You put the special in special forces.
The first thing you're greeted with when booting this game up for the first time is a rather chunky install that clocks in at roughly 2.7gb in size, this is followed by patches you are required to download when going to play the game. These patches currently weigh in at roughly 500mb, however expect that number to rise when the 1.30 patch drops sometime soon. Why should you care about the 1.30 patch? Good question, it's because the game did not ship with trophies. See Despite the back of the box saying that yes indeed there's some nice trophies for all of you obsessives out their to slave over, the game has been mysteriously lacking in them which quite frankly is appalling. Whilst Slant Six has done a great job of supporting the game post-launch and is delivering the trophies via an update, it's absolutely criminal to falsely advertise the game as having them on the back of the box. Despite the game very obviously being rushed out the door prematurely (as anyone who played the beta will be aware of) they have gone to great lengths to get the game playable and up to speed. The servers are now stable and the result of this is actually more surprising than you might think, with games being lag free and running amazingly smooth. The game has currently evolved to patches now comprising of game play tweaks and adjustments rather than urgent fixes, with the addition of trophies due shortly alongside some very minor bug fixes. The simple fact of the matter is though, that as of right now roughly 3 weeks after the games launch it's finally fixed. Whilst the trophies are still due and some community features need attention (clans are essentially pointless right now) the game is now perfectly playable.
Before you play however you'll want to set your characters up. The game features two sides, the Commandos and the Mercenaries, and you're offered a wealth of customization options for setting up a soldier for each side how you want. You're offered a variety of weapons to outfit your character with from shotguns and assault rifles to sniper rifles. You're given the option of both a primary and secondary weapon each of which can have up to two slots for additions such as grips, scopes and laser sights which all have an affect on how it fires. As well as this you're also given the option to select two additional items of gear from frag grenades to C4 and rocket launchers. From there you have the character's outfitting with armour and then finally visual preferences such as camo patterns, what kind of face your character has and if you want him to wear a goofy hat that will make people want to shoot you. Whilst the weapons selection and customization is commendable I do feel that more effort could have been put into the actual visual aspect of character creation. I may be spoiled by games such as Rainbow Six Vegas (of which character set up is excellent) but the commando and mercenary models look terribly generic, as do the outfitting options. If players were given some sort of face-mapping feature to integrate with the PlayStation Eye camera it would be better, as well as being allowed to create their own camo patterns. I also find that the models just don't look very good either. I'm aware that this may be the trade-off for having 32 of them running around some very large maps all at the same time, but they're horribly generic and bland.
The rest of the game's graphics are rather good however, considering the vastness of the levels the visuals are brilliant. Whilst early screen shots from the games alpha version that are floating around do suggest the game is lacking in the visuals department do not be fooled, it's easily up to the standards of other shooters, except with the added bonus of much larger areas to accommodate players. It's a shame then, although somewhat expected, that the framerate will drop at certain times and you will notice screen tearing in the heat of battle. Luckily for the majority of times the framerate remains solid, but in heated fire fights with a lot of players on screen with bullets flying everywhere and an abundance of explosions the game will stutter. Whilst it's not significant enough to affect game play or make you suffer some deaths you should not have, it's still a technical issue worth mentioning regardless. Having said that though when perched in a sniper tower on Crossroads observing just how large the battleground you have to play with is, I don't think you'll be complaining. The game is also home to some nice effects, with dust and smoke adding to the eye candy and explosions and smoke grenades being pleasing also. The levels themselves also feature a good amount of destructibility with the usual cars and bikes being explosive resulting in some satisfying take downs of people using them for cover when they explode. This is not all however as there are certain structures within levels that can be destroyed for tactical advantages. Take for example the aforementioned Crossroads level which, when playing the Bomb game type either team can destroy the archways in the level either crushing those trying to pass through or blocking off routes for the opposing team making their journey to plant the bomb much more difficult. If you're lucky enough to be within earshot of the opposing team you will no doubt be treated to some rather harsh language and cursing amongst themselves as their bomb runner gets his route cut off and your team surrounds him to promptly riddle him full of bullets. Other maps also feature barricades that your team must destroy to break through into the base to capture objectives, presenting a variety of ways to attack as well as collapse bridges. If you hate wildlife or find that trying to locate the final member of the opposing team is becoming tiresome you can amuse yourself by taking pot-shots at the birds flying around also.
The level design here is fantastic, with such large sprawling maps you'd think the developers would get lazy but evidently a lot of care and effort has been put into the layouts presenting plenty of room for new tactics and play styles depending on the game type. The maps also come in a variety of forms, from large 32 player versions to smaller 16 player versions, with each of these also having variations set at night. This is somewhat needed as the game only comes with seven maps, some of which are fan favourites returning from previous entries in the series. Slant Six claims that there will be more maps made available as downloadable content however (oh joy!) which is appreciated, although with the game being rushed to release it does raise the question of how much of it will have been originally planned for the retail release but pushed back due to deadlines and the lure of milking money from members of the fan base loyal enough to stick around after the games dreadful launch.
