I’m not going to lie. I’ve never really cared for the SOCOM U.S. Navy Seals series before. It’s always been one of those game franchises that everybody loves, but always escaped me – just a game I’ve tinkered with a few times before when it first graced the PS2.
SOCOM 4 is the supposedly the first proper game in the series to make the jump to the PlayStation 3. The last SOCOM PS3 game, SOCOM: Confrontation was allegedly laden with so many bugs, that it was outright unplayable. Confrontation came out in 2008. With new developers Zipper Interactive, does SOCOM 4, the latest in the third-person tactical shooter series come out on top? And what about playing with those funky PlayStation Move + Sharp Shooter controls? Does it add value? You’ll have to hit the break to find out.
As Ops Commander Cullen Gray, the the leader of a 5-man NATO squad (Blue squad) dropped off in some South Eastern country, you’re on a mission to stop a coup from destroying the world’s most vital waterway – and you have to stop them in six days. You’ll quickly team up with a South Korean Lieutenant Park “45” Yoon-Hee and her own Gold squad to carry out your duties. In game, you will be tasked with doing all the usual things that an established shooter asks: shooting things, taking cover, ordering squads around to cover you, ordering them strategically ambush enemies, drop airstrikes, etc. You’ll be doing all of that sneaky stealth stuff as well – all to defeat the Naga and ClawHammer enemies.
In terms of story, it’s kind of generic and a snooze, but luckily, it’s not a deal breaker
A gamer at heart, I’m what you would call an intermediate player. I know my way around a modern day first-person shooter and have kept up with key shooting tactical shooting game franchises for as long as I can remember. Metal Gear Solid? Syphon Filter? Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell? I’ve played them all, but the SOCOM series? It never really held much love for me. I’ve played a few of the PSP games, but never had a good sit down with one on a home console.
For this review, I played SOCOM 4 with three controller schemes: traditional DualShock 3 controller, PlayStation Move + Navigation Controller and PlayStation Move + Navigation Controller + Sharp Shooter gun attachment.
And while I leaped into SOCOM 4 with a lot of interest, but also with a heavy dose of skepticism to play the game with a Move + Sharp Shooter (SS) combo, I have to say, the added motion controls are actually not as awful as one would imagine. There are plenty of reviews for playing SOCOM 4 with a DualShock 3, but this one will detail how usable or non-usable a distinguished franchise such as SOCOM plays with the power of the PlayStation Move and the SS. Using Move and the SS is how Sony is increasing the immersion experience – it’s the future of how Sony wants shooting games to be played on the PS3, so it’s no surprise that the company didn’t just frost SOCOM 4 with a little bit of waggle and call it Move-compatible game.
Gameplay / Graphics / Sound
Generally speaking, SOCOM 4 plays like any other third-person tactical shooter game. You slink around, sometimes crouched, sometimes slithering through jungles, fauna and rubble and you shoot enemies.
A Sony rep was kind enough to tell me that the A.I. in SOCOM 4 is significantly smarter than in previous games. That’s only partly true. While my squad buds (whom I can control and command order to go wherever I wish) are undeniably intelligent and capable of shooting out the enemy and doing all the hard work of killing for me, the same can’t be said for the enemy. Playing on Standard mode, I was able to easily take down most of the enemies, raining bullets down on them like they were paper targets. This of course could also have been attributed to my generous use of the rapid-fire switch on the side of the SS.
I guess, if you were to recommend a tactical shooting game for beginners, starting off a friend with SOCOM 4 and an SS combo wouldn’t be too bad.
Visuals-wise, SOCOM 4 is a beauty to look at. The game’s graphics don’t rival Metal Gear Solid 4 and some of the textures like the car windows do look bland and blocky), but overall the motion captures for the characters don’t look too artificial and the voice acting never sounds hollow and void of personality.
