Disclaimer: This article originally appeared over the weekend on our PAX East 2011 coverage hub. Travel there to read more previews, interviews and features from the expo.
When it comes to the SOCOM franchise, I’m a complete newbie. It’s never been a series that I was interested in, to be candid about it. I guess I’m just not a big fan of tactical squad-based shooters. So when I stepped up to the SOCOM 4 booth and picked up the controller, I fully expected to get hosed by the 15 other gamers playing alongside me during our SOCOM 4 multiplayer preview. Surprisingly, I was able to hold my own. The reason why: SOCOM 4 plays like a lot of other third-person shooters I dabble in.
That’s not a bad thing, mind you. It just means that SOCOM 4, from a control standpoint, feels familiar. The easiest comparison I can make is to Uncharted 2. And that’s a great compliment in my opinion because it means SOCOM 4 feels tight and graceful. The button layout is also familiar for shooter veterans. In short, I was instantly able to jump into SOCOM 4 and feel comfortable.
Don’t Panic! SOCOM 4 is not just a riff on a number of other games, it has an identity all its own. Like a lot of shooters these days, customization plays a big part in the overall multiplayer progression of SOCOM 4; however, Zipper Interactive handles the experience a bit differently. For instance, every weapon in the game has a five-tier leveling system. As you continue to use a specific weapon you’ll earn experience for that weapon which will go towards leveling it up. With each new level you’ll unlock a new attachment for the weapon. Using a rifle consistently, for example, will unlock new upgrades such as a scope, silencer, grip and more. Once you reach that fifth tier upgrade for a specific weapon, that’s it. You might as well move on and try out something new. This might upset shooter fans who usually find a comfort zone with a specific weapon and stick with it all the way through the leveling system, constantly tweaking it with different attachment combinations to see what maximizes carnage.
On the other hand, this leveling system to weapons ensures that players experiment with everything Zipper Interactive offers up. For a developer, it can be very frustrating when you include 40+ weapons in your game, yet only five go to good use within the online community. SOCOM 4’s Lead Multiplayer Designer, Kevin Schmitt, also promised me that there are no weapon upgrades that ruin the balance of the game. So don’t expect the uber-tube, or some shit like that.
SOCOM 4 is also unique in that you can jump into multiplayer and basically warp the game into the exact experience you’re looking for. While I played a standard team deathmatch game type for this hands-on preview, I was told there’s the option to create completely unique game types for you to play with strangers or friends. If you want to make SOCOM 4 a very methodical, tactical experience, you can. If you want to turn it into a run ‘n’ gun frag fest, that’s also possible. Kevin Schmitt said that Zipper learned a lot about customizing game types from their work on MAG. It seems that newfound knowledge has now transferred over to the studio’s work on SOCOM 4.
Even though the preview only latest ten minutes, I learned a lot about a series I kind of ignored in the past. The smooth controls and customization options actually have me excited to play more of SOCOM 4 when it releases mid-April. At the very least, now I’m not ignorant to the fact that this series caters to all walks of shooter fans — both the tactical and casual.