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Is SOCOM 4 a new breed of tactical shooter?

We go hands on with Zipper Interactive's PS3 squaddie

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Sweeping through the village of Han Lo forms the climax to the level with several small skirmishes, paving the way for a grand finale at a temple housing the anti-aircraft gun which is your main objective. This wide open environment offers an even more refined tactical experience and with several approaches to take, it's important to think like a real commander. Should gold take the high ground while blue lays down covering fire? Maybe you could send gold forward to scout or should both squads support each other closely? Perhaps you might occupy each flank to catch the Naga in a cross fire? It's solving these kind of battlefield dilemmas that make SOCOM 4 such an enjoyable command shooter.

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Needless to say, the Naga base is eventually taken down and the AA gun blown to kingdom come with some handy C4 (we'll leave you to discover the best way of doing that) and it's time to head off to the extraction point. Between missions there's even time to bank a quick weapon unlock, before getting briefed on the next mission (a solo infiltration level featuring 45 attempting to stop a frigate launching which is very cool).

Although Rendezvous is fairly early in the game and so features a number of tutorial elements, there's still plenty here to excite both SOCOM and third-person shooter fans. SOCOM 4 looks the business with great character modelling and a decent blend of urban and jungle battlefields and as bullets whine through the air, your cover disintegrates and you attempt to return withering counter-fire, it really makes you feel like you're in the midst of a hectic battle.

The pacing works well too, with alternating stealth and action sequences giving plenty of variety to test your command skills and it's also a good tactical challenge - get lazy or complacent at normal difficulty levels and you'll be punished, with your squad dying on their feet and all momentum lost. Perform poorly at higher difficulty levels and it's game over very quickly. But overall, Zipper have struck a fine balance blending the mechanics of command, the cover system and your own third- and first-person viewpoints to deliver some really meaty, satisfying squad-shooter action.

2011 is officially the year to have had your fill of playing burly gung-ho marines, but with SOCOM 4 centred on NATO and Korean troops, it has a less macho, more thoughtful flavour and comes across more as a desperate series of actions fought deep behind enemy lines by a hardened but likeable squad. Although any modern military shooter always struggles to escape the clichés of the genre, the script writing and storyline are better than most and even in just the second mission, you get a glimpse of some interesting plot threads and feel like you want to learn about these characters and how their story develops throughout the game.

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Plenty of reasons to be cheerful then for both SOCOM and shooter fans in general ahead of SOCOM 4's release later this month. Keep an eye out for more SOCOM coverage appearing soon when we'll be taking a look at the multiplayer portion of the game.

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