SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy SEALs Review «

I don’t really know why SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy SEALs includes PlayStation Move controls. Maybe some folks want all their years of first-person shooter practice thrown out the window and replaced by a much-less-precise (and surprisingly less intuitive) control system. And maybe some folks enjoy swimming in vats of canola oil while wearing the costume of an Edwardian gentleman — but I, mes amis, am not one of them.

You can control SOCOM 4 with the standard PS3 Sixaxis controller, and this works just fine — but the game spends so much time on tutorials and overlay tips explaining how to use the Move that you will definitely feel like you’re missing something if you don’t have one. Word to the wise: You aren’t. Playing with the Move makes an otherwise very traditional cover shooter feel like a hybrid of Time Crisis and complete friggin’ chaos; aiming is wonky, fine-tuning your reticule is a chore, and controlling the aiming with one hand and movement with another leads to a weird sort of disconnect and lack of situational awareness. A buddy and I actually had an easier time splitting the control up: I aimed and he “drove,” and together, we managed to get much further with the Move than I’d ever gotten on my own. In short: Shut up, Move!

When you play with traditional controls, though, SOCOM 4 shows itself to be a solid all-around shooter, although it bites off a little more than a console game should chew with its small-squad tactical command angle. See, you’re theoretically supposed to be in charge of a team of four NATO soldiers (two Americans and two Koreans), and you can (again theoretically) order them to set up ambushes and put a base of fire on a particular position, etc. The thing is, in practical terms, this is almost always less effective than letting that rather good ally A.I. just do its own thing and kick the enemy’s pusillanimous and malodorous bunghole from pillar to post.

But the tactical stuff is, thankfully, rarely necessary to complete a mission. What really got my goat is SOCOM 4’s truly terrible and frustrating “stealth” sequences, wherein I had to “sneak” (generally by pressing crouch) past swathes of bad guys with ridiculous detection logic. Get ready to repeat the same section more times than looped recording of a broken record of a guy stuttering; after a particularly grueling stealth sequence failed me for the umpteenth time, I nearly beat a passerby to death with my Move controller — only I couldn’t get the damn thing to aim at his head properly.

When you’re not stealthing about, SOCOM 4’s missions are actually pretty enjoyable, with enemy A.I. putting up a decent challenge and your teammates being quite effective. The story is pretty much the same story as the one in that Duty Calls parody shooter that the Bulletstorm team released as a PR stunt: “Blah blah blah secret base blah blah blah coordinates,” etc. But the voice-acting, especially the random Scottish lady who gives you your missions, is quite good — and SOCOM 4 manages to stay interesting enough long-term (sans those stealth sequences).

SOCOM 4’s multiplayer is also fairly straightforward, although it suffers a bit from overly large levels, even for the smaller matches (the game supports up to 32 players at a time, and I think those of us used to the more intimate maps of, say, Call of Duty might be a bit out-of-sorts). SOCOM loyalists may not be thrilled here, as multiplayer includes lots of “arcade-y” shooter elements, including a Gears of War-style cover system (which is actually implemented quite well and, in my opinion, doesn’t detract from the realism at all), health regeneration (definitely not realistic), and an experience/leveling-up system that’s only going to piss off people who just want to be pissed off for no good reason. On the plus side, you can play in “Classic” mode, which strips out most of these features. The question is, are you going to be able to find a lot of people who want to play with you here? Time will tell, oh ye hardcore… time will tell.

Multiplayer modes include the standard deathmatch, and some nifty territory-holding modes like Last Defense — a smart tweak on capture-and-hold gameplay that sees two teams trying to secure a series of control points. Trick is, once a team gets hold of all these points, it gets a short window to assault and finish off the other team’s base in order to win the level… otherwise, control of the points resets. This means the vibe changes from tug-of-war to balls-to-the-wall with the quickness, and rewards two completely different kinds of gameplay in a single session. Pretty cool beans!

All in all, SOCOM 4, like any new game in a series that has a near-and-dear fan base, is going to rub some people the wrong way. But it’s really not a bad shooter; its biggest issue is going to be whether there’s a there there, to quote Gertrude Stein. Can it attract new fans without alienating the old ones, and still have something interesting to contribute to the genre? My sense is that it can’t and that it doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth checking out. Just wait for the price to drop a bit — unless you really like Scottish girls telling you what to do in mission briefings. Then buy it immediately.


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