in southeast Asia. After witnessing a frightfully forced confrontation between two walking stereotypes, he's briefed by his CO that some shit is about to hit the fan. That's exactly what happens as the rebels attack and OpsComm - short for OPerationS COMMander, dummy - takes over after HQ is blown up. The plot from that point is generally meaningless, with twists and betrayals that might be trying to make a commentary on the growing power of private armies but just end up sounding like a bad episode of 24.

As you make your escape from the city, SOCOM 4 introduces you to the mechanics of the game. You are in charge of two teams of two members each - Gold and Blue which break down to Asian and not-Asian respectively. You command your two teams to hold positions, advance to cover, or take out enemies with the D-pad and the system allows players to queue up orders so that you can time when the teams execute your commands. It works generally well in practice, but there are enough glitches to make it frustrating. Tell the Gold team to advance behind some bricks, sure fine. If you are off just a bit in your aim, they won't take cover behind the pile but stop just short, leaving themselves open to opposing fire. You can only give orders to places that you can see with your reticule, but it is tough do so when you are in cover so you are forced to try to peak around corners to get the right angle. I constantly found myself fussing with the sticky cover controls, not only to give orders but even to just shoot where I wanted. Throughout the whole game, I wish that I had more finely-tuned control over my teams.

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