SOCOM Special Forces is a third person shooter that follows the different missions of a group of special forces operatives working with NATO against pirates and mercenaries in South East Asia. Its an enjoyable game but the third person view introduces numerous problems with aiming and movement that can make it frustrating at times.
I should point out that I have never played any other SOCOM game so I'm reviewing this as a one off rather than part of a series. As a newcomer to the brand there was some back story which wasn't clear but the plot never really affected gameplay where missions are clearly explained in a briefing, and cut scenes develop the characters back story.
There are two main characters in SOCOM and I was surprised and pleased to find the commander is British for a change, not very common in this type of game but you can even see a Union Flag on his sleeve. The other main character is a female soldier from Korea who specialises in stealth and recon. The support characters are also either British or Korean, a nice change in a game genre dominated by Team America.
The gameplay uses a now familiar cover and shoot approach that has been so succesful in other games and is now taken to its extreme with a game focusing entirely on combat. I've always been a fan of the third person view because you get to see your character in the world and see what they look like and what they are carrying. Ducking behind cover and popping up to fire at advancing enemies is all about the timing as well as aiming, and can make for some very cinematic fight scenes. However SOCOM struggles with this at times, especially in the larger more chaotic fights where you need the controls to be friendly. For example you need to be directly facing a piece of cover in order to "attach" yourself to it, being at an angle you will not always get the option. Also it seems very selective about what is or is not cover and you may find yourself stranded out in the open if it does not let you use a particular wall or other detail as cover.
There are also some problems with aiming and firing on occasion, leading to times when you pop up from behind cover but can only aim in a certain direction - forcing you to duck down again and reverse your facing. Or when you are aiming at a target with a clear line of sight but when you fire you hit the cover right next to you. While this might be forgiven in some other games, in SOCOM where combat is the main focus I would have expected bugs like this to have been cleared up.
I also found it frustrating that the same buttons are used for too many different actions which could lead to confusion in the gameplay. For example wanting to resupply from an ammo crate I would press the square button only to pick up a nearby weapon, an action that uses the same button. Or alternatively I might try and stab someone with a knife using R3, only to find its switched to a zoom view on my rifle which uses the same command if you have it ready.
As well as the all out combat missions, which generally consist of go to location x and kill everyone, there are also some stealth missions in SOCOM. These generally involve sneaking about and going from point to point without being detected. If you do get spotted you will soon find yourself surrounded by guards and will be dead within seconds. These missions are good fun, and a nice bit of variety from the usual gameplay and you sometimes get to return to the same location with the rest of your team and take out all those troublesome guards in a straight fight.
There is a team command mechanism that is purposely left simple and basically involves ordering two different teams of two onto waypoints where they can support your main character. In general this works very well with the different teams having enough intelligence to fire, move and heal themselves without having to micro manage them. However there are times when they will wander off from where you placed them, or open fire on an enemy while you are still setting up. Its a problem common to AI controlled allies in games like these.
Once you have finished the single player campaign ( which is surprisingly short ) there is a multiplayer game on SOCOM. This includes the usual type of scenario like capture the flag, annialate the enemy and that sort of thing. You can however choose between competetive and cooperative online play, the cooperative mode pitting you against computer controlled AI opponents. As you progress you gain access to new weapons and add ons just like a lot of FPS games and there are a lot of weapons to choose from in SOCOM. My main problem with the multiplayer is there are only a few different maps and the fact they are so small. Even after just a few hours play I got pretty bored of the same maps and the same routine.
SOCOM then is a mixed bag, it can be fun to play but it could also have been a lot better. The graphics are first class and it looks great as you fight your way through armies of bad guys, but problems with the controls interrupt the game play and can lead to frustrating deaths. It does however make a nice change to the standard FPS gaming experience and I hope in future to see further improved versions of this format.