Preview | 3/24/2011 at 2:28 PM

SOCOM 4 Preview - Into the Co-Op Jungle

I’ve had very little experience with the SOCOM series, I dabbled in it on the PS2 when it pioneered online play and voice chat and enjoyed it recently on the PSP in SOCOM Fireteam Bravo 3 for its excellent co-op gameplay. Still, SOCOM 4: US Navy Seals, the series’ first story based and co-op title on the PS3 console really excites me. Recently we sat in on a conference call with developer Zipper Interactive to get the low down on the upcoming game.

The call began with Brian Soderberg, President and Co-Founder of Zipper Interactive, giving a brief history of the company which has grown immensely since it was founded in 1995. To date the SOCOM franchise has sold over 10 million copies through titles on the PS2, PSP and PS3. All of these titles had the same design principles, “staying true to core pillars” as Brian calls it, and SOCOM 4 is going to continue that tradition.

Next up on the call was Travis Steiner, the Lead Designer for SOCOM 4. He gave us the lowdown on the game itself. SOCOM 4 has three core modes - story, co-op, and competitive. In the story based single player mode you’ll play the role of operations commander. This super soldier commands troops on the front line, can call in air-strikes, order intelligence, and just generally be a badass. The story mode is meant to be gripping and realistic; it takes place during a six day battle in which the team never leaves the battlefield through fourteen missions. That means no after mission rearming at your base or anything like that.

Steiner said that team really wanted to convey the situation these men were in, just how dire the battle was. To set a mood like this you’ll need good music, in SOCOM 4’s case, it is being composed by Bear McCreary - famous for the Battlestar Galactica TV series.

While SOCOM has always been about action, SOCOM 4 will introduce stealth style gameplay. Players can silently “dispose” of enemies and will need to hide the bodies in shadows - just like Splinter Cell - or they can be detected. There’s even brutal close encounter style kills the player can initiate. Another change for the series is the lack of pistols, instead the team has decided to go with a primary and secondary weapon scenario like an assault rifle and a shotgun.

On the co-op side of things the game is creating a mode that’s designed around replayability. Players can host a game, choose a map and game type, customize a few options and then add it to a queue. If they wish, they can continue this process and string together a co-op campaign from the game’s six maps and two gametypes. Up to five players can join in on the foray in true co-op fashion, but you can play with as few as two.

Here’s Steiner describing the co-op setup:  

The two game types on display in co-op are called Takedown and Espionage. In Takedown, players need to neutralize a key enemy VIP who, most likely, will have a few guards on hand. In Espionage, co-op teams will need to locate a key piece of intel on the map and then finish off some key objectives utilizing it. These modes can be played on any of the game’s six maps and players can decide things like enemy density and difficulty. Regardless of what you choose Steiner told us that things usually end with “an over the top encounter” as the game likes to send a lot of enemies your way.

Gameplay in co-op is enhanced as well, the team has mapped the d-pad to contextual commands and added a spotting ability. By doing this teams can work together in spotter/sniper kind of scenarios with one player sneaking ahead, identifying a target, and then having the other player finish him off. This works not only on enemies, but on locations and objectives.

Here’s Steiner describing the new d-pad setup:

The key thing Steiner said he wants players to take away from co-op is that everything is randomized. This includes enemy AI behavior and locations. Because of this the team feels this mode is incredibly re-playable, especially considering the custom nature of player driven campaign creation.

After co-op the game features a 32 player versus multiplayer game with a variety of game types. These will all be accessible via playlists in the game itself, and over time, Zipper will be changing things up. There will even be community playlists where the SOCOM community can vote on changes to game types that alter things like health, respawn rates, movement speed, and damage. We were also assured the game would feature “classic” gameplay types for those that feel the game has become too “accessible.”

Like most big PS3 games lately, SOCOM 4 is going to support the Move (via the Sharpshooter attachment) as well as 3D. One interesting bit of news about the Sharpshooter was that it was worked on with Killzone 3 developer Guerilla, and it was created as something that would work for both games. While we felt this worked well enough in Killzone 3, it wasn’t our go to control method. We’re anxious to see if Zipper has improved on the control scheme at all.

SOCOM 4 is shaping up to be a complete package with co-op, campaign and versus multiplayer on display. The game ships on April 19th exclusively on the PlayStation 3.