Iāve finally had the chance to play through the main campaign for SOCOM: Special Forces. After my pretty incoherent introduction to the game (hinted at in last weekās preview), I was keen to get stuck into a bit of story, which I hoped would provide a counterpoint to SOCOMās big action sequences. I canāt say that playing SOCOM: Special Forces completely exceeded my expectations, but there were definitely some interesting surprises along the way that made for an enjoyable playing experience.
As mentioned in the preview, the story campaign allows you to take on the role of Cullen Gray, Ops Commander for a NATO special forces squad that is trying to help stop the actions of a local insurgent group, known as the Naga. In a nice touch, both Cullen and two of his team (Schweitzer and Wells) are ālocalisedā for the gamer, albeit with decidedly dodgy Australian accents (though Wikipedia says these are British, Iām not convinced). The other two members are South Korean operatives: the personality-free Chan, and the very cool Forty-Five.
The blue team, consisting of Schweitzer and Wells, have an advantage in heavy arms and direct conflict, while the gold team (Chan and Forty-Five) specialise in stealth and sniper activity. As Commander, you can direct your crew via plotted waypoints. While the gameās website claims you can have āhigh precision control over shooting, melee fighting and commanding your squadā, my press edition game came with a very pretty fold-out of all the different weapons available to me in the game, but no manual or other information on how to effectively control my squad. Viewing the control mapping menu displayed only a handful of presets that could be selected, but little on specific detail. No matter - Iām sure other players will enjoy discovering the extent of this high precision control for themselves.
In any case, the gameplay was still fast-paced and intense, which is what really matters. The AI for the squad is pretty good as well: team members will take cover if they are able, though they do have the habit of running off a bit - however the down directional button will regroup the team, so itās easy enough to keep them under control.
What I found to be a rather addictive element to the game was with weapon collection and mod upgrades. Any weapons collected in the field are able to be used in later missions, and weapons used in combat earn their own set of experience points, which eventually buy you new mods and upgrades for the weapons. As youād expect from a shooter, thereās a massive array of weapons to choose from, with designs for the NATO crew, as well as the Naga.
The gameplayās not just hand-to-hand-bang-bang either; from time to time youāll have the option to call in devastating air strikes on strategic targets, reprogram missiles to shoot at the enemy, and there are even several game stages that take place with a stealth focus instead of the traditional bull in a china shop approach. And as the approach is not always the same, the missions also have a good range of activity that players will find interesting: you may find yourself gathering intelligence, setting ambushes for enemy convoys, taking down gunships with rocket launchers, protecting teammates, and disabling enemy warships.
I donāt know if itās the done thing to call a shooter pretty, but SOCOM: Special Forces is a very good-looking game. In the same way that Apocalypse Nowās opening sequence showed the slowed-down beauty of a massive explosion, there are some quite beautiful moments in the game (assuming, of course, that you like that sort of thing). I was particularly impressed with a sequence in which a small boat in a tranquil bay was blown to smithereens, as Gray was thrown to the ground by a massive airstrike, and in another mission, when a container struck by a shipās guns spilled open, emptying its cargo out onto the docks right in front of the Commander.
There were a few things I hoped SOCOM: Special Forces would have more of. I was hoping for a greater feeling of camaraderie from the squad, despite some intense scenes between Gray and Forty-Five; while she was an interesting character, the others in the squad didnāt tend to come out with anything more meaningful than the odd jibe. Granted, some of these made me laugh out loud (āsave it for the psych profileā), but it would have been good to have a bit āmoreā.
And though SOCOM: Special Forces is, at heart, a tactical shooter (and I suppose many will buy this game more for the multiplayer aspect than the campaign itself), I couldnāt help thinking that if it had a bit more flexibility in terms of completing missions, thereād be a much greater replayability factor. OK, Iām not asking for the full-blown Fallout treatment, but considering the fact that ātacticsā are meant to be a key part of the genre, I found little tactical merit was had in following the trail marked out for my character to take, waypoint-by-waypoint. It just would have been nicer if it didnāt feel so on rails.
At the end of the day, SOCOM: Special Forces is a great-looking shooter, offering an interesting campaign (running to around 15 hours) to get players warmed up for the cutthroat world of the multiplayer realm. While the country played in is a fictional one, thereās still enough realism in the NATO setting to make the game feel current. If youāre a fan of tactical shooters, this oneās definitely recommended.