I've always enjoyed a good tactical shooter. Probably the most well-known series would be the Rainbow Six games, but I've always thought them to be a little too clinical as far as execution goes. Give me something where the tactical decisions have a little more varied impact.
On the PlayStation, the SOCOM series has also made a name for itself during the PS2 years – especially on the multiplayer front. With the fourth iteration in the series being released on the PS2's HD sibling, I was interested to see what the developers would do with all those extra pixels – and whether they'd be able to bring more consequence and depth to tactical decisions.
As far as graphics go, SOCOM: Special Forces is definitely not a disappointment. The environments are very detailed and the game features a wide and impressive array of textures. It might not be the best ever seen in a current generation game, but it's comfortably above average.
The combat is a mixed bag: on the one end you have realistic weapons and very immersive action, offset by a remarkable lack of challenge. This is not to mean that the game is not difficult when it needs to be, but rather that SOCOM: Special Forces doesn't give you much leeway in how you finish a mission.
In many ways it's a paint-by-numbers affair. This is particularly evident in the stealth missions, which are so linear and so "do this, then that, then this" that it could have been left out in its entirety and the game would actually have been better off for it.
Having AI for company
Still, the single player campaign is highly addictive, mainly because everything else works very comfortably. The environment, realistic weapon sounds, and combat all serve to keep your attention without much effort for the duration of the short campaign mode.
Don't expect to be thrown into the kind of deep-immersion that you would find in a Call of Duty game though, but SOCOM: Special Forces is an easy game to enjoy if all you're looking for is a little tactical shooting action.
It could have been a lot better though, with a little extra effort. Disappointingly, chief among this is the lack of serious tactical decisions. For the most part, whatever you choose to do with your squad, works. When the A.I. plays along, that is.
It's been a while since I've seen a game with A.I. this unintelligent. More often than not your squad fails to take up their positions effectively. I once had a character that went into a back-and-forwards loop on a bridge.
I only realised that the character had done so when I was already 100s of metres away with the rest of my squad. The only way that I could get the character to break out of its loop was to take my entire squad all the way back to it and then tell them to regroup.
Having a tactical shooter with broken A.I. is supremely pointless. SOCOM: Special Forces is often a better experience when you don't give your squad any orders but merely let them follow you and help you shoot.
Worth a buy?
Another gripe is the voice-overs: it's not that they're bad; they're just not really there. And when they're not ineffectual, they suffer from identity crisis. Case in point is your main character, who has an Australian accent - which is fair enough as far as I'm concerned (not all special forces operatives are Americans after all).
But it took me two missions before I realised that the dude was actually talking with an Aussie accent, and not a Brit one. If you're going to make him sound like a Bruce, at least make sure he doesn't have a tainted Aussie accent.
The SOCOM games are renowned on the PlayStation for their multiplayer components and fortunately here there are no complaints. SOCOM: Special Forces' multiplayer mode is as feature-rich and entertaining as any of the previous titles.
Despite all of its issues, SOCOM: Special Forces actually remains a remarkably enjoyable affair – especially if you're just looking for a shooter to pass the time. As far as shooters go, it doesn't compare to the likes of the Call of Duty or Killzone games, but if your expectations are not too high it'll serve as a nice enough time-filler.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10