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SOCOM 4 preview – fully loaded video and hands on playtest of both single and multiplayer modes

While the first three SOCOM games were the single best reason to take your PlayStation 2 online, the series only entry on PS3 thus far wasSOCOM Confrontation. And if you winced when you read that, you understand why the series’ original developer Zipper is back and looking to set things right with SOCOM 4. However, this is definitely not a PS2-era SOCOM with shinier graphics. It’s different. So different, in fact, that seasoned series vets may come away bewildered.

For starters, SOCOM 4 embraces such controversial modern mechanics as regenerating health and a heavily cover-based system. SOCOM 4 also supports the PlayStation Move, and it'll run at full-res, full speed while in 3D - something even other big first-party efforts like the upcoming Killzone 3 have struggled to do.

This "next-generation 3D" was more than a bullet point; at our demo, Zipper had two kiosks showcasing a new single-player mission that took the five-person squad through dense jungles, a riverside hovel, and capped off with a rather epic showdown with a helicopter. It was also surprisingly difficult, not necessarily because the game wasn't pulling any punches (it wasn't; the mission was from a point late in the game, when things like ordering the two-man squads to specific areas with the d-pad and keeping stealthily hidden until absolutely necessary would have been second nature to most players). Rather, it was tough because despite the aforementioned updates to the familiar formula, this was still SOCOM. Tactical play was absolutely imperative, requiring us to carefully assess incoming threats before taking action, and demanding we make the most of, yes, cover, as well as the particularly lethal talents of your two-man squads.

It was also something of a tussle because simply sticking to one piece of cover just isn't an option anymore. Grenades and RPG fire will destroy bits of cover fairly easily, and Zipper was keen to point out that enemies would work with the same kind of group-minded lethality as your own squad. Flanking maneuvers and covering fire erupted from the enemy quite naturally, and seriously impressed us... as we died over and over again to their success.

Neither the 3D nor the Move implementation are as awe-inspiring at this point as they are in what we’ve played of Killzone 3, but they add a subtle amount of depth to things, and options for independently adjusting the depth and intensity of the 3D effect were already in the game.

But this wasn't an event for the single-player game, and as interestingly diverse as the level was, it was also something that would need to be tackled in due time. This event was all about the game's multiplayer -- specifically the reveal of the new Last Defense game type. Essentially a blend of capture-and-hold and bomb planting mechanics, the goal for both teams in the 32-player mode is simple: capture all three mid-map points and the enemy's base becomes exposed. Capture that within the two minute countdown and hold it for a few seconds and that side wins the match.

This juxtaposition of two different styles of play creates an interesting shift in tactics depending on how things are going. Early on, it's simply a matter of grabbing a point before the other guys. Then things move toward holding one point while taking the others. And finally when it's all over, the defending team has to pull back completely in the hopes of fending off a swarm of 16 players all gunning for one of the two vulnerable home base points. Should the defenders hold their bases, the capture points revert back to being neutral and it's once more unto the breach.

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