Just this week NZGamer.com was invited to take part in the private beta launch of SOCOM: Special Forces (from Zipper Interactive), which is coming to New Zealand on the PS3 on April 21st. SOCOM:SF includes a 14-mission single player campaign, which pits NATO special forces squad leader Cullen Gray against an indigenous revolutionary group called the Naga (in a fictional Asian country somewhere near the Straits of Malacca). While we’ll cover this part of the game in depth in an upcoming review, the beta focused on the vast number of multiplayer options also available, which we got a painful taste of.
The SOCOM series is known for its dedicated players and reasonably high barrier to entry, and in this regard, the competitive multiplayer mode in SOCOM: SF was no different. Launched off the high board straight into the deep end, beta players were plunged into a high-action 32-man competitive scenario, called Bomb Squad. The mission: one side attempts to defend their bomb technician (a player selected to take on this role) as they attempt to disarm three enemy bombs, within a set period of time. Once that part’s completed, the teams then switch sides, and those who were defending the technician suddenly find themselves having to defend their bombs from the enemy group.
It’s a clever scenario, and the two different maps on offer - one called Port Authority, which is set in a ship yard and takes place on and off the ships, the other Assault & Battery, where teams snipe at each other from a jungle landscape of broken concrete bunkers and other defensible structures - certainly offered a lot of scope for some extremely tough battles.
Unfortunately, much in the same way that you can’t choose your family, you have even less control over the types of people you wind up playing with in these scenarios. In a slightly more structured environment, this game really could have sung, however most games we played dissolved into a chaotic death match free-for-all, where few players seemed to care about the bombs or the bomb technicians, and focused more on upping their death count. It’s entirely possible that the players were just getting used to the game, but time will tell on that count.
We were, however, still impressed with the environments, which provided a wide range of territory to interact with, including ample spots to achieve cover, or tactical advantage over those on the ground. Levelling up was interesting as well, with the option to level either the player or the weapon - we expect to be able to examine this in greater depth in the full review. Finally, another welcome addition to the series is the inclusion of stealth gameplay, which allows players to get up close before they stick in the bowie knife.
There are a raft of other multiplayer game types that will be available, with modes such as the infamous death match (called Suppression here), Last Defense, where the intent is to destroy the enemy’s base, Uplink, where you attempt to steal enemy data and return it to your base, and our friend, Bomb Squad. Interestingly, these are available in what SOCOM is calling ‘standard’ or ‘classic’ mode; standard mode is similar to the single player experience (notably, with multiple respawns - something we had a lot of practice with in our hands-on), while classic mode gives players increased movement, has round-based play, and features no player respawns, and no health regeneration.
You know, just in case the standard game was getting too easy.
The Good: Complex tactical strategy - it’s always a winner.
The Bad: Definitely a sharp learning curve for beginners.
The Ugly: Respawning every minute or so in multiplayer.