The SOCOM 4: Special Forces open multiplayer beta is in full swing now and we reported for duty last week just as the public phase opened its doors to all comers. Previously only PlayStation Plus and US Killzone 3 owners got a chance to get a taste of Zipper Interactive's tactical shooter, but as of April 5th, the beta was been blown wide open and now anyone can claim a portion. Our advice? Dip a toe in, the fragging's just fine, but be quick, the beta closes on April 13th so the clock's counting down.
It's a fairly weighty 780 Mb odd file from the PlayStation Plus section of the EU store, but after a speedy download (on an 8Mb home connection in this case) and about another half hour spent patching in the latest game updates, you're ready to deploy.
Two of the game's final maps await. Port Authority which sees you charging around a frigate in dry dock and Assault & Battery which is a mainly jungle level, dotted with an assortment of bunkers and towers. Both are nicely constructed, well thought out levels capable of supporting up to 32 players with Port's central ship and multi-level gantries resulting in some good close quarters run n' gun action.
Assault & Battery rewards more tactical style team play with some very decent sniping opportunities at medium and long range. When we checked out the servers, there were plenty of players in the lobbies and we scarcely had any wait before the count down timer began and we were in.
There's a ton of different multiplayer games types on view, from basic styles like Suppression (team deathmatch) and Last Defence which sees you fight and capture various control points - to first reveal and then assault the enemy base. The pick of the crop though might just be the intriguing Hurt Locker-style Bomb squad, which sees your team defending your slower moving, heavily-armoured bomb technician as he lumbers around trying to defuse a series of explosives concealed throughout the map.
Zipper are trialling different game styles and types according to this rotation schedule, so you can usually find something to pique your interest. SOCOM veterans (or those with a preference for Counter-Strike levels of harshness) can also opt for the classic game mode, which means faster movement, round-based play, no respawns and no health regeneration either. Hardcore.
Our first match though was a standard Last Defence game on Port Authority and SOCOM 4 quickly gets you into the swing of things, with both special forces and insurgents going hammer and tongs over the three control points on the map. It's a good game mechanic, resulting in smooth, free-flowing battles and plenty of action as control ebbs and flows around the capture points.
Initially it's a good idea to get your bearings by following more experienced players, but when you go to capture a control point for the first time you have to stand in full view, holding down the circle button for what seems like all eternity, unable to look or fire. Effectively your arse is hanging right out in the wind and it's a really nerve-shredding experience as the timer slowly counts down. You're entirely at the mercy of your team-mates providing cover and you quickly discover there's not much margin for solo heroics in this game variation - the better team players and teamwin every time.
Capturing all three control points opens up the enemy base and then you've got just two minutes to storm in and make it your own, by planting a beacon to summon an airstrike, while the opposition desperately try to stop you. This really is full-on carnage with the advantage to the defenders, grenades flying everywhere and respawners charging desperately back into the fray, hence the title Last Defence we guess. Even though it's a solid, classic kind of deathmatch mode, it's certainly still immense fun and a well balanced, finely tuned and highly enjoyable experience..