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SOCOM: Confrontation – the PS3 Attitude Review

Submitted by on Monday, 8 June 20097 Comments

SOCOM: ConfrontationConsidering SOCOM: Confrontation’s deployment to European territories has taken so long – over half a year in fact – it would not be unreasonable to assume at least some of the more egregious network and gameplay issues that have famously crippled the American version would finally now be solved.

You’d expect the glitches, freezes, flagrant squad imbalances, match-making issues and, at regular intervals, connectivity woes so abhorrent that thoughts of throwing yourself (or at least your PS3) through a window will come to mind, would now be remedied, and not just for the new European recruits.

Unfortunately, as fans of the SOCOM franchise, and with a responsibility to honestly appraise any title irrespective of brand recognition or past pedigree, we have the unhappy duty to report that, though it is improved to some degree, every snippet of bad press you’ve heard about SOCOM: Confrontation is pretty much warranted.

Which makes us think: if the SOCOM of today; refined, updated and improved, (the mandatory install patch required to kick things off is huge) and yet still appears to suffer from numerous failings – just what did our American friends across the water get last October?

Likely a harsher lesson in perseverance only to be similarily rewarded by mediocrity as, though the European launch has come on leaps and bounds in terms of weeding out crashes and the more frustrating of glitches, it still suffers from a lack of robustness and the feeling that many of your opponents are exploiting known “game advantages”.


"Peek-a-boo! I see you!"

Before we get into the details, it’s important to address where the well-documented SOCOM negativity stems from. It’s two-fold really. Firstly, SOCOM is a beloved property and one that many people have enjoyed over the years on the PS2 with fans viewing its arrival on the PS3 as the heralding of a grand new era of tactical squad-based action. Secondly, with the decision to focus on an online only experience, new Guardians of the SOCOM Grail, Slant Six, have literally set themselves up for a massive fall. By concentrating totally on online and shunning an offline single-player campaign mode altogether, the studio have opened themselves up for intense scrutiny. After all, with no story mode to distract, surely the multiplayer offering would be the paragon of player-v-player tactical warfare?

Unfortunately things didn’t pan out this way as you only have to view the multitude of other games available (that do have a comprehensive offline aspect) which outshine SOCOM’s online only efforts to such a degree that the lack of a traditional SOCOM inspired “direct squad members to an objective” element shows the game up as not only conspicuously lacking, but looking completely half-baked altogether.

Naturally, any review of SOCOM is in danger of focusing on its shortcomings rather than actually discussing what’s on offer – and what actually works. The game consists of two factions, the “good” commandos with their state of the art military gear and snappy lingo and a more rag-tag mercenary group whose equipment, though speciously an assortment of crude and dated armaments salvaged from the dead, work equally well in the art of killing. The level of customisation available equally for your soldier and his insurgent equivalent is laudable with everything from beard growth and skin tone to leg armour and weapon sights all interchangeable allowing for a fully tailored instrument of war. Of course, the tightness of your haircut won’t stop bullets and is purely cosmetic, though choosing particular weapons and armour will influence your character’s movement rate and fire-power. Such decisions will therefore determine whether you’ll pant your way around a claustrophobic level with unnecessarily high-powered weapons when nippy close-quarter combat would suffice or end up going up against well-protected grunts who simply snipe you from a distance.

Sgt. Overpacker lusted after the bomb-shelter's cool shade

Sgt. Overpacker lusted after the bomb-shelter's cool shade

Which is a nice segue to how you’ll spend the first hour of your SOCOM career. Dying – a lot. With such a zealous fanbase and the fact that nearly half of the seven maps are rehashed from previous SOCOM games, newcomers to the party better get used to being key members of Operation: Cannonfodder during their painstaking Confrontation initiation period. This qualm ties back to the lack of an offline mode as the usual approach to a game such as SOCOM is to normally tackle the campaign mode first, get used to the controls in a forgiving environment, become familiar with the game’s feel and pace all the while building up a level of competency that can be then taken to the online arena – where you’ll undoubtedly get your ass handed to you at the start anyway. This method may not be perfect – but at least you won’t die while standing petrified staring at a wall trying to figure out how to crouch.

No offline mode is fine, but with a lack of the equivalent to Killzone 2’s skirmish event where ropes can be learned against bots and such, your initial relationship with SOCOM will probably go something like: “Why can’t I connect to the servers? Ok, now, how do I do X with this guy? Right, I’ve just spent the last hour getting shot to ribbons while punks laugh at me down my headset, now, how do I even win this match?”

It’s a punishing rite where your best bet is to stay in the unranked matches (SOD Room is a good example) until you’ve grasped the game’s various nuances and traits, giving you enough time to become accustomed to the numerous objectives on offer be it escorting a VIP or planting a bomb.

If at first you don't succeed ... throw something.

