Having never played any of the previous SOCOM titles I came into this game not really knowing what to expect other than it was a third person action game, described to me by a friend as third person Call Of Duty. However upon playing the game I would liken it more to Uncharted with more action and less exploration. Whether you will enjoy playing SOCOM Special forces depends a lot on whether you can move away from the now generally accepted view for a shooter, first person, and try something else out for a little change. Some of those that do so could well be in for a pleasant surprise, read on to find out why this is the case.
Throughout the majority of the game the player takes control of the Ops-Commander and occasionally a recon expert code named Forty-Five when it comes to the stealth based missions. The Ops Commander is accompanied by two AI team mates and a few missions into the game a further two team mates including the aforementioned Forty-Five. The game is set in Malaysia and initially has the player fighting against a group of rebels known as the Naga and later on, after a few twists and turns in the story line, against a much more organised and better equipped mercenary group known as Clawhammer over a six day period during which you the player, and your team, are tasked with carrying out numerous objectives.
The game plays out very much as you would expect from a third person action game with a little strategy thrown in for good measure. As the player you take full control of the Ops-Commander. On top of that you also command the other four members of your squad. The single player campaign is of a decent length comprised of fourteen missions, each one has you moving through a location, be it the jungle itself, an ocean side dock or slums moving into the city, throughout which various objectives must be accomplished. Despite the fact that the game is completely set in Malaysia there is a nice diversity in the combat areas. One minute you are fighting in a city and the next you are fighting in and around temple ruins in the jungles.
Each mission starts with the player selecting a primary and secondary weapon from the quite impressive number of guns on offer in the game. Everything you would expect to be here is, from shotguns and assault rifles to sniper rifles and machine guns. Each weapon also has a selection of attachments, silencers, extended clips, grips. But to earn the right to use these, each weapon has to be levelled up by achieving kills with it which is actually a nice little touch. It means that the more you use a weapon the better it actually becomes. After selecting your hardware you deploy directly into the action. The gameplay is very much like you would expect from any shooter of its kind, moving through the location using the games cover system at the tap of a button and taking down the enemy forces. The cover and fire system is nothing new to games nowadays, most third person action games use it and SOCOM is another which uses it well. The battlefields have spots for cover in all the right places and it encourages you to make use of them. Playing through the game on elite difficulty, using cover goes from being an option to a necessity as standing in the open usually results in you being killed rather quickly.
When it comes to shooting there are two choices. When you have progressed a gun far enough to have a mounted sight attachment, tapping R3 while aiming you are switched to a view familiar to any first person shooter. I can see this being favoured by many players who are fans of Call Of Duty, Bad Company or one of the many other FPS games out there. However I personally found that using the third person aiming was a lot more accurate even at long ranges, especially as you level up the weapons. Another thing with the shooting in SOCOM is that it pays to aim carefully. Now I know that this is the case in most if not all shooting games, but when it comes to SOCOM I have found that spraying rounds at a moving target rarely results in the player getting a kill. It is much easier waiting until an enemy has reached cover and then taking him out when he pops his head to take a shot at you, or carefully aiming ahead of a moving target. Emptying your guns on full auto rarely results in a kill and does nothing other than wasting precious ammunition.
Another feature which stops becoming an option and more a requirement on tougher difficulty settings is using you AI team mates. As Ops-Commander you have control over two teams of two troops, blue team specialise in suppressing fire and assault with their assault rifles and light machine guns, and gold deal with the stealth side of things and sniping with their long ranged rifles and silenced weapons. Playing on easy difficulty settings you do not really need to worry about them as they follow you through the map, firing at bad guys and taking cover under their own power, leaving you to concentrate on what you are doing yourself. Play on hard however and you really need to think about things as using left and right on your d-pad assigns way-points for your fire-teams and as the enemy forces become deadlier and move around a lot more, the need to move your team mates into more strategic locations and drawing the bad guys in to you and your team becomes the more sensible tactic. The higher difficulties also ensure that there is enough of a challenge in the decent length single player campaign to keep you entertained for a fair bit of time.
Although not the best presented game out there at the moment, it is by no means a poor showing. The weapons and characters are all well drawn and created in game along with the various locations. The locations are all done well enough to keep you immersed in the game. Really the only downside, and it is not even a huge problem, is the sound. Certain areas could have done with a little more work, shooting game fans have become a fickle bunch and are pretty quick to pounce on some things. The problem here is that different guns can on occasion sound very similar. And it’s not just that, shooters of late have not only upped the ante looks-wise, but also sound-wise, most notable in my mind being Battlefield Bad Company 2 which in my opinion had some of the best sound in a shooting game, bettering even the genre giant Call Of Duty. This of course does not harm the game much as it is only a small part of the game which on the whole is still highly enjoyable.
“That’s all well and good”, I hear you saying “but what about the multiplayer?”. Well, at the time of my playing the game and writing this review, the actions of some evil hackers have prevented us PS3 players from going online and so unfortunately this means I have at this time not had a chance to try the multiplayer side of the game out. And so what you are reading here is basically just a review of the single player game. I will return to the game when PSN services are resumed and write a little about it. Even still, based solely on the single player content within the game, there is more than enough to keep most action game fans happy. So if you are looking for more shooting fun but fancy a little break from the usual FPS fare, then you could do a lot worse than picking up a copy of SOCOM Special Forces.