Admittedly, SOCOM 4 looks and feels every bit like a game on a console that’s just hitting its stride. With Sony pushing the PS3 as a machine stuck with a 10-year life cycle, it’s not surprising to see that the hardware could have been pushed a little more to eek out some more color in what is mostly a brown, gray, dark green and black world. Seriously, if not for the firing cues from enemy, they almost blend a little too well into poles, walls and other rubble.
I don’t own a 3D TV, so I was unable to test the SOCOM 4 in the third dimension, but based on what I’ve seen at past Sony demo events and showcases, the added depth is pretty sparse, with things like crouching through shrubbery and leaves providing popping effects. As with all 3D, the resolution did look slightly downgraded and there is an in-game depth slider to dial up and down the effects.
In my previous hands-on, I said playing SOCOM 4 with the Sharp Shooter and a PlayStation Move set would definitely cater to the hardcore. I stated that running and gunning with the SS combo would be nigh impossible and that players would really have to sit down, settle in and wrap their hands/fingers and mind around using a new form of control.
After sitting (comfortably, and not standing) up, aiming a SS with Move at my HDTV to play SOCOM 4 I’m happy to say, the game actually plays pretty damn good with motion controls. Previously, I quoted a Sony rep saying it took him about two hours to adjust to the controls. I was skeptic at the time (having only demoed the game for about 15 to 20 minutes), so when it came time to see how I would fair at home, well let’s just say it actually took less than that. With a little luck and patience, I was firing rounds off in about 45 minutes, tops. Keep an optimistic approach to playing SOCOM 4 with the SS and you’ll pick up the controls a lot quicker.
I’m just going to be blunt here. I became frustrated at times with the new controls (and chances are you will too). You will accidentally press the wrong buttons and perform commands and actions that you didn’t intend to actually do and you will, hopefully at some point during gameplay feel that using a SS to play is actually kind of fun. At the end of the games short (about six to seven hours) story campaign, you might end up feeling like an SS pro, pining for more like moi.
Before you know it, you’ll be strafing with sweeps, shooting with a very clicky-feeling T-trigger button (so much better than using R1 on a DualShock 3), pumping the Navigation Controller to reload or smacking the RL button (located at the bottom of the SS’s plastic mag) to pick up weapons on the ground and meleeing your foes with a forward lunge.
Playing with the SS will only get better with time, but so far, so good – hardcore gamers will be in for a real treat, especially those who like a challenge. Even for a guy like me with smaller hands, reaching the small little Square and Ttriangle buttons (located conveniently on the side of the SS, above the trigger) to perform a jump and open a menu for selecting hand grenades was accessible. The only quip I really had with the game is the the cover system and picking up weapons. To cover behind an obstacle, you have to press the Circle button on the navigation controller. The problem is that you have to lift your finger off the analog stick, and reach below it to press the tiny little Circle button. In the heat of battle, getting killed by foe over and over because of this can be a pain in the butt. Why not press the Circle button the Move controller? Because that’d force you to leave leave the T-trigger button away or let go of the Navigation Controller. And unfortunately, you can’t remap the controls to your will.
It would have been nice if there was an automatic cover system when using Move + SS to play SOCOM 4, similar to one in the PSP Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror and Resistance: Retribution games. Not to be babied or anything, but as great as motion controls handle, a slight bit of auto-pilot for a few tiny tasks wouldn’t necessarily ruin the entire game’s “hardcore appeal.”
Playing with the SS, you really don’t – and I repeat – you don’t need to make huge sweeping motions with your body to control the camera. The default settings for the Move and PS Eye are sensitive enough that it’ll even detect even the gentlest of movements. This is an extremely important thing to bear in mind, or you’ll quickly find yourself with sore arms and muscles. Not only will your body hate you for trying too hard, but you’ll get gunned down rather quickly, because the motion tracking isn’t detecting your movement perfectly in 1:1. There’s a small noticeable amount of lag (very short) that doesn’t detract from the game’s overarching presentation, but it will remind you that motion controls aren’t aren’t as accurate as a light gun.
