SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy SEALs Review

By Jason D'Aprile - Posted Apr 12, 2011

SOCOM is back and better than ever. After a disappointing last outing for Sony's favorite Seal team, the squad-based tactical action gets a revamp with all the bells and whistles.

The Pros
  • Generally terrific team AI
  • Great multiplayer
  • Excellent single-player game with intense, tactical action
  • Intuitive controls
The Cons
  • Some AI glitches
  • Occasional control problems
  • Over-reliance on scripted events

SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy Seals Review: 

SOCOM has had a bumpy ride over the last few years. While the series flourished on the PSP, the first outing on the PS3 was viewed as lackluster and too stuck in the PS2 era. So, Sony and developer Zipper Interactive had their hands full bringing the once-renowned and innovative shooter up to snuff. Thankfully, the results are strikingly good. While still focusing on the team-based tactical action, there's enough refinement and technical enhancements here to make SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy Seals a real contender in the fight for on- and off-line military supremacy.

Meet the Team

Tasking players with the role of a rough and tumble Navy Seal who leads a UN-sponsored three-man strike team, SOCOM 4 uses a pretty standard set up. The story mixes plenty of cliché with some surprisingly hard-edged stuff. The main character is the strong, quiet type... gruff, but sensitive, yet willing to make the hard choices. And of course, he has a deep dark secret from his past still haunting him. Yea, we laughed too.

The other two soldiers on his team are the usual stereotypes: a boisterous and badass, yet sensitive, black guy, and crazy, borderline psychotic white guy. To shake things up, the merry three soon encounter a pair of South Korean UN soldiers whose team was lost in a transport plane crash. This team includes a hot and curvy stealth expert who enjoys killing men from behind, and another guy who might as well be named Cannonfodder.

SOCOM 4 centers on the violent takeover of a tiny, unnamed South Asian nation by a well-armed para-military group. Five soldiers against an entire army seem like pretty awful odds, and the game is surprisingly intense and difficult at times. To win such battles, preparation and teamwork are a necessity. As usual for the series, SOCOM 4 is entirely third person, played out just behind the player's character. This view affords a decent view of the battlefield and allows you to tag enemies and locations with your crosshairs. You can easily send squad mates to specific locations in your line of sight, or assign them specific enemy targets. The game lets you set a series of attack and move commands, which are then executed with a "go" command.

Intelligence On and Off Line

Commands are issued entirely with the D-pad. Once you get the hang of issuing orders, it becomes second nature and frequently means the difference between victory and a bullet-riddled death. This command structure wouldn't work with idiot AI, and SOCOM 4 features some of the best computer-controlled allies we've ever seen. While their behavior has occasional glitches, your squad aggressively fights, takes cover, and acts intelligently most of the time. This focus on exceptional squad AI and intense battles makes the single-player game a riveting experience overall.

Of course, multiplayer has always been the center of SOCOM's world, and SOCOM 4 doesn't disappoint. The game features a wide array of new and classic cooperative and competitive modes, and supports up to 32 players. Whether playing against squads of human players, or battling beside them against computer-controlled opponents, the multiplayer action is topnotch. SOCOM offers some of the best team-focused military action out there, and can easily give the Call of Duty series a solid run for your money.

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In both single and multiplayer, you'll earn weapon upgrade points, allowing you to easily customize weapons load-out before the start of a mission. Soldiers go into battle with two weapons, but the game also provides air strikes, grenades, and plenty of other destructive toys. Ammo crates are scattered throughout the maps, and you can pick up dropped weapons at any time.

SOCOM 4 was designed to ensure players have as much control as possible, while still keeping the interface as transparent as possible. Largely, the game is definitely successful, which makes a couple otherwise small nagging problems seem more annoying. The AI does sometimes get confused, even if it seldom needs any actual hand holding.

Also, at times it is much too easy to get stuck on obstacles and, worse, be unable to move between obstacles even though there's clearly room. This is especially frustrating during the stealth missions, when quickly moving from shadow to shadow is imperative. Finally, there are times when initial enemy awareness seems to be triggered by your movements, as opposed to your team’s, giving the level design a noticeably scripted feel at times.

Beyond that, there's not much to complain about. The visuals are sharp and detailed, and the stereoscopic 3D adds a fantastic sense of depth. The game has excellent implementation of the Move controller as well—which should be especially appealing for players who loved the motion controls in Killzone 3. The audio is also impressive. Aside from a powerful 7.1 surround sound mix, the score is terrific and the voice acting is quite good as well.

A Tactical Achievement

Zipper Interactive has taken the criticisms of past games to heart and delivered a terrific update of Sony's long-running series. While the game isn't perfect, the overall result is a fun, smart, and intense take on the military-shooter theme. With solid, team-based play both online and off, SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy Seals puts the series in firm competition with the likes of Call of Duty and other AAA-shooters. The superb tactical gameplay and third-person viewpoint, however, gives the game a distinction that sets it apart from the slew of military-themed games out there.