on April 21, 2011
UPDATE 05-02-11: Giving the title a fourth star for two reasons: First, the U.S. Navy SEALS just killed Osama Bin Laden! That's the ultimate 'Takedown' mission...Go SEALS!! Secondly, I've been logging a lot more time with the game in 'Custom' mode. The no-respawn rule in 'Custom' forces a frustrating, but ultimately highly instructive and tactical rethink of gameplay style that fits with the game design. It's sort of like learning an instrument, frustrating until you 'get it', then it's much more rewarding. The price coming down also helps...a lot.
UPDATE 06-02-11: See 'Multiplayer' notes below Singleplayer -PSN is finally running for me.
Let me start out by saying that I'm almost exclusively a First Person Shooter player and almost always on an Xbox. I've logged time on (and have beaten as well) BFBC2, CoD Black Ops, and Crysis 2; I also own and have beaten CoD Modern Warfare, MW2, Red Dead Redemption, etc...
I've just gotten into the PS3 scene to get the killer Blu-Ray player and try some of the exclusive titles on it. The SOCOM series is a PS exclusive. SOCOM4 is my first taste of a shooter on the PS3 and sadly, this game doesn't measure up, and that's too bad. Granted, it's a Third Person Shooter game on the PS3, but more than close enough to compare. Gears of War and RDR are both TPS and awesome.
Having carried a real gun for the 32 years of my entire adult life from 17 to 49 in the military and law enforcement, I wanted to experience something close to actually pointing a weapon in a video game and was excited to try the PS SharpShooter system based on its reviews. I found after pricing the components locally, the SOCOM4 'Full Deployment Edition' with the SharpShooter and all the other PS Move gear actually cost less than just the hardware. Ergo, the game was free - to me. So, if you got the game with the package it is an awesome deal as it's an 'OK' game. I'll review the SharpShooter in its place...although I will say it gets high marks.
As for SOCOM4, I'm not familiar with the earlier titles. They must've been good or we wouldn't be on '4'. Video games are very complex with many layers so I'll try to summarize for times sake:
SINGLE PLAYER CAMPAIGN ONLY:
GAMEPLAY: Linear! I haven't been in a more 'rail shooter' linear game in the past several years...except maybe Mass Effect, but the story there is the game. This is worse than Halo linear; as in on-screen breadcrumb sequential checkpoints that keep you focused more on playing checkpoint baseball and tagging the bases than in mission achievement.
STORY: You're a semi-stranded, cobbled together, *NATO*? Seal team on some island that could cripple global commerce if the rebels take control. I don't want to go into more detail and spoil, but if you get more out of the story your imagination is better than mine and I daydream way too much.
WORLD: I felt almost no need, or desire, to explore the developer's world. Too bad because in many arenas it seemed that the developers went to a lot of artistic trouble to make it look realistic (success) and approachable (fail). The need wasn't there since if they wanted me to see it a checkpoint would run me through it. The desire wasn't there because the game treasures were ho-hum. The ample guns lying around were hard to understand if they were better or worse than mine (frequently worse I found out) and the 'Intel' that you're supposed to pick up never seemed to give me any useful payoffs...so if I saw it, I grabbed it, otherwise I felt no remorse for missing it. I felt no desire to explore or scrounge, neither seemed to be worth the trouble. The set design seemed high until you tried engaging with anything and it just bonked as you tried to scale it, kick it, etc... Well, you could shoot the occasional bucket or the now universal red exploding barrel. If you tried to get an overwatch position to cover your troops while sending them to flank and pincer, you found out that any high ground was almost always unavailable and just a vertical 'wall' to the arena. RDR this is not. The artists did a good job, the graphics are very good and the tradeoffs fair. Good detail, high contrast, great lighting effects, all in all very good. A nice place to visit...
GUNS, BALLISTICS, AND SHOOTING: They did a good job with the guns and most terminal ballistics. The guns were beautifully rendered in game and in cut scenes showing the correct kit for the players. The sights were very well done. Optics were beautiful and real-world accurate - to a point. Reflex reticles were true to life except the fact that the player-side face plates were in focus and quite distracting. They aren't in real life, they are out of focus and only the target and reticle are in focus - as it should be. Small gripe. Shooting with 'irons' in third person is weird, no way around it. It's much weirder when the players own huge and opaque head is frequently in the way because the camera is behind the guy shooting the enemy (you - the player). This only happens when ADS (aiming down sights). You wind up hip shooting like a noob to avoid it. There's no wind or gravity, but hey, again small gripe. Guns with scopes would recoil, but not settle...major gripe and an immersion killer. Shooting with optics moves you into FPS and seemed very good. Especially with the SharpShooter...it felt oddly real when ADS with the SS and using optics, especially scopes. This was and remains the highlight of the game for me...highly recommended for real shooters. You will get a sense of satisfaction that your years of training have FINALLY paid off in a video game; in a way no 'thumb shooter' will understand. Using an ACOG and a SS is not to be missed. Rent the game for that if you already have the gun.