The controls for the game will take some getting used to. Whilst responsive and customizable there are some complaints for the default layout. For starters the d-pad is used to activate night vision, but also to select viewpoints as well as the zoom level of the camera and weapon you are using. It can prove to be a little unwieldy in battle when shifting your left thumb from the analogue stick to the d-pad to shift the camera from looking over the characters right shoulder to his left, only to have someone gun you down whilst you're temporarily unable to move. The method for weapon-switching can prove troublesome also, having to hold down the circle button to bring up a scroll wheel which will also result in you standing still and vulnerable for anybody wanting to take advantage of that and kill you. It would be nice if there was a button specificly binded for using grenades and other special items such as C4, but as it stands you have to switch from your main weapon which makes it unwieldy to rely on in a fire fight. The game also attempts to implement a cover system of sorts via the motion-sensing capabilities of the PlayStation 3 controller. You can tilt the controller back or forwards to stand or crouch, and left and right to peek round corners. Whilst this is a brilliant idea and is very responsive to your actions, it's just too hard to get used to in a game such as this, making it not terribly useful. There will certainly be people who learn to become very effective with it but as it stands it will be tough to get used to, with other players seemingly feeling the same way as hardly anybody online makes use of the function.
One function that many players make use of though is the headset that comes with the game, being branded by Sony as the official headset for the PlayStation 3. The quality of people using it is superb, and you'll find that the majority of players in every game have a headset of some form and make full use of it. This is incredibly useful due to how tactical the game is as a well-organized squad can dominate ruthlessly if coordinated effectively. The voice chat is handled in a very unique and realistic way also, with only people nearby able to hear what you're saying (this includes enemies). It can result in some very entertaining moments however when catching voice chatter of the opposing team alerting you to their presence, be it via discussions of tactics or hearing rap music just around the corner prompting you to casually roll a grenade past it. It's worth noting also that the sounds for the game are fantastic, in particular the guns themselves. It's fantastic to be running around the level and hearing gunfire and explosions a few streets away, it's terribly realistic and proves a great method for locating the action if playing a game where respawns are turned off and you need to find where people are.
On that note, you'll want to search for and join games with respawning enabled when first playing this game as it can be punishing to learn, especially with a dedicated community that knew half of the maps inside-out before the game was even released. You won't find the immediate satisfaction you get from playing other more arcadey shooters here, SOCOM favours realism and tactics. The first few matches will be difficult to play, but stick with it as the game play is much more rewarding once you've mastered it and sunk your teeth into the game. If you jump in to a room full of clan members and find yourself having to spectate the match for ten minutes because you died at the start you'll no doubt be put off the game, especially if the opposing team takes to dancing on your corpse via a variety of taunts. Unfortunately however you won't be able to join rooms with a group of your friends as much like trophies, the matchmaking system is also mysteriously absent from the game despite the back of the box saying that it's present.
There's a good variety of modes on offer here, with the exception of the Escort mode which will prove to be infuriating for anybody trying to order the VIPs around, and a walk in the park for the team tasked with finding and killing them. It's not so much that it's a bad idea for a mode as the fact that the AI of the VIPs is well, stupid. For example in one game I had managed to lead them to a building with my team distracting the enemy as I did so. With half of the wall being missing I made sure to lead the VIPs somewhere safe, lining them up against the wall out of sight of any snipers who might be lining up a shot. The problem is though that there was a sniper watching me, which would not present a problem had the VIPs stayed where I told them to. However after neatly placing them all against the wall safely one of them decided to get up and run to the middle of the room in plain view of the enemy, and whilst attempting to get them to follow me again so I could guide them back to safety, an enemy sniper scored a head shot on me. Now in all fairness it was a brilliant shot (although that didn't stop me from cursing) but had the AI of the VIPs been even remotely good that never would have happened. Thankfully this problem is limited to the Escort and Extraction modes only, with five other modes (Breach, Control, Demolition, Suppression and Elimination) that more than make up for their shortcomings. Unlike previous SOCOM games however this is online only, you won't find a single player campaign here or co-op, this is purely a online adversarial game. This does put at it a disadvantage compared to other titles releasing this winter as other shooters sport solid multiplayer modes and a compliment of single player and co-op also, so if you're looking for pure value for money SOCOM: Confrontation can not compete, although it is available at a lower price than average.
So is the game any good? Definitely, but it's not brilliant. There's no denying that when released it was an unplayable, broken mess and had we been forced to review it on launch day you could have expected a very low score for the game. As it is now however it's a solid online tactical shooter. It still has some problems (and missing features) but sitting down for a few 16v16 matches can make you lose track of time due to how entertaining the game is, especially now that all of the connectivity issues and bugs have been fixed. If you're a fan of previous SOCOM games this is a title you will be wanting to pick up as soon as possible, the game has been made with you in mind. If however you're just looking for a game where you can shoot people in the face then there are alternatives that provide better value for money and much more content.