Friday, 29 April 2011 22:16

SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy SEALs (PS3, 2011)

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Squad up!Playing shooters can be a mixed blessing, sometimes. Both first and third person based shooters share certain elements, and the overall structure from one game to the next is usually fairly similar. Some people call that repetitive and boring. For myself, I’m usually more concerned with the level design, game balance and playability than I am with structural similarities. Two games can be similar but feel and play completely differently with a little work on the part of the developer. One way in particular to make a shooter feel different is to add a tactical element to the game play, so that rather than just dealing with your own character, you can also direct and position allied forces in order to create crossfires, ambushes and in general just even the odds a bit. SOCOM 4 is an example of one such tactical shooter, and is the game I’m taking a look at today.

USA Info Japanese Info Image
Title SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy SEALs
Dates April 19, 2011 April 21, 2011
Companies Zipper Interactive, Sony Computer Entertainment
Genre Third Person Shooter, Tactical Shooter, Modern Warfare, Real World Conflict


SOCOM 4 - Rating
  • Playability - 1.3
  • Graphics - 4.8
  • Story - 2.7
  • Sound - 3.7
  • Overall - 3.1

There’s a civil war going on in Malaysia, and Cullen Gray, an Operations Commander in the NATO International Security Force, has just touched down in the middle of it. Deployed to assist in the NATO security operation, while directing the evacuation of the local embassy, everything abruptly goes straight to hell. The rebel forces, “Naga”, launch a full scale assault with heavy hardware that nobody knew they had. Things only get worse when the NATO Ops Center is destroyed, taking all of Command with it. With only the two Navy SEALs that were assigned to him when he arrived, two members of the South Korean 707th, and a crippled carrier, he has to take command and capture Naga’s leader before the madman launches a crippling attack on the Straits of Malacca.

The Good

  • Excellent character modeling.

The character modeling in SOCOM 4 is some of the best I’ve ever seen. While it doesn’t hit L.A. Noir levels of complexity and realism, it comes close, with an exceptional level of detail that really adds to the immersion of the game.

  • Fairly compelling story.

Rather than being entirely action driven, the lowest common denominator for shooters, SOCOM 4 takes a fair amount of its forward momentum from discovering what’s really going on behind the rebellion and sudden attack on the NATO forces. The story takes place over the span of six days, during which you get a tale composed of mystery, intense firefights, character development and turning momentum. Taken for what it is, the story is pretty good and helps the game along well.

  • Interesting locale.

Malaysia is definitely not on the list of standard shooter environments, and SOCOM 4’s version of it is lush and vibrant with foliage and urban sprawl. It’s nice to get out of the desert and Russia for once.

The Bad

  • The AI is a fucking joke.

More than any other type of shooter, the AI in a tactical shooter like SOCOM 4 is a critical component, because not only do the enemies have to be smart enough to be challenging but not impossible, but your squad mates need to be able to function with only minimal input from you. SOCOM 4 failed critically on both sides of the equation. Your squad members are unable to path between two completely open areas points, frequently get caught up on game geometry, and frequently run around in the open enroute to markers, rather than staying in cover. Also, and the gold team especially was guilty of this, when I tell squads to go to places where they can ambush the enemy, I FUCKING EXPECT THEM TO STAY THERE WHILE I REPOSITION TO SUPPORT!!! Conversely, the enemy AI inevitably ignores my squad mates if I have so much as a toe out in the open, can snipe from long range with shotguns, and just in general acts way too smart for the game’s own good. By the way, can somebody explain to me how, during a stealth mission, a body discovered half the game map and three checkpoints away can result in every enemy unit in the stage suddenly opening fire on my position as though there’s a bright red “Shoot here, shitheads!” neon sign suddenly pointing at my head? Absolutely atrocious AI work, I haven’t seen AI this bad since Perfect Dark Zero.

  • Poor hit detection.

I’m not saying that I have perfect aim, but when I have an enemy’s head bulls-eyed in my scope, I expect them to die, not turn and look at the bullet that whizzed past their head. This sort of behavior would be excusable and even expected if I were using an inaccurate weapon like a shotgun or a heavy machine gun, but unless I missed them saying somewhere that SOCOM 4 uses real-world physics for sniping, there’s no excuse for that with a sniper rifle. More to the point, it happens even at closer ranges when sights-aiming with assault rifles and sub-machine guns. It’s possible to have an enemy dead to rights, centered in your aim reticule, and completely miss them even so. Which brings me to my next complaint…

  • Way too much HP on enemies.

Even assuming you manage to hit something with the lousy hit detection, enemies shrug off too many bullets. I’m willing to make an allowance for body armor, folks… but not when it takes over a clip to put some enemies down for the count. Even headshots don’t always work.

  • Terribly clichéd characters.

Yes, the story is fairly compelling, and yes, there is some character development… unfortunately for SOCOM 4, the characters are so unbelievably cliché that the story is compelling in spite of them, rather than because of them. Maybe I’m missing some backstory somewhere, or maybe it got left on the cutting room floor to make room for those incredible character models, I dunno. What I do know is that I was very disappointed in the characters themselves.

  • New same level.

Not every level of the game is guilty of this, but most of the levels are much too similar to one another. In fact, for several, it’s the exact same level, only the second time around you’re assaulting them with your full team, rather than sneaking around solo gathering intelligence. If games like Gears of War can produce levels that feel different while maintaining a high level of playability, I’d expect a major exclusive title like SOCOM 4 to be able to do the same.

Your Mileage May Vary

  • Cover isn’t worth much.

I found I had a lot of trouble with the cover system in this game. Even when behind it completely I was frequently getting hit. Some cover is (too) destructible. The game would also frequently refuse to let me aim out until I had manually moved my character to the edge of the cover and peeked around, and even then it was often iffy at best.

  • The One True RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade).

Could somebody explain to me why four packs of C4 can’t so much as dent an APC when I use it in a live situation, but a single pack will demolish them when used as an objective? On the other hand, the conveniently difficult to get to, dangerous to use RPG that somebody just happened to leave laying around will blow their treads right off. And why is my character the only one capable of using it?

  • Now with more Move(ment).

While I don’t have the PlayStation Move myself, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that it can be used to aim with in SOCOM 4, and that, indeed, there’s a special light-gun style peripheral edition of the game out. It works in a way that I’ve always envisioned motion control being the most useful for shooters being, but without being willing to spring for the extra cash to get the pack I couldn’t tell you how well it came off. However, given the hit detection issues, I’m inclined to think not too well.


This was my first entry into the SOCOM series, and it’ll be my last. I was terribly unimpressed with the game overall. The story is serviceable but the characters are as bland and cliché as it gets. The AI is horrible and the play control is spotty at best. There’s just too much broken in this game for me to give it a good ranking. You might consider looking into it if you’re really into tactical shooters, but be prepared for the problems that plague it.

Additional Info

  • Writing: Groovy (+5)
  • Pacing: Groovy (+5)
  • Graphics: Groovy (+5)
  • Controls: Groovy (+5)
  • Voice Acting: Groovy (+5)
  • Soundtrack: Groovy (+5)
  • Replay Value: Groovy (+5)

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