SOCOM: Special Forces PlayStation 3
Published by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
Developed by Zipper Interactive
The first two SOCOM games gave PlayStation 2 owners the chance to experience a quality online tactical shooter. The games were tremendously popular and some of the most played online games of the last console generation. After the first two games in the series however, the standards began to slip and the first game in the series to appear on the PlayStation 3, SOCOM: Confrontation, developed by Slant Six Games, was a big disappointment. The series’ original developer, Zipper Interactive, have returned to the helm to bring us SOCOM: Special Forces but is this the game to give the series the boost it seriously needs?
Set in Malaysia, Special Forces, for the most part, puts you in the shoes of the Ops Commander, Cullen Gray. Gray leads a small NATO Special Forces squad against local rebels, known here simply as Naga, over a six day period. Early in the game you'll acquire a couple of South Korean operatives, one of whom is a strong willed and opinionated woman called Park Yoon-Hee (but known simply as Forty-Five). As the Ops Commander you'll get to give orders to your two teams of two comrades through the bulk of the game's missions. Effective use of these two small teams is important if you're to deal with the many enemies you'll face and it can be satisfying when you successfully set up ambushes and make light work of potentially tricky situations. As the abrasive Forty-Five you'll handle the game's stealth missions. These missions can be irritating at times but they do offer a welcome change of pace. The campaign will take around six or seven hours to complete. Whilst this is rather short, you probably wouldn't want it to last any longer as the storyline is rather bland and certainly could have been better but the single-player experience on the whole is fairly enjoyable.
Both the enemy and friendly AI are mostly good in Special Forces. The enemy AI is actually quite good (as long as you're playing on the more challenging of the game's four difficulty levels that is). Your enemies will make good use of cover and not simply make it easy for you to pick them off. In order to defeat your enemies you'll need to give good orders to your AI comrades. This is easy to do and the orders are carried out quite well. However, there are a few issues. You'll notice that your AI comrades don't always make the best use of cover and do occasionally put themselves in perilous situations for no reason at all. There are numerous times in the game where a stealthy approach is called for and the friendly AI's inability to make the best use of stealth manoeuvres can be a little irritating and slightly problematic. However, your AI companions are fairly good marksmen and do a decent job of helping you trim down the numbers of your enemies. They will also revive each other if the need arises which certainly helps to make up for the shortcomings to an extent.
The campaign missions are mostly enjoyable. However, when it comes to the stealth missions, things can become rather irritating. The reason for this is that at times it feels as though you're dealing with some AI enemies who are as dumb as a box of rocks and others who have ESP. I'm all for having stealth missions in games such as this as they help to break up the monotony of constantly having waves of enemies to deal with but I do like to see an AI that's fairly consistent. It's really annoying when some enemies can't see what's in front of them whilst others appear to have the ability to see through walls or around corners. It also adds to the irritation when you learn that a mission has pretty much failed if you're spotted.
Special Forces features both co-operative and competitive online game modes. Up to five players can team up to tackle the AI. Whilst the co-op play is enjoyable, and arguably the highlight of the multiplayer experience, there are only around half a dozen maps which certainly doesn't help to keep it interesting over the long term. Thirty-two players are supported in the competitive multiplayer modes. There are a handful of game types on offer here although most are variants of tried and trusted multiplayer game modes such as team deathmatch and capture the flag. The pick of the game modes has to be Bomb Squad where one member of a team will be equipped with a bomb suit and special weaponry. Whilst the multiplayer experience in Special Forces is generally good, more game types and more maps would definitely have been welcome.
Visually, SOCOM: Special Forces is a bit of a mix. The character models and the animations are decent but it's the explosions which really stand out. The various environments in the game don't look as good as they should do however and quite a few of the textures are rather flat and bland. The frame rate remains smooth throughout however and that's impressive given the scale of some of the explosions and the intensity of the action involved here.
Special Forces is subtitled but you'll have to enable them. No character names or portraits accompany the subtitles however and it's not always clear who is saying what. There are subtitle options for in-game dialogue and cut scenes as well as comments made by your enemies. Despite these options however, not all of the dialogue in the game is subtitled. There's plenty of peripheral dialogue that isn't subtitled and you won't be aware of the almost incessant complaining your comrades are making during the course of the single-player campaign. When bringing up the pause menu (by pressing the start button) your mission objectives are recapped verbally. This speech isn't subtitled but you will see a brief text description of what your goals are. Still, all of the important dialogue is subtitled and you won't have any problems in following the essential dialogue and the game's storyline. You're also made aware of any time restrictions and shown an on screen countdown when you need to complete an objective within a specific time. Special Forces makes good use of icons to convey information. Icons alert you when explosives have been thrown in your vicinity and when you are in a position to make use of cover amongst other things. During the game's stealth missions you'll notice a stealth meter which shows how visible you are to your enemies but there's no meter to show you how audible you are which is disappointing.
After the disappointment that was SOCOM: Confrontation it's good to finally have a SOCOM that's worth playing on the PlayStation 3. That's not to say that SOCOM: Special Forces reaches the standard set by the first two PlayStation 2 games however. The PlayStation 3 already has some impressive third-person shooters and it's not wanting when it comes to quality online multiplayer experiences. Special Forces offers a good single-player campaign and a decent online experience but whilst it’s a solid game overall it doesn't really do anything to elevate itself above the competition. Dedicated SOCOM fans will certainly appreciate the improvement over Confrontation.