This is SOCOM. On the PS3. That's SOCOM Confrontation, put simply. It's somewhat strange to think that the team that brought us the incredibly innovative SOCOM Tactical Strike (PSP) is bringing us a game that feels so by-the-numbers. But for the hardcore SOCOM community, this is the game they've been waiting for. It's been years since the last major console SOCOM game, and Slant Six must offer a product that delivers all the thrills that fans of the franchise have come to expect. Rest assured, Confrontation delivers everything SOCOM fans have come to expect from the series, and expands upon the formula by adding massive 32-player matches and a fully-fleshed online community component.
Many criticized the game when it made its public debut last year for having dated graphics. But, Slant Six had only worked on the game for 5 months when the initial screens were shown to the public. Since then, the game has made remarkable progress, and looks rather stunning. The lighting, heat blur, and smoke effects are all beautifully rendered -- and the scope of each of the game's seven levels is massive.
Although SOCOM Confrontation will be available as a downloadable title off the PSN, don't expect this to be a bite-sized SOCOM experience. This is the real deal; this is the sequel everyone has been waiting for. The seven maps include five original maps and two remastered levels from the PS2 games. Each of the maps have both day and night modes, and each of the five new maps can be scaled to support 8, 16 or 32 players (the classic maps only support 16 players). The 32-player maps are absolutely massive, stretching out far into the distance. Take a look at some of our new screens, and you'll be able to appreciate the sheer scope of Confrontation. Take into consideration that almost everything you can see, you can get to. More importantly, note that almost every building in the game can be entered as well, maximizing the playable area within each territory.
All of the maps take place in the African area of operations, but that doesn't mean everything will look the same. Each map has a unique theme that encourages different strategies and approaches. For example, Crossroads is a massive city, which encourages players to use rooftops to their advantage. We were able to take down a few guys by climbing to a rooftop, looking over an alley, where enemies were bound to come from. Quarantine, which takes place in a viral lab, is a smaller map, with a lot of verticality. The symmetrical design of Quarantine, all leading to one central location, gives it a very arcadey-feel, with superior gunplay being key to pushing forward. The level also features a moat, which allows players to swim towards alternate paths. Finally, our favorite level: Kazbah (working title). This connecting series of fortresses looks unlike anything we've seen in SOCOM so far, and it offers snipers a great challenge, with various towers scattered throughout. Being in a 32 player game, it really felt like we were trying to break through an impenetrable stronghold. Wow.
For the most part, the gameplay found in Confrontation never surprises. It's incredibly easy to pick up the controller and start playing, especially if you've played previous games in the franchise. However, there was one new feature that we absolutely adored. We didn't think we'd ever say this, but the SIXAXIS controls really work. By tilting to the left, your in-game character will do the same. Tilt to the right, and your character follows. This will give your player the ability to peek around corners and cover, and get a shot which may have been impossible otherwise. Tilt your controller upwards, and your character will lean up and above cover, giving the player some sniping possibilities. And, if you're spotted by the enemy, thrusting the controller down can make your character duck. It may take some time to get used to, but we found it incredible intuitive, and it adds a subtle layer of depth to the controls that's much appreciated.
The online community features being built into this new SOCOM have us really impressed, even though we couldn't use them quite yet. They are ambitious, to say the least. Players can customize their own characters and create and join their own clans. Each clan can have its own unique emblem, which will appear on the player's outfit. Clans can then try to climb up a ladder, scheduling challenges with other clans. Scheduled battles and tournaments will then appear in the in-game calendar, which shows all upcoming SOCOM events a player is signed up for. Slant Six is trying to make this even more of a lifestyle, and with stats-tracking and achievement progress viewable online at SOCOM.com, we can see dedicated players staying in the SOCOM universe, even when they're not connected to a PS3.
Not only will the game offer detailed stats tracking, but there will also be a number of medals to earn in game ... and yep, there's going to be trophies as well. (Unfortunately, we didn't play on a system that was eqipped with firmware 2.40).
The new engine made by Slant Six for Confrontation has a few key features that we're impressed by. For example, each bullet is an individually rendered object in the world, and it will behave realistically. If it can puncture through a wall, it will. Players will have to think about their cover choices rather carefully. Even more cool: shells will be left behind and can be kicked around by players. In a no-spawn match, players can look for bullets left behind after a busy firefight to see where the action is taking place.
There are a few issues to be found in this early alpha build, though. Throughout the various matches we played, the framerate struggled to hit 30 fps. Oftentimes, the game hovered in the 20s, especially during the larger matches. Developers noted that they're aiming for 30, locked. In addition, there still appeared to be some lag in matches, which created some awkward moments for us, when someone we were firing at magically appeared behind us. Ouch. Finally, a network issued caused every linked PS3 in the room to crash simultaneously .... more than once. Trying to play Crossroads with 32 players was an effort in futility.
So, do we see a beta happening any time soon? Not really. While we had a blast with SOCOM Confrontation in its alpha stage, it's clear that there is still a lot of work to be done before it can be released to the public en mass. Slant Six can work some magic on the PS3 -- there's no doubt about that. In a year's time, since it was shown at last year's E3, Confrontation has improved significantly. Once the team can fix the various hang-up issues and steady the framerate, we're certain that the enthusiastic SOCOM community will get their hands on this much-needed PS3 sequel -- and they will be more than pleased.
Want even more? Stay tuned to this week's PS Nation podcast to hear an extended preview of SOCOM Confrontation. Have any questions? Post them in the comments!