SOCOM: Special Forces needs a hug. It doesn’t know who it is or what it’s doing here. The SOCOM franchise has always put a huge impetus on military authenticity, multiplayer, strategy and teamwork and although Special Forces manages to retain some of these loyalties, what’s there feels tired, repetitive and a tad generic. Special Forces isn’t a step backwards by any means, it’s just not the huge leap forwards it should be especially considering this franchise has waited six years for this ‘true’ sequel to lock, load and be deployed into battle.
Single player has never been SOCOM’s forte and Special Forces (known as SOCOM 4 in the U.S) is no different. It has no identity. As if an incompetent and clichéd terrorist ridden plot wasn’t enough, the single player campaign offers no incentive to return to once completed. We’ve seen all of this before and we’ve seen it done better. Thankfully, there’s only 14 different missions to complete, so your time with SOCOM’s solo mode will be a short one. From the outset, you will plough through the game without some much as acknowledging the thin storyline that underscores the third person shooting. The action comes thick and fast. You and your squad will have to have your wits about you. It’s extremely accessible but only because it’s not original. You run and cover and pop up and shoot bad guys, that’s about it. You have a squad at your disposable and can order them to take every sort of offensive, defensive or evasive action with the d-pad but you could probably make it through the game without sending that many orders out. It’s all a little loose. You and your squad don’t complement each other the way they should. The introduction of specific stealth dedicated missions is refreshing but forced, especially since you can almost predict that you will be popped into a moody stealth mission every 3 levels or so.
Visually, Special Forces looks quite nice. Animations are actually quite impressive, so too is the lighting and general effects like explosions. Everything looks clean and aesthetically sound. Audio is good, with impressive sound effects and some quality voice acting (take a bow Nolan North). Levels and missons are fairly linear, while environments appear plastic and fake. There’s no sense of immersion. Vegetation, for example, is transparent and it can simply be walked through as if it’s not physical. Squad A.I, consistently lauded as one of SOCOM’s core gameplay mechanics, is lacklustre and riddled with inconsistencies. When you dish orders, you squad mates comply, but their execution is often times undisciplined and unruly. They will stand in your line of fire, block you when you’re in cover and even walk over live grenades. The single player is flat on nearly every layer. It’s just average and that’s just not good enough. It’s not a tactical shooter. It’s just an average shooter.
Thankfully, multiplayer is where the real action is. It’s layered, it’s organised, it’s competitive and it’s the game’s real saving grace. With a bevy of interesting and creative squad based action modes, coupled with rewarding levelling up systems and weapon upgrades, Special Forces online is where you will dedicate most of your time and effort. 32 players are supported online and after you’ve trawled through the usual team deathmatchs and co-op modes you’ll find a new refreshing sense of urgency in modes like Bomb squad. Rallying your team to escort a bomb technician to diffuse different explosive caches is exhilarating and the best example of squad reliance embedded within. The only concern with multiplayer is the distinct lack of respawning in most of the game modes but this is a small gripe.
SOCOM: Special Forces gets full Move support and it’s expertly adapted. It adds an integrative and immersive element to the action that you don’t get with the Dual Shock. It’s responsive and functional and could be one of the best examples of Move implementation on the console. Click your Move and Navigation controller into a sharpshooter peripheral and you have yourself a rewarding trigger happy arcade-esque take on the action. SOCOM really compliments Move and vice versa. Move is a major plus and should give you many an hour of motion controller shooting fun.
SOCOM: Special Forces isn’t a bad game, far from it. It’s just underwhelming on so many layers, especially the single player campaign. Multiplayer and Move functionality are certainly the best adverts for Special Forces and are most certainly worth a go. Shortcomings aside, Special Forces is a fun, if somewhat uninspiring shooter. It’s worth a look, particularly multiplayer but just don’t expect too much beyond that.
TGL SCORE 6/10
Format: Playstation 3
Developer: Zipper Interactive
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: April 20th 2011