I recently enjoyed the single-player side of SOCOM: Special Forces and gave it a shiny 8/10 for its efforts. Now the PSN is finally back online I've had a chance to get online with the game and see if the multiplayer was worth the wait.
Matches can feature up to 32 players, but many match-types seem to limit the action to 20. Even so, there's no sign of lag at all, even during busier matches. I suppose the servers get a break seeing as there's rarely a full field of players alive at once, someone's always a wrong turn away from having to respawn. At least you only have to wait a few seconds to get back into the fight.
There are currently nine maps to play with the game's multiple modes. Although the same ones keep cropping up repeatedly, so it's going to be a while before you try them all, unless you set up your own matches. The locations are reworkings from the single-player levels of the game. Favourites so far include the dry-dock with a naval ship and warehouse providing most of the action and a city map with lots of semi-collapsed overpass roads which seem to be a haven for snipers and cover-fire crack shots. Other maps that occasionally get loose long enough for you to get a game on include a jungle village with a mixture of shacks and temples, some beachhead military bunkers, a night-time outpost and some temple ruins in the jungle.
Experience points are earned during a match for kills, buddy kills (saving a team-mate from getting hosed) and completing objectives. Revenge kills net you extra points and feel super sweet when you've been getting destroyed by a lone-sniper for ages. There's no kill-cam so it's not always clear where the deadly shots came from, but that's part of the challenge with this series. You level up and obtain new ranks, but apart from a few new weapons that you need to level-up again with individual kills (your unlocks from the offline game don't carry over), there's nothing else to look forward too. There's no attempt at any sort of perks system, which may be staying true to the series, but for many gamers it will remove any incentive to persist with a game where they're not going to be able to customise the experience past a few new guns and avatars.
Overall though it's definitely worth a go if you're in the market for a new online game. Sure, it's like most online shooters: one game you're kicking ass, the next you can barely get a shot lined up before someone shoots you in the back. But stick with it, learn the maps and get a few decent weapons unlocked and you can have a great time. The change of perspective to third-person isn't particularly as jolting as you might think if you're more used to playing FPSs and the cover-system makes a for a refreshing change.
Don't worry about having to wear a headset if that's not your kind of thing. You can have other player's voices play through your TV if you want to hear what the rest of your team are planning, and then you can silently tag-along to help. Sometimes players will shout out tactics or warn you of an enemy creeping up behind you. If you do decide to dust off your headset, be mindful there's not an epic spider who's made it his new home since you forgot about Black Ops in December.
Enough about spiders in my ear, let's get stuck into some game modes, as there are a fair few of them. Suppression is your standard team deathmatch and can be played across both small and large maps. Uplink matches are the latest name attached to what is essentially capture the flag.
Last Defence is where you must capture multiple control points to reveal the location of the other side's headquarters, which you then have a few minutes to blow up with painfully-slow-to-plant-explosives. If you fail to blow it up, the game reverts back to capturing control points. Unsurprisingly, many matches end in a tie. It's a shame there aren't any domination-style matches where teams capture positions and earn points for holding them over periods of time. Yes, the Last Defence mode is similar, but there are too many stalemates to make you want to return.
Bomb Squad requires teamwork as a random player is selected as a bomb-disposal expert and must be protected while he defuses multiple explosives. The poor sap gets some extra body armour but is still vulnerable, as the other team's sole objective is to kill him. It's either incredibly exciting or incredibly infuriating, depending on whether you can work as a team or not.
Medley modes put together a mix of maps and game types. Handy if you have plenty of time to have a proper session. All these modes can also be played underneath the 'Classic' settings banner. This is basically a hardcore mode for SOCOM veterans. To the rest of us, it's a lesson in misery as most matches here don't feature respawns, so you're stuck with one life and then switching between cameras of surviving team-mates who seem to be 'playing' the game by settling down for a long camping session. Problem is, so are the other team, so it gets old real fast. Other differences include no health regeneration and different multipliers for damage and speed. You'll love it or hate it, but it was probably a wise choice to include it for the hardcore fanatics.
The Abandoned mode and map are a DLC download from the PSN Store which will remain an unlocked mystery until the store re-opens. The 'Custom' matches are also currently locked down.
Using the same maps as the standalone missions in the single-player game, you can team up with fellow players to reach an objective against AI bots. Espionage involves securing various pieces of Intel or you could opt for a Takedown match where you need to kill opposition targets that are defended by a small army of soldiers.
Unfortunately there are no AI team-mates to order about. It would have been ideal if the blue and gold teams returned with just two players controlling one of them each. Instead your side consists solely of human team-mates.
The maps do allow for some great action though as you progress through the level, instead of sitting in on a siege like the horde modes of other co-op shooters. Choose how many enemies you want and how tough the stage will be to increase the challenge and -unlike playing offline- your teammates can revive you if you get over-confident and try to gun down a wall of oncoming enemies with your LMG out in the open. On the plus side, if you do it without getting rinsed you'll have their respect. For the most part though you'll be hoping that French bloke is going to break cover to come and get you. Again.
It's a shame the game dumps you back at the menu after a co-op game. Very annoying if you stumble onto a good team of players. More of a shame is that you don't gain any experience points in this mode, although you can carry on unlocking and upgrading your single-player weapons.
- Standard or Classic rules cater for all tastes
- Co-op missions are great for teaming up against the AI
- Lag-free even during busier matches
- Maps don’t rotate enough
- Not many unlockables and no perks
- No AI teammates to command in co-op
The Short Version: For what it lacks in unlockable depth, the online multiplayer side of SOCOM: Special Forces provides a very solid set of online modes that work best when groups of players work together. It doesn't have to be the whole team; two or three of you can turn the tide sometimes. The co-op games are a great alternative to getting battered by the online community too.