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Hands-on with SOCOM 4's DualShock and Move flavors

The SOCOM series is known for a lot of things: being the best online shooter the PS2 had to offer, giving players voice-command over their AI troops, having a fanbase that hung on for years after the console was obsolete and being hardcore as hell. But one thing it isn’t known for is delivering a strong story with interesting characters, and that’s something the series looks ready to change with SOCOM 4.

Although you probably shouldn’t expect particularly deep storytelling, SOCOM 4 has more of an accessible, action-movie bent than its more “realistic” predecessors. Taking place over the course of six in-game days, it focuses on Ops Commander Cullen Gray, a special-forces operative sent to an as-yet-unnamed Southeast Asian country to help suppress a coup. When the capital of whatever country he’s in comes under attack from insurgents (who call themselves the Naga), he’s tasked with saving the crippled NATO fleet stationed near the city and getting out alive with his team. While it unfolds over six days and promises to be epic, however, what we’ve seen of the story still boiled down to one thing: killing everyone in your sights before they kill you.

Granted, all we’ve really seen is a one-level demo, which we played through twice – first with a DualShock 3 controller, and again with Sony’s Move controller (and the Nunchuk-like navigation controller). Beginning just as the capital comes under attack, its buildings crumbling under rocket fire, the demo has Gray and his squadmates creep through rebel-infested streets and freeways (complete with a stalled-out monorail that hides a car-exploding enemy rocket trooper), taking cover behind abandoned cars and concrete barriers in an effort to clear out enemy tanks and artillery vehicles.

Using the DualShock, the game controls more or less like any standard third-person shooter, complete with a sticky-cover mechanic you can use to duck behind cars and pop up to aim. Interestingly, and unlike previous SOCOM games, it also lets you soak up a ton of bullets and (after seeing the screen splattered with blood) regenerate your health, something that enabled us to go completely agro, rushing enemy cover points and dispatching squads of them at close range.

Of course, that’s not how you’re supposed to play. Keeping this from becoming just another rote 3PS are your teammates, divided into two two-person fireteams: one made up of two Navy SEALs, who pack heavier firepower; and a lighter, more recon-focused one consisting of two operatives from the South Korean 707th Special Missions Battalion (including a woman codenamed 45). Commanding them is extremely simple; just aim where you want them to go and hit either right or left on the d-pad (each direction corresponds to a different team), and they’ll move into position, automatically taking cover and shooting any enemies they see.

If you want to plan a more coordinated strike, you can hold down the d-pad to order a delayed movement. Once you’ve set waypoints for both teams, you can order them both into action at the same time by hitting up on the d-pad (hitting down, meanwhile, will call them back to follow you).

We’ve also been told (by a rep from developer Zipper Interactive) that, when the game is released, your squadmates will be abnormally intelligent and self-reliant, to the point that you can simply order them ahead of you and clear out enemies without ever having to fire a shot yourself. Also, not only will they take care of themselves and watch your back, but if you spot an enemy and don’t tell them about it, and they know you spotted the enemy, they’ll complain that you didn’t tell them. How exactly you’ll alert them to an enemy presence with d-pad controls isn’t yet clear, but we look forward to finding out more.

After graduating from college in 2000 with a BA in journalism, I worked for five years as a copy editor, page designer and videogame-review columnist at a couple of mid-sized newspapers you've never heard of. My column eventually got me a freelancing gig with GMR magazine, which folded a few months later. I was hired on full-time by GamesRadar in late 2005, and have since been paid actual money to write silly articles about lovable blobs.