There are a lot of shooter fans who groan at the idea of using motion controls. SOCOM has been one of the most serious-minded tactical shooters on consoles so when Zipper announced support Sony’s Move controller there was some skepticism. I spent an hour playing through a new single player mission in the forthcoming SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy SEALS—using the recently announced Sharp Shooter gun peripheral—and I confess, I actually enjoyed myself.
The Sharp Shooter is a sturdy plastic molding that’s fairly easy to hold. The SOCOM 4 configuration was traditional: the Move controller was mounted on top of the shell for aiming and the Navigation controller was placed in a handle underneath. You can still move independently using the analog stick, but there is a definite adjustment period if you’re not already acclimated to pointer-controlled shooters.
The default setting has a wide bounding box so the camera won’t start moving until you move the cursor all the way to the edge, which means incidental movements won’t throw the screen all out of whack. At any point, however, you can hold the L2 button, which temporarily shrinks the size of the bounding box.
This is really useful once you’re ready for more view control. There are also three different control setups for more experienced players. The medium setting uses a snap-to command that re-centers the camera on your cursor when you press L2. The most advanced setting is the most sensitive, basically the camera and the aim move together like they would with a mouse and keyboard.
There are some fun gestural controls to go along with the pointer aiming. You can slide back the handle where the Navigation controller is held to reload or else you can deliver a firm smack to the bottom of the plastic magazine model on the gun. The latter is kind of dopey but it’s pretty satisfying to punctuate a good volley of bullets with a loud, physical smack. You can also melee with a quick forward thrust of the controller. This has been problematic in other pointer-controlled shooters like The Conduit, but SOCOM 4 has a much smoother and less jittery cursor that handles the quick movements without any real break in control.
The level I played was early in the story. You’ll take control of a soldier in an international security force not unlike NATO. Your mission is to monitor tensions in a fictional South Asian island country when a sudden insurgency breaks out. Your squad leader is killed and rebels make a play to overthrow the government. As the level opens the main character and two squad mates are alone in the jungle and see a cargo plane they’d been trying to rendezvous with shot down by a rebel Anti-Aircraft gun. You’ll have to creep through the jungle to get to the crash site and join with any survivors.
Zipper is emphasizing the idea of soft cover to encourage more stealthy and tactical play. You’ll have lots of foliage and big bushes to hide behind as you work your way forward. The shrubbery doesn’t protect you from enemy fire at all, but it can keep you hidden and give you time to set up your squad mates in the best tactical positions before initiating a firefight.
The early part of the level was fairly constrained. I crept through the edge of a jungle road and came across a group of 3-4 enemies guarding a transport vehicle. I was sent my two teammates to a flanking position by pointing at the spot on the map and tapping up on the d-pad. Then we opened fire, surprising the guards and killing them pretty easily.
PHOTOS: More SOCOM 4 Screenshots
Further into the level I found the crash site and met a Korean soldier who was also a member of the international security force. There was a short cutscene revealing tensions between her and my character about how to proceed. In the second half of the level things widened out and I now had an extra pair of soldiers to give commands to. Appropriately the next area was a boxy village space with bamboo huts on stilts, shacks, and a small hill on one side, giving lots of tactical options. The firefight here was much more tactical, and centered on careful long distance shooting through tall grass and small openings between crates, something that should be very familiar to fans of earlier SOCOM games.
While there were plenty of cover spots available Zipper has made the enemy AI attentive to the environment. If you’re safely tucked into cover they’ll throw a grenade at your cover object instead of wasting ammo firing into it. Every place that had available cover was destructible and so moving from cover to cover became essential.
SOCOM 4 will also feature co-op for 5 players and competitive multiplayer for up to 32 players. The co-op missions will be taken from the single player campaign in some way, but Zipper wasn’t willing to say just how yet. There will be four modes in multiplayer. Suppression is a team death match variant, and Uplink is basically capture the flag where players compete to find a piece of intel and bring it safely back to their base.
VIDEO: SOCOM 4 Multiplayer Trailer
Last Defense will have teams fighting over three tactical control points on the map. When one team gets control of all three points the secret location of the other teams base will be revealed and they’ll then begin a final assault on the base, trying to get close enough to plant a homing beacon that will trigger a round winning air strike. There’s a fourth mode but Zipper is keeping it a secret for the time being.
One last multiplayer feature is the Zipper Ranked Rooms. Here Zipper will create a specific online match with various customized limitations, say Supression using only pistols on a particular map. Players can practice their skills in these specially focused games and earn XP. Players will, of course, be able to customize their own game types, but they won’t earn XP to prevent friends from getting together and milking the XP system.
SOCOM 4 will also support 3D, running at 30 frames per second. The effect is a nice perk, but the loss of screen brightness took something away from the level I played. The jungle environment was shadowy and filled with lots of browns and blacks and losing any bit of screen brightness made things murkier than I’d have liked.
I was surprised over how enjoyable SOCOM 4 was to play with the Sharp Shooter. I got some very noticeable arm fatigue after about 10 minutes so I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be interested in playing the whole game that way. But for short bursts it was a good entertainment to imitate the real posture of holding a gun and slap the plastic magazine to simulate reloading. Playing with pointer controls also won’t be to everyone’s liking, but I’ve always enjoyed using pointer controls in Wii shooters and was happily able to get up and running very easily in SOCOM 4.
SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy SEALS will arrive in North American stores on April 19, 2011.