Though it has a long history of bringing tactical third-person shooter action to Sony systems, the SOCOM series’ debut on the PlayStation 3 failed to fully capture the excitement of its predecessors. Yet while SOCOM: Confrontation disappointed, SOCOM 4 delivers. The substantial campaign makes good use of setting and characters to create an engaging tour of duty in which squad tactics play a nicely balanced role. The online cooperative mode lets up to five players band together for stand-alone missions that can offer a serious challenge and engender a good sense of camaraderie. Those looking for competition will find plenty to like in the online multiplayer, where up to 32 players compete on large, well-designed maps in a variety of game types, including tense variants with the classic SOCOM rules that disallow respawning in the middle of a match. Both single- and multiplayer do have some issues, including imperfect stealth action, visual oddities, and intermittent network problems. Fortunately, these limitations don’t spoil the fun, and SOCOM 4 makes it exciting to experience what each mode has to offer.
The campaign plays out in Southeast Asia and centers on the Strait of Malacca, a major shipping channel. You and your two Marine squadmates fight your way through the tropical countryside and into larger towns as you hunt a militant revolutionary leader who is planning to cripple the vital waterway. Early in the campaign, you link up with two Korean NATO soldiers who join your team, forming a second two-person squad. The story is fairly standard, following a typical narrative where not everything is as it seems, and offers few intriguing twists. Your team is made up of three unremarkable characters and two main protagonists who generate most of the story’s appeal.The first is the American Ops Commander: the story behind his single-minded focus on the mission is an interesting facet, and you’re not always sure whether you want to be on his side. The second is First Lieutenant Park Yoon-Hee, aka Forty Five: a confident and capable ally who mirrors the hard-nosed stubbornness of her male peers without losing her female identity. During intense conflicts, she isn’t afraid to let the expletives fly, and her sparing use of four-letter words adds immediacy to these exchanges without turning her into another foul-mouthed stereotype. She’s charismatic and expressive, offering a grounded portrayal of a female officer that stands in sharp contrast to those in comparable games. In both cutscenes and gameplay, she stands out while fitting right in (down to the occasional cliche one-liner), and this authenticity livens up the otherwise generic plot.