SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Confrontation Review
Reviews can be tricky, and they get trickier when setting out to analyze a game that centers entirely on Internet multiplayer. These days, such experiences at launch are never half what they could be in the future; the developer typically continues to issue updates and patches, so this makes it tough for a critic. Look at Warhawk, for instance. That game is almost entirely different now than it was when it released over a year ago, although it never had the initial technical issues that plagued SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Confrontation. We’ve had the new SOCOM for a while now, but we were careful not to provide gamers with a hasty review. We suffered through the crashing and glitching like everyone else, which is why we’re left with reviews from GameDaily (5.0) and GameSpot (6.5) that are very unflattering and in our opinion, not indicative of how this game currently is and how it will be in the coming months. Get what we mean?
To be honest, the graphics surprised us with their attention to detail and solid texturing; while not necessarily gorgeous or especially accomplished, the various battle environments are meticulously crafted and provide players with an appreciated sense of authenticity. Our only significant complaint may center on the character detailing out on the battlefield: they’re actually impressive when up close and personal, but from any distance, the characters tend to blend together and look very similar. There’s also the matter of nice-looking environmental objects like brush and shrubbery that don’t react to player involvement; essentially, these things are just pasted into the picture. But all in all, SOCOM looks exactly as it should- the battle arenas are well-sized and loaded with plenty of different backdrop artistry, and although we don’t interact with everything, it’s still a pretty visual presentation. In the future, they could look towards implementing a more vibrant palette like we see in certain single-player titles, but it’s just a forward-looking idea.
The sound is more of an up-and-down situation, as the inclusion of that awesome new Bluetooth headset lets players interact seamlessly during a game, and the effects are well done. On the downside, there’s a decided lack of music, and while we understand an overwhelming soundtrack can negatively contrast with the necessary verbal communication, we would’ve liked a few more tracks. Just a little something to enhance the atmosphere, you know? The other problem centers on the technical issues that can cause gunshots to reverberate for 10-15 seconds after dying, erratic balance issues that can have you reaching for the volume button every five minutes, and the like. This, we were none too happy with, but the more we played, the more such problems began to dissipate and even entirely disappear, which is good news. We can say the sound is fitting, but we do maintain that many matches are simply too quiet and this lacking has a way of taking us out of the action. A little more attention to this category, and it could’ve been excellent, but we’ll take it as it is.
As we hinted at in the introduction, the reason you’re likely to see drastically different review scores actually boils down to something very simple: it really all depends on your own personal experience. For some, the problems have been far worse than for others, and at the same time, we have to remember that Sony continues to work on patches for the game. One update is already out, and we have to say, our experience got much better after downloading that mammoth 473MB patch. During the first few days, we were all ready to agree with the early reviews because we couldn’t play for more than 15 minutes without encountering some major issue. Maybe the whole thing crashed, maybe massive lag got downright comical, or maybe our acquired stats got dumped again due to screwy servers. Yep, at that point, we could easily understand the critical backlash, but even so, we noticed a distinct thread of quality and entertainment beneath the technical failings.
And that’s exactly the point- once they iron out all the kinks in this online multiplayer title (and they’ve already made strides in that direction), you’re going to be left with a good, satisfying tactical shooter. Perhaps that should be the pervading factor, yes? We knew we had to wait because even during the initial bouts of extreme frustration (and trust us, it was extreme frustration, starting from the time the game erroneously told us our profile save was corrupted), we knew the foundation was great. But let’s get the relatively annoying gameplay hiccups out of the way at first: there are some control issues, most specifically related to maneuvering about your environment. It can be difficult to judge how far one can fall without suffering damage, and jumping over obstacles can be a genuine crapshoot. “Heck, maybe I’ll make it, maybe I won’t…I really don’t know what I can clear…I could walk over that piece of rubble, but I gotta jump over this tiny rock?” Furthermore, we really wanted to snap between left and right over-the-shoulder views and aiming settings; instead we kinda languidly shift about.
But really, that’s where most of the actual gameplay drawbacks end. As a third-person shooter, the control mechanic works quite well. You can run, lay down, strafe, and employ up to four different aiming options depending on the weapon you choose. You can use an over-the-shoulder view if you like, and during play, you can switch between the left and right shoulder, and everything else is about patience and precision. If you try to play this the way you would a FPS, you’re going to die fast and often. It’s not so much about the team-oriented tactics – although that’s certainly a necessary depth element – but it’s more about acting like a true SEAL. You have to move quickly from cover to cover and carefully survey your surroundings before making any sort of movement commitment. Many times, it’ll come down to who spots who first, and the ensuing encounter is appropriately fast and merciless. Snipers have a definite advantage, although the game balances this out with forcing a team to meet a variety of different goals, depending on the chosen match. If you don’t have patience, this game is not for you.
And as most SOCOM fans will tell you, that’s exactly the point. The realism of the kickback on the heavier weapons, the fact that you won’t survive multiple fatal bullet wounds, the need to collaborate with your team (being alone out in the open is a very trying and nerve-racking situation), and the fact that your environment can act as both assistant and hindrance…it’s all essential. It’s all good stuff. On top of this, the level of customization is absolutely through the roof. You can fully customize everything from the body to the equipment of a Commando and Mercenary, and it goes well beyond that. Many of the rifles allow you to select up to three different accessories, ranging from scopes to special tri-pod stands. You can opt for light, medium or heavy armor depending on how you play, and you may also select a primary and secondary weapon for every load-out. Grenades, explosives, and other nifty options await your perusal in the customization menu.
A cool, calm head and a penchant for stealth can really help, here. See, this foundation sits firmly beneath the myriad of technical shortcomings that have ruined many a match. And now that Sony is starting to work to clear things up, the positives are beginning to shine through on a frequent basis, and we’re quite glad we waited. We went from wanting to throw the controller through the TV in frustration after another crash or freeze, to heading out with a competent team, taking our positions, and working together to flank, confuse, and ultimately defeat the opposition. It was an excellent experience, once we got that far. Of course, one will still have to install 2.7GB worth before playing, and then they have to download the sizable update, and then they have to customize to their heart’s content, before any actual gameplay starts. And there are still problems. The lag can be a serious issue; one minute you’re turning left, the next you’re staring at a rock wall and waiting for imminent death as bullets pelt the back of your neck. That’s always fun. The control, as mentioned before, can be somewhat iffy in regards to the environment, too.
SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Confrontation is an interesting and sometimes irritating dichotomy for gamers, and especially critics. If you’ve had nothing but trouble on the servers, it’s hard to focus on all the good. But we also don’t think it’s right to pass final judgment on a game that will quite obviously receive plenty of updates in the future, thereby resolving the widespread problems experienced by so many. This is the reason we waited, and the reason we’re able to evaluate the game on its own merits outside the Internet issues. Granted, some of them are still here, and as it’s entirely cemented in online play, we can’t just ignore the current technical drawbacks for SOCOM. But the bottom line is this: given the ever advancing state of online titles, what with the updates and patches, it’s not a good plan to give a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” based on the first week of performance. Wait a bit, and then we’ll see… And we did.
10/23/2008 Ben Dutka