SOCOM: US Navy SEALs Confrontation
Back on the PS2, the SOCOM brand of FPS tactical shooting was at the forefront of the console's fight to prove itself in the online gaming arena. While that particular war was ultimately lost by Sony's otherwise hugely successful machine, the SOCOM brand remained one of the few examples of smaller battles won - proving that the PS2 could do online shooters and do them well. Fast forward a couple of years from the release of the last PS2 SOCOM game, Combined Assault, and we have SOCOM Confrontation, the series' first entry into the new PS3 marketplace. Appearing on our shores a few months after its somewhat stumbling launch in the US late last year, when a series of show-stopping bugs caused anger amongst fans, the European release comes with these bugs all ironed out. Unfortunately, while its now playable, its still not particularly good.
At the crux of the problem is the fact that the Confrontation pushes the series into a multiplayer-only world meaning your in-game experience is governed as much by the ability and/or sanity of the people playing around you as the quality of the game itself. That's not to say the idea of a console multiplayer only shooter is flawed, you only have to look at the excellent Quake Wars to see the idea can work, but if you do choose to go down that route you really need to make sure you've got something pretty special under the bonnet to pull it off. Sadly, as it stands, SOCOM Confrontation too often feels like nothing more than the purely functional multiplayer mode of a fully fleshed out single player FPS, or to put it another way, it feels like the filler on a disk of a more interesting single player game.
Once you've fought your way through the counterintuitive and generally unfriendly lobby interface battles take place between a variety of the world's Special Forces units and their mercenary foes. Starting the game you're given one character from each side to play around with and customise for the battle ahead. These options are actually one of the game's stronger points as they're fairly exhaustive ranging from weapons and equipment (with all available options thankfully unlocked from the word go) to your character's physical appearance. These options allow you to tailor your soldier to suit your gameplay style as you try to find the ideal balance between armour weight, weapons power and mobility.
As mentioned earlier, your enjoyment of multiplayer-only games is often dictated by those who play by your virtual side and hardcore shooters like this tend to attract people who take these things painfully seriously. This tends to result in scarily high skill levels and snobbishly low patience levels amongst some of the players making it a less than ideal entry point for gamers experiencing the world of SOCOM for the first time.
The brutality of SOCOM's realistic one shot kills feels even more pronounced without the buffer of a single player campaign to help new players acquire and hone the skills needed to survive. This baptism of online fire means you may need a fairly thick skin to persevere past your first few hours (or even days) with Confrontation as you suffer the often vocal 'encouragement' of your co-gamers who have clearly been raised from birth for his kind of thing.
Of course its not always like this, and if you've got a bunch of friends playing with you or you happen to stumble across a game populated by mortals then Confrontation does start to come into its own and you're able to begin having fun. By its very nature the game requires a more tactical approach to the action, this isn't a run and gun fragfest by any stretch of the imagination. Team work, patience and a good working knowledge of the maps are all vital to success and there's a echo of the PC phenomenon Counter-Strike to things once you get into the groove.
Considering the complete focus on multiplayer gaming it's a shame to find the setup of the matches doesn't offer much that you've not seen a million times before in multiplayer modes of other games. Instead of any genuine originality you've simply got your bog standard array of deathmatch and objective based game modes which allow for up to 32 players to take part (16 against 16) and although some of the maps come in two sizes there's not much scope for real flexibility. Another disappointment is that there's only seven actual maps available on the disk (or in the download if you buy it via PSN), especially since they're not even all new, fans will recognise certain battlegrounds from earlier entries in the series.
To their credit though, once in play the maps are all well designed and suit the SOCOM style of action perfectly. Visually they're nothing special though; this isn't exactly pushing the PS3 to any great lengths and character models are a bit on the boxy side, moving with all the grace and elegance of a middle aged office worker on a paintball day. The in-game voice chat works well though, although you may wish it wasn't at times, and the retail version of the game can be purchased with a Bluetooth headset which will no doubt come in handy for other games too.
SOCOM Confrontation is a game that will get a select few very excited indeed; the unforgiving nature of its hardcore multiplayer action will prove to be exactly what they've been looking forward to. The rest of the gaming masses however can cite the near vertical learning curve, lack of any real multiplayer originality, drab visuals and unfriendly interface as reason not to join the party. It may have a relatively cheap price tag but unless you're an existing fan or have masochistic tendencies then I suggest you give this a miss.