13th Mar 2009 | 14:00
Realistic games, as they go, can tend to be rather challenging. You find yourself wanting to run into a room guns-blazing, bandana on your head, loading every idiot with a problem with lead. Most popular online shooters - Resistance 2 and COD5 for example - teach you that you can happily romp around and pop up from your inevitable death without too much of a problem.
Not so in SOCOM Confrontation, a game that takes intimate pride in punishing you for your inability to tactically plan out your next move. It's a realistic, third-person and online-only shooter that will tax the brains of the less cerebral gun-runner, but may be the olive branch that draws in more strategic gamers to the mix.
In most matches that you play, any attitude that you take towards the other team that doesn't involve a great deal of patience and forethought will end in you sitting on your arse for ten minutes in spectator mode. This makes learning SOCOM for newer players fall somewhere between a chore and a controller-throwing ballet. It exists to make games tense, and in all fairness it does, but when you're trying to learn what weapons fit your style and end up getting rolled over by a mouthy American who dances on your corpse, you'll wonder - what's the point?
The point, of course, is that once you learn a few maps (there're only seven of them, after all - but they're big) and what weapons work best for you, SOCOM Confrontation succeeds in being a tense match of wits. A big hoorah should be given to Slant Six for adding in some of the most unobtrusive and honestly useful Sixaxis controls in a game yet. These allow you to preform a range of subtle moves.
For example, by twisting the controller left, right, downwards or upwards, you can lean around cover, peek up, or hit the deck like a seasoned pro. These movements become part of your routine shockingly fast and they never seem to get in the way. In fact, it all works somewhat better than, say, Dark Sector's cover system. It's far more fluid, and while you look a bit weird in real life, in-game you're a flexing, leaning maestro.
Furthermore, if you can round up a reliable group of people with microphones, SOCOM becomes exponentially more fun, and when you truly get everybody in a match playing with some degree of planning and strategy, Confrontation is a real joy. A well-executed move against a similarly tight-knit group of enemies is satisfying, and in this game, even the smallest mistakes can lead to your whole team getting truly buggered.
For example, one game I played involved a group of soldiers hidden in a dark room, using one of us to bait enemies into the room. We'd managed to whittle them down to two, with a three of us still on the team. For some reason, one of us decided it was a good idea to peak their head out, revealing our trap, and attracting two grenades from the remaining enemies. As we scrambled haphazardly, we were mown down.
This kind of situation is delightful, and a testament to how good SOCOM Confrontation can be when everything works in harmony. The problem is that one of the major challenges of the game is finding a good match online. The matchmaking facilities are unreliable, and while clans are supported, to casually play Confrontation online is an absolute chore. Finding open games is your first stumbling block - and it seems that (even at peak hours) creating a game with particular rules isn't likely to attract much interest, even with simple changes such as infinite respawns.
Once you get into a game, you're left with the possibility of finding a bunch of jackasses who either can't play or insist on singing/roaring/crying down their headsets at you. And this is, of course, if the game doesn't decide to lock up on you, but I'm happy to say that connectivity issues were few and far between - though there was some waiting for an open game at times.
Once you've learned your way around the weapons, maps and so on, it becomes a lot more playable, and a great deal more fun (but it's still just as tense), but ultimately, even when you've reached the zenith of understanding SOCOM, it's never quite as fun as any of its peers. It's graphically pretty drab and unattractive, and even when everybody's working in sync and you're in that state of tension that makes the series so engaging, it's never going to have that killer pull that makes playing Resistance 2 or either of the new Call Of Duties so addictive. That's not to say it's not fun - it's more that SOCOM Confrontation is never anything other than 'somewhat good.' Are you really going to shell out £40 on a game that doesn't set your pants on fire? No, probably not.
Series fanatics will undoubtedly go crazy over it, but everyone else should approach with a hefty degree of caution. You'll never find yourself wowed nor particularly excited, and almost everything it does is better done elsewhere. The controls are slick, and the customization of both your loadout and player is certainly interesting - though it's not as complex as many would make out. It may be tense, fun, realistic and reasonably large-scale, but SOCOM Confrontation is never excellent - and against some recent releases, that just isn't enough.