"SOCOM: Confrontation changes that dynamic and suffers for it. The way things work now, a single player from the opposing team might choose a light machine gun, run into a squad of tactical players and very likely win the day. Gone are the days of carefully planned movements and teamwork, replaced by generic run-and-gun gameplay commonly found in less creative or realistic games such as Halo and Half-Life. Certainly the game can be every ounce the tactical shooter experience you might expect if both teams choose to play tactically, but this rarely happens in random public matches."
If you've played any previous entries in the popular SOCOM series over the years, you've probably appreciated how they let you feel like part of a team of elite soldiers. You've perhaps enjoyed the way that your abilities--and those of your team members--were put to the test in both single-player missions and online skirmishes. The franchise has always excelled at the latter in particular, successfully merging action with tactical gameplay and team dynamics thanks to its pioneering use of a headset (new to console gaming at the time). That setup to a certain extent became the defining element for the whole range of games, so perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise that with SOCOM: Confrontation serving as the leap from the PlayStation 2 to the PlayStation 3, the less popular single-player campaign was axed.
Of course, this move isn't necessarily a good idea. Those who have taken the past installments online know that there are two general types of player: those who play tactically... and those who don’t. Entire games can be filled with one or the other of the two types. Until now, tactical combat would typically win over run-and-gun gaming.
SOCOM: Confrontation changes that dynamic and suffers for it. The way things work now, a single player from the opposing team might choose a light machine gun, run into a squad of tactical players and very likely win the day. Gone are the days of carefully planned movements and teamwork, replaced by generic run-and-gun gameplay commonly found in less creative or realistic games such as Halo and Half-Life. Certainly the game can be every ounce the tactical shooter experience you might expect if both teams choose to play tactically, but this rarely happens in random public matches. Instead, you'll have to join or create a team for use against other teams.
Run-and-gun gameplay carries through in other ways, too. Most matches involve certain objects located on the map, such as a “control point” or VIPs that must be extricated from the area by helicopter. Although many players complete these objectives as they play, they seem to do so almost by accident as they focus on simply killing the other team entirely (which is much less time consuming and more easily accomplished). What this means for Confrontation is that every match is essentially a deathmatch.
Before you head online to witness such things for yourself, your Confrontation experience will begin with character customization. Each player has two types: a Navy SEAL and a mercenary. Both can be tweaked as desired with different armor and clothing types, guns and accessories (grenade launchers, laser scopes, sights and silencers). While the game can't really be blamed, it's odd that each side can only equip certain weapons. For truly balanced play--and realism--all types should have been available to both classes. There's no good reason that a SEAL shouldn't be able to carry an SG552, nor a mercenary a G36C.
A similar restriction applies when it comes time to outfit your soldier. While perhaps it's true that most mercenaries wouldn't have the same access to high-tech fatigues as the SEALs, their options here seem downright insufficient. Meanwhile, the SEALs have many, many options. Not that it matters all that much; many of the patterns might look distinct and effective in the armory menus where players choose their gear, but head in-game and you'll notice everything take a steep dive. Nearly everything looks like colored mud, even on an HDTV.
At least the environments themselves provide suitable eye candy. You'll see a lot of bombed out urban environments--and concrete--but there's ambiance aplenty amid the destruction. Small graphical details such as varying wall textures and different types of rocks and mud really add to the visual experience. The PS3 allows for great draw distance too, something that enables terrific sniper gameplay.
Speaking of sniping, it's worth mentioning that the developers have produced a satisfying laser sight. It's much more realistic than the artificial laser sights in games like Cold Fear and Resident Evil 4. Dots grow larger or smaller depending on distance from the associated gun. When you're not properly covered, it's especially worrying to see a red dot stray over your character's head. Such things may not factor into most matches all that substantially, but the sight in Confrontation does add something special to the experience.
Unfortunately, the same can't be said of the forgettable soundtrack. Available selections range from ignorable to downright annoying, with the result more often sounding like a salsa dance-off than it does a battle between the forces of good and evil. As far as sound effects go, there's not much here that represents a change from what we heard in previous SOCOM titles, right down to gunfire that mostly sounds the same regardless of the weapon in use. With that said, Confrontation does do an excellent job of altering the pitch according to the distance from which a shot was fired. You'll be able to appreciate that even if you don't have a surround sound system. Not many games manage to pull this off, so it's good that Confrontation--where sound must be relied upon to locate enemies--manages it so well.
The same proficiency wasn't applied to the controls, however. Even though it represents a vast improvement over the options available in previous SOCOM titles, the setup in Confrontation still manages to feel stale and outdated. A lot of that comes down to the 'quick switch' feature, which allows you to change press the 'L1' shoulder button for a handy explosive. The problem is that it's far too easy to accidentally toss a smoke grenade when what you really need is a rifle. Another issue is the inventory wheel, accessed by holding the 'O' button. This brings up a ring of the weapons currently available, with the left analog stick allowing the player to choose one. It sounds good on paper, but it's not. Too much force is required to get your selection to even register, so that you basically have to stop whatever you're doing just to switch weapons. That's a definite problem with a game as fast-paced as this one.
What all of the above means in the end is that while SOCOM: Confrontation isn't a bad game, it also isn't particularly good. The game ships with seven maps--with more downloadable ones scheduled to arrive later--and a Bluetooth headset that isn't particularly useful when the game so actively encourages run-and-gun heroics instead of the tactical action fans likely expect. Sure, it's a nice peripheral in and of itself, but its impact on the game is minimal. As such, newcomers probably won't find much to like about the game and it will quickly become the domain of those few hardcore players who are willing to devote hours on end to dominating all challengers. Unless that sounds like you, this is one mission you probably won't enjoy.
Freelance review by Sam Cheung (November 16, 2008)
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