If at first you don't succeed ... throw something.

The aforementioned objectives are just two of the game modes on offer and can work very well though they are fairly obligatory with the remainder also little to write home considering you’re pretty much getting the standard 4v4, 8v8 and 16v16 death-match game-types with their assorted variants. However, if you think meeting an early death each and every time a game starts is tedious (only to wait minutes for the round to end; another gripe we’ll refrain from going on about for fear of a sudden paroxysm that might put our health in jeopardy), ironically the other end of the dying spectrum can be just as frustrating. Paired with a few SOCOM veterans who know the maps, and hence will go about slaughtering the opposing force within seconds, be prepared to spend some rounds frantically chasing your deadly teammates and hoping they don’t kill the sheepish other side before you even get a shot off.

Unfortuantely, despite these blockish character, this is not Lego SOCOM

Unfortunately, despite these blockish character models, this is not Lego SOCOM

Performance wise, the game looks exceptional – if it was released about five or six years ago. The control mechanism is far from awful but with an un-userfriendly weapon select dial and the fact that running while turning feels like steering an ocean liner, the game won’t win any awards for playability or in the graphical stakes. Your character’s animations, for example, are simply poor in this day and age and, a personal peeve, emptying a mag into an opponent results in little to no reaction. Bullets usually cause bodies to move when they hit them the last time we checked.

We’ve hinted at the fervent community and SOCOM’s pedigree but it’s only when you spend some time on the forums that you realise just how die-hard SOCOM fans can be. And how absolutely pissed off they are of this game. Sure, for every “That’s it – I’m quitting” declaration you’ll see responses wishing the person well on their trip of Whineville, but the level of dissatisfaction with the glitches, the servers, cheaters, Slant Six, pretty much everything, is down-right shocking. It only supports the claim that the game’s got problems and even its fans have no problem sounding off about it on a regular basis.

Fittingly, this frank and lively banter is also key during play-time as the game’s failings, in a somewhat sardonic way, almost demand close communication among your squad members to a greater degree than other similar games. That’s if you want any chance of surviving the first ten seconds of course.

There’s no doubt that, at the heart of SOCOM there is a deep, tactical and rewarding game experience. Like most hearts however, you’ll have to work your way through bone and sinew to get at it. There are numerous things to like about the game. The fact that it’s not another hackneyed FPS, for instance, is a welcomed break though, by bringing up a positive, there’s always a tinge of negativity involved. In this case it’s how the camera’s positioning can cause your own head to ironically block your field of vision.  Also, in a game where the slightest sign of movement can signal impending death, a twitch from your own leg can send you frantically spiralling around spraying bullets at an empty room.

Though we’re not talking Showgirls territory here (so bad it’s actually good), ultimately, the SOCOM love-affair inevitably fizzles out and, just like that person you liked but never loved, it’s unavoidably replaced with a shinier and more competent companion. Probably one with orange-coloured eyes and flamethrowers if you catch our drift.

Pvt. Jones would look the next time he leaped. Well, in about five minutes after the round is over.

Pvt. Jones would look the next time he leaped. Well, in about five minutes after the round is over.

There’s no getting around the simple fact that SOCOM disappoints. If it didn’t have the SOCOM branding, or came bundled with an awesome headset, this review would have been half as long and probably twice as forgiving. From the unimaginative trophy requirements comprised of multiple milestones clustered together before the trophy unlocks which – depending on your perspective – is either an ingenious incentive to make you play the game more or just another example of any modicum of enjoyment in SOCOM commanding a large degree of work, to the sub-par graphics, antiquated lobby match-making system and onerous game-play, SOCOM is half the game it should have been – and not a good half at that.

In a somewhat bizarre twist of fate, and probably because of the well documented shortcomings above, SOCOM demands so much from its players that you may find yourself playing the game more than initially expected. This phenomenon could be the result of an effort to obstinately wrangle more enjoyment out of the game than previously derived of course or even due to a sense of blind certitude that it’s just not possible that this is indeed a bone fide SOCOM title. Either way, you’ll find yourself coming back for more which makes SOCOM: Confrontation the gaming equivalent to the car-crash you can’t look away from. In fact, if you haven’t already picked up the brilliant headset and are morbidly curious to see how a popular game series can trip and suffer such a giant misstep for yourself, we’d almost heartily recommend it.

It’s a difficult game; not just because of the franchise’s acolytes (at least those that haven’t defected) that have tenaciously persisted and have gotten scarily good at it, but because it does you absolutely no favours from the getgo. There’s no doubt the game has its fans – failings and all – which convinces us that, like Marmite or the inverted vertical look setting, this version of SOCOM is very much an acquired taste. In a market literally flooded with better and bigger games however, we can only assume people with taste-buds tuned to the weirdest and most unpalatable of foods may apply.