[GDC 2011] Bravo, Attack to Crosshairs

Hooboy is there a lot to SOCOM 4, and we've got it all right here.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: March 12, 2011
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Making one franchise your bread and butter can become a little... exhausting for a developer, but somehow despite what seems like 70 billion (it's actually closer to seven) SOCOM games, Zipper Interactive sports a damned impressive retention rate. The release of MAG, an absolutely brilliant 256-player tactical first-person shooter, no doubt helped provide a breath of fresh air, but Zipper has once again returned to the franchise that all but created the PlayStation 2's online community and helped the optional Network Adaptor add-on to become a hardcore go-to purchase.

But there's a certain adage that seemingly doesn't hold up well when it comes to sequential releases: familiarity breeds contempt. Though there have been quite a few SOCOM games in the past -- including a more tactical and externally-developed diversions on the PSP -- the series has stuck fairly closely to its guns when pushing out sequels. It's great for keeping the die-hard superfans happy, but in moving to new hardware, Zipper decided that it was finally time to give the series an overhaul.

The result? SOCOM 4, a sort of re-imagining of the classic bullet points of the series; tactical missions, pre-planning before entering a firefight and squad-based commands, and updates the whole presentation to be a little more in line with how modern shooters do things. For starters, that means a cover-based system, something that might seem like blasphemy to fans of the original. Here's another: regenerating health. And another: online multiplayer that supports both.

Online also supports Classic Mode, though, meaning those fans of the older games can still get their one-death, no respawn, no regenerating health, no cover way of playing while newcomers can sink their teeth into something a little more forgiving while both sides end up digesting two all new modes, which we'll get to in a second.

Before we do, though, it's probably important to talk about how the game plays offline. There is still a single-player story with a focus on PMCs and a swelling rebel threat and one Cullen Grey, leading a team of two SEALs and two South Korean squad members that can be ordered to different positions or told to fire on independent groups, just as before. Now, though, that cover-based system, in conjunction with destructible cover, means on-the-fly decision making and care pre-firefight planning are just as important as ever.

We took a stab at one of the missions, an assault on a small village that spilled across a moaning metal bridge and out into a riverside set of ramshackle huts toward a tussle with an attack helicopter -- at least that was the plan. Though the mission was set fairly far into the campaign where the player would understand the intricacies of squad command and how enemies would behave, we still got completely, utterly wrecked, barely making it across the bridge before finally giving up hope that we'd be able to fell enemies with the game's new 3D and Move controller support.
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