Gaming & Technology

'SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy SEALs' is much better than its narrative

SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy SEALs' multiplayer version is far better than the single-player.
SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy SEALs' multiplayer version is far better than the single-player. Photo courtesy Games Press

"You've got a real problem with authority," ops commander Cullen Grey tells his subordinate in a severe, dramatic tone. "That gets people killed."

Yawn.

Welcome to SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy SEALs, the latest entry in the beloved tactical shooter series for Sony's PlayStation consoles.

To be fair, the game's competitive and cooperative multiplayer is hands down the best tactical shooting this side of the Call of Duty franchise. But I'll get into that later.

For now, let's go back to that opening line, which is taken from early in the game's single-player campaign: Where have I heard that line before? Only in every squad-based shooter in the last five years. And every military or cop drama on the silver screen in the last 50.

This is my problem with SOCOM 4's campaign: It never strays far from the familiar. How closely does it stick to convention? Five minutes in, you're treated to the Wilhelm scream as you blow up an enemy. (Google "Wilhelm scream" for more information about the age-old stock sound effect and some hilarious YouTube compilation videos.)

The game tries to tell a better story than its predecessors, and in some ways it succeeds. The campaign seems more personal and less clinical than previous entries. But the story has been told a thousand times before. The setting and characters are different, but the scenario is the same.

You play as Grey, a Navy SEAL commander trying to prevent a war in a third-world country. You command two SEALs and two Korean NATO special forces agents. After an attack by the revolutionary group Naga destroys your nearby fleet, you find yourself behind enemy lines, cut off from high command and making ethically questionable decisions.

All the while, you're revealing more and more of your back story as you develop trusting relationships with your ragtag band of stereotypical good guys, including the loyal, deep-voiced black guy and the cynical, womanizing white guy.

Yawn.

Although the story is clichéd, the gameplay is solid, and some of the scenarios are exciting, such as one mission when a docked enemy boat you're trying to sabotage turns its enormous cannons on you. The cover system is solid, and the controls, which have been revamped to mimic those in Call of Duty, are responsive. There's also an impressive selection of real-life weapons to choose from and upgrade.

Chances are you will put way more hours into SOCOM's excellent multiplayer than its average campaign. I found myself playing multiplayer almost by accident sometimes; it's hard to truck through the single-player campaign when you know that a better game mode is just a couple clicks away.

The structure of SOCOM's multiplayer is fairly familiar, but it's done exceedingly well, which is welcome in the crowded shooter market.

Playing matches earns experience points, which unlock new guns. The more you play with each gun, the more you unlock accessories, such as silencers, scopes and attachable grenade launchers.

If you haven't played the SOCOM series in a while, there are a few changes that can be jarring at first but ultimately are for the better.

The game abandons its outdated matchmaking system, in which you load a list of lobbies, click the game you want to join and hope the host doesn't boot you. Instead, you select what type of game you want to play, and the game's servers do the rest.

SOCOM now has two lists of multiplayer game types: "standard," which is reminiscent of Call of Duty's shoot-die-respawn-shoot style, and "classic," which is similar to the old SOCOM titles in that if you get killed, you must wait five or 10 minutes until a round ends to respawn.

Despite my love of instant gratification, I found myself playing classic games more often. It adds a layer of tension and teamwork to the match when you know you could have to sit out for 10 minutes if you screw up.

SOCOM 4 also features a great co-op mode, in which you and as many as four friends take on hundreds of computer-controlled bad guys through teamwork, ingenuity and an abundance of bullets.

My one complaint with the multiplayer is that there is no party system, so you can't stay in the same lobby with friends when jumping from game to game. It is a bizarre omission — "partying up" with friends is a staple these days — but word has it that a downloadable fix will be made soon.

My favorite thing? Multiplayer just plain works. It takes only a few seconds to join a game, and impressively, I've played 100 percent of the time with no game-killing lag or surprise connection cutoffs. That's a first for me in any franchise on any system.

For fans of online shooters, SOCOM 4 is well worth the price, $60. Those who prefer playing by themselves should also enjoy yawning.

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