When the SS does start cramping your arms, my suggestion is to shorten the SS’s rear extendable stock and sit down. You might feel more like a guerrilla warrior standing up, but remember, SOCOM 4 is still a video game.
Anybody can fire up SOCOM 4 and play with a DualShock 3 in minutes, but who can say they completed the game with motion controls in a non-on-rails game, where surviving enemy ambushes is the norm? Where controlling a blue and gold team and telling them to move out, shoot enemies X, Y and Z first, then B, C, A while you charge ahead, and melee the more stubborn ones and then raining actually feels like you’re commanding a real squad?
Just Playing With Move + Navigation
The controls are pretty much the same without the SS attachment. You’ll get less arm fatigue considering you’re shedding the bulky weight from the SS, but the experience is nearly identical. You’ll lose the lovely pump-to-reload action and hitting those tiny and stiff buttons on the Move controller with your thumb is kind of trickier than using your pointer finger to press the shortcut “square” and “triangle” buttons, but it’s manageable, given enough time.
Anyone who’s ever played a shooting game on the Wii will likely be able to pick up SOCOM 4 rather quickly with just the Move and Navigation Controller combo. But in my opinion, you feel more like a rebel using the SS. The attachment works really well for shooter games that map lots of functions to lots of buttons. Guerrilla Games’ (developers of Killzone 3) SS is not a child’s toy – it’s a grown-up’s toy. And it rocks.
In terms of multiplayer, SOCOM 4 is impressive in and of its own. It supports 32-person squad based multiplayer and 5-person custom co-op.
Luckily, I was able to test a few hours with of SOCOM 4 before the ongoing PlayStation Network outage. For all the praise that I poured on for SOCOM 4‘s single player campaign mode, you can forget about using motion controls in multiplayer. You will die, and you will die a lot. In my opinion, even with the hypersensitivity that SOCOM 4 provides with Move, it’s still no match up against the analog sticks in terms of speed of looking around and shooting. To draw a parallel, it’s kind of like playing a shooting game with a controller versus playing it with a keyboard and mouse. No matter how good a controller is, it’s no match for a professional gaming mouse’s high DPI.
I’ll be honest here and say I didn’t really care or follow much of the story in SOCOM 4, just as I don’t in most shooter games. Half-way through I always get confused and lost, but around the beautiful motion-captured cutscenes and explosive sound design, SOCOM 4 is a very fun game that uses motion controls to enhance the gameplay quite well. Zipper Interactive didn’t just tack on motion controls – it built a game that incorporates Move with an nearly uncompromised experience.
SOCOM 4 definitely warrants buying a Sharp Shooter. Where Killzone 3 just kind of touched upon motion controls, SOCOM 4 was designed for it. If you already own the entire Move set with the Navigation Controller, then great, you’re all set – SOCOM 4 will cost you the same as everybody else: $60. If you aren’t hooked up with the Move set yet, buying the SOCOM 4 Full Deployment Edition will cost you only $150, whereas buying a PlayStation Eye, Move, Navigation Controller, Sharp Shooter and a copy of SOCOM 4 each separately will total up to about $220. Saving $70 with the bundle is a steal. To make it clear, SOCOM 4 isn’t a perfect game. Its graphics won’t win any awards, its story kind of puts you to sleep and it’s kind of a short game, but that doesn’t mean SOCOM 4 is not worth your hard-earned money. What SOCOM 4 is is a fun and satisfying game that is setting the bar on how motion controlled games, moving forward should be done. This is the dream Nintendo wanted to deliver with its Wii Remote in 2006, but realized by Sony in 2011.
While it might be a while until Resistance 3 comes out, I’m already stoked to play that with Move first. For once, motion control gaming doesn’t actually feel like a tacky gimmick. I’m just praying more shooting games like Call of Duty will become compatible with the SS, or it’ll quickly end up in the closet, with the rest of my plastic video game accessories, like the Nyko Perfect Shot for Wii Remote and Guitar Hero guitar.