Terminal ballistics and hit boxes seemed right on. A well-placed shot to a critical area was a drop, poor shots resulted in crippled, or semi-functional enemies, as expected. Well done. Black Ops could take a few lessons here. Hits were hits, misses were misses, no mysterious stuff. Sadly it seemed that ANY intermediate object would disable your shot...chain link fencing, leaves, openings between stairs, etc... All can defeat battle rifle caliber rounds and MGs, so sayeth the physics engine they're using. At least a lot of cover was destructible both ways...yet, Battlefield this is not.
AI: SQUAD: AI was good...considering that AI stinks in every game...period. The AI here has pluses (squad are skilled shooters) and minuses (squad hang back a lot and use cover oddly). I'm not usually working squads in game, so I'll be brief here...these guys will do. They are skilled, resilient (more so than the player by far), and fairly intuitive. They usually follow orders and perform better than most friendlies.
ENEMIES: Average. Enemies are appropriately skilled for the middle levels. Behavior patterns were fairly locked and predictable (weak cover skills) with some pleasant surprises (would flank or bum rush). Lethality was game-fair. Odd shots would hurt you, head shots would kill you. Enemies weren't super shooters, but weren't bullet spraying shopkeepers either. Enemy observation skills were highly variable. Sometimes you could sneak past them while looking into their eyes, or they wouldn't notice the 200 lb body you just shot landing on a tin roof next to them. Other times they would see you stealth kill a dude in the dark from a block down the street. Hard to figure.
ACTING: The acting is first rate. Voice acting is well done and usually appropriate with only occasional F-bombs. The characters don't have dramatic stories or parts, so this probably wasn't hard to get right. Motion capture looked realistic and they obviously hired real operators for some of the stuff based on movement patterns. Overall well done...a nice cake of few ingredients.
I'll add more as I wrap up the game...I just got it yesterday, but if you don't post right away nobody will see it. I might do the Multi-Player. For right now the campaign at least seems like a great training range for the SharpShooter community and little else. The story won't make you feel like you have to save the world, or your teammates (I don't even know their names hours later and don't get worked up when something happens to them), and even the PC seems like your cookie-cutter OCS Seal O-3; I've yet to identify with my own PC. He's no John Marston that's for sure. Gameplay is very dated, graphics and gunwork are good, but the effort is lost on mediocrity elsewhere. So far it's been your average garage sale...some neat stuff lost and surrounded by a bunch of same 'ole.
UPDATE: Finished the game and stand by the above review and rating...although I did shoot through a leaf, a fence, and a piece of corrugated steel to get some non-fatal hits on enemies. The game ran 10 hours with a rather casual pace and plenty of do-overs on my part. I like to experiment in-game and this results in a fair amount of 'don't do that again' deaths. Usually when playing a top-notch title, I get really antsy to get back into the game when I have to put it down to deal with real life...I didn't have those joneses with this title. The 'Custom Game' feature is pretty cool and backs up my estimation that the biggest value the game offers is as a training aid for SharpShooter practice. In 'Custom', you can pick maps, game types, and enemy bot skill levels to practice against...think: Black Ops Combat Training and you'll have a great notion of the feature.
MULTIPLAYER - UPDATE 06-02-11: Finally got to play MP on this title after waiting a month (Thanks Sony...not). I'm left with mixed feelings about the whole experience. I'm retired and have a little time on my hands, so I have the luxury of playing all these cool games and their online offerings. SOCOM4 has given me some of my most rewarding and frustrating experiences of that time.
COMPETITIVE MP: I'm not going to act like I rock at this...I don't. Why? Because the default Quick Play choice places you into large maps with 32 players running around (and expecting you to run around) like an enormous Call of Duty run-n-gun fest. If you like Black Ops, you'll love this...very little if any lag...didn't see any obvious cheating (lag jerking) but it was a swarm of seemingly mindless frontal assault. Using defensive strategies such as setting up ambushes or sniping from cover, exactly the same skills that you need to survive the rest of the game are ignored wholesale in the competitive MP game. Now give even 10% of those folks mics and you can just imagine the 'fog of war' effect...except these aren't trained pros with radio discipline...they're rude, crude and loud bullet sponges. The good news is you really want to kill them.
On the smaller maps option in competitive, everyone is 'nade spamming the place. They should call it hand artillery. Tactics here are in short supply as in the big maps, just smaller and crazier. Juveniles needing their brains bathed in epinephrine will have to be talked down from the high. Not my bag.
COOPERATIVE MP: A ray of hope and glad to have found it. Imagine the 'Custom' mode, except instead of AI friendlies, you get 1-4 (more is better against 'Hard' enemies) real human squadmates and the ability for each other to revive fallen teammates. No typical respawning. If you don't get revived, you lie until all are dead or victorious. You can select mission types, maps, and enemy skill and force levels. Now tactics and skill matter. This has been the new highlight of the title for me. I have seen some incredibly good soldiering and some really stupid cowboys. Mistakes and foolish bravado will get you and others killed...fast!
The radio chatter here is relevant...enemy fire matters...speed, accuracy, and smarts are critical. When you get shot down and a squadmate throws smoke and fights guns blazing to save you, you can bet that when they go down, you'll cut down Hell's Army to save them. Topping the stats after a really tough round is immensely more satisfying than any other round of gaming I've done. This is where they should give medals. 6 stars and where I'll be from now on. I haven't been on XBL since I found this. I've met some amazing folks here from around the world, fun to play with and very efficient operators in the game. Good times...and isn't that what its all about?