SOCOM 4 Multiplayer Beta Hands-On ImpressionsBy Jake Gaskill - Posted Mar 28, 2011
The multiplayer beta for Zipper Interactive’s SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy SEALs is currently underway for PlayStation Plus members and select PlayStation 3 players who snagged themselves a private invite. Players who purchased Killzone 3 will gain access starting March 29, and the beta will become publicly available on April 5. While we wait for the beta to go wide, we decided to put in some hands-on time to get a preliminary feel for how the 32-player competitive multiplayer is shaping up.
The two modes we’ve been able to check out are Suppression (Team Deathmatch) and Bomb Squad. Both modes can be played with unlimited respawns or in classic mode (i.e. one life per round). There isn’t really anything to say about Suppression, since it’s the same team deathmatch mode you’ve played in countless shooters before. The only thing worth noting is that there’s very little teamwork going on in team deathmatch at them moment, and every match ends up just being a free for all with a team total at the end. Seeing as SOCOM built its reputation on pushing players to think tactically as a unit, it’s a bit frustrating to see such little cooperation on the battlefield.
Bomb Squad is actually a fantastic mode, as it casts one Specs Ops player as an engineer in a Hurt Locker-esque bomb squad suit armed with a shotgun and grenade launcher; so basically a (slow) walking tank. It’s up to your team to protect you as you traverse the map and try to disarm three bombs planted at the start of the match. Again, a disproportionate amount of players are more concerned with treating every game like a straight up deathmatch mode instead of adhering to the mode parameters, but that’s not the game’s fault; it's just unfortunate.
On the other hand, there are a few notable issues that we came across in our playthroughs. For a good portion of the first batch of games we played, enemies didn’t always show up on the mini-map after firing a weapon. Also, there’s an ever-so-slight delay between when you see a teammate and when their name shows up above their heads, which leads to a lot of unwanted team kills. Ally names also don’t show up if the camera is tipped down too sharply above your character’s head, which also makes identifying nearby characters as friend or foe unnecessarily difficult.
Another quirky thing is that a rather large box appears on the screen whenever a vote is being held to kick a player from a match, which takes up a frustrating amount of screen real estate, and can be doubly troublesome when you get plugged by an enemy who you couldn’t see because he was hidden behind the dialog box.
Minor beta-y issues aside, the game ran solidly—the depth of field effects are particularly nice—and there have only been two or three connection issues spread across dozens of matches. Compared to previous SOCOM entries, SOCOM 4 seems to be the most accessible to date. That doesn’t mean you won’t find yourself being popped in the back of the head a second after spawning five or six times a round, but at least you feel capable of taking back those deaths for your side with some kills of your own.
There are two maps currently available in the beta: Assault and Battery, which is set in a jungle littered with concrete entrenchments and defensive installations, and Port Authority, which takes place in a sprawling ship yard. Assault and Battery favors high-ground tactics, since running through the dense jungle is an almost guaranteed death sentence, unless you are a fan of running blindly into danger and firing wildly at nothing in the hopes of hitting something. Port Authority centers around a massive ship docked in the middle of the map and features tons of interior and wide opens spaces. This map is also visually quite striking and includes every shipyard-y element you could want (assuming you are as into dock working as we are).
Seeing SOCOM 4's multiplayer up and running with 32 players and no real performance hiccups should certainly be encouraging to longtime SOCOM fans. It remains to be seen if SOCOM 4 will be the installment that attracts large numbers of newcomers, but it definitely has the potential too. We’ll find out for sure if it can capitalize on this potential when the game ships for PS3 April 19.