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

This modealso serves to highlight something that was present in Zipper’s previous game, MAG: if you try to play this game like any other shooter - even ones with cover or regenerating health and especially like a certain Activision juggernaut with progressive experience-based unlockables, you will die. You will die often and you will die quickly. Instead, you’ll have to work as a team and be both smart and methodical. Zipper hopes much of the same sort of unity that slowly came about with MAG will happen here, creating organic moments that play out differently every time, even on the same map.

That's easier said than done. With a room full of game editors who have played plenty of those run-and-gun shooters, action early on still resembled something of a circus, with people charging into the open and dropping constantly. But over time, something else happened: that old SOCOM feeling started to come back. This is a tactical shooter, one borne not of twitch headshots but of getting the drop on someone. Forget sprinting around a map willy-nilly; finding a good spot, snapping to cover and then waiting for a proper shot with bursts of fire rather than a fire hose approach is absolutely paramount, and though things were a bit alien at first, the pacing and measured exposure slowly started to come to the fore.

It's a hell of a thing to watch play out, and what originally sounded like a bunch of hopeful marketing speak about these organic tussles suddenly became very real. There's a particularly amazing feeling that comes with rolling up on an objective with three or four buddies and watching them naturally break for cover to ward off incoming enemies from likely positions... and then to watch it all fall apart when a few more guys from the other team approach from someplace they didn't anticipate.

Joining the new Last Defense mode were more familiar styles of play. Both Uplink (capture the flag, of course) and Suppression (yep, team deathmatch) will make a return, along with a still-secret fourth mode that was being teased rather proudly by Zipper. While the other two now-standard multiplayer modes brought back feelings of paced gunplay and careful movement with others, they weren't nearly as fresh feeling Last Defense. There was another issue: none of these modes really felt like SOCOM, and though Zipper will be encouraging the community to create playlists that can be voted on, there's still no substitute for the old-school Counter-Strike feeling that every single incoming bullet could mean minutes spent watching the rest of your team survive.

So make no mistake, this is a new kind of SOCOM experience. Seeing an experience bar creep rightward after a match and noting things like ribbons for headshots or melee attacks, not to mention the unlockable mods available once you get enough kills with a particular weapon (submachine guns, rifles, shotguns, etc) is.... well, we'll just admit it: it's a rush and we want more.

But what if the changes are too much for you? Well, you’ll be glad to hear that all the modes in SOCOM 4 can also be played Classic-style: no regenerating health, no snap cover, and if you die, you're out for the round. This was when we finally were able to scratch that old itch, and with the news that there would be a pre-order-special updated map, we headed into Zipper's first proper nod to the gameplay that made SOCOM so good in the first place. A dense jungle blanketed a series of older ruins in the map that actually had us lasting the longest, with careful sneaking and plenty of use of the ample foliage around.

It was, if nothing else, an admission that while one must evolve or die, there's nothing wrong with having the occasional look back, and long-time fans of the series are likely to get just a bit more optimistic about what SOCOM 4 will bring. Who knows, they may even try out these new modes - or even actually enjoy them. We certainly did, and we're looking forward to more reveals in the coming months leading up to SOCOM 4’s April 19th launch here in the States.

Jan 27, 2011