Hands-on: SOCOM: Confrontation beta

Shooting fake things in the face is a favorite pastime of mine. Years ago, the Ghost Recon on the original Xbox really got me into the first-person genre, and the competitive nature of online play. I remember learning the maps, spawn points, and the timing on every one of the game’s numerous maps to a point where I could feasibly play the game blindfolded.

I, of course, did not have the same lofty expectations upon receiving the SOCOM: Confrontation beta. I realize GR has earned a special place, but I often wonder how the world of realistic shooters has progressed. I’m happy to report that they are still realistic and that they involve shooting.

Read on for my full hands-on treatment.

From the onset it is perfectly clear that the guys at Slant Six want players to forge their own unique identities in SOCOM: Confrontation. A ton of customization options are available that span from character appearance, apparel, armor, weaponry, and even clans. Insofar as appearance, a few canned faces and builds are available. Players will be able to adorn their characters with scars, face paints, and even facial hair before outfitting them in light, medium, or heavy body armor. There are also a vast amount of color combinations to pick from, to ensure that every shade of camouflage has some effect on any of the promised levels in the game. While Predator status can never be reached from the options available, it’s eerie to see what the Urban camouflage set does in the beta’s only level, “Crossroads.”

There are quite a few customization options outside of the body as well. Players have the ability to create clans and set up schedules via the in-game calendar. Clan options at this point are fairly limited. Players can pick a name, a short motto, and a three-character tag. Also, an emblem can be created from a small list of shields, pictures, and colors that are applied as a small patch on the character. Equipment can be customized as well. The typical assortment of assault rifles, submachine guns, pistols, and sniper rifles are available and ready to use with various sights, grips, and even grenade launcher attachments.

The customization allows for great user control for the weapons, but the majority of the special touches like armor, camouflage and scars are unnoticeable during the course of play. The only distinct differentiation comes from the two factions in the game – the Commandos and the Mercenaries. Equipment does have an outward impact in regard to the mobility and inherent accuracy of the character. Heavy armor is obviously tougher to move around in. This creates an interesting dichotomy and a line of choices in regards to bodily equipment and weaponry.

There are three game modes to choose from at this point in the beta – Extraction, Suppression, and Elimination. In Extraction, the Mercenary team begins with three hostages. The objective is for the Commando team to take the hostages and escort them to one of the two extraction zones on the map. Suppression is simply a basic Team Deathmatch style of mode where the objective is just to kill as many members of the opposing team as possible before the timer runs out. Elimination is much the same, except respawns are turned off.

Players will eventually have the option to simply jump into any match via a “Quick Match” option, but for the moment, a ton of servers have to be sorted and matches have to be chosen individually. And herein lies on the beta’s biggest failings. Loading into a match (typically in progress) can be a time-consuming task and upon entry, can take several minutes for the match to actually begin. Because of the nature of the servers, it’s impossible to ascertain if a match is actually in progress or not. Players will notice upon entry of a new participant significant slowdown occurs as well, which can easily bust the game for that short duration.

Another glancing issue is the inherent latency of the beta. In the few weeks that I have been playing the beta I haven’t had that amazing, flawless experience that I have had on a few other shooters. Games are constantly experiencing some form of slow down and it’s only perpetuated by the action of the game. Not many open firefights in Confrontation go down in the fairest of circumstances. It’s frustrating and a pity. Of course, this is a beta and not necessarily indicative of the final experience. Although, it’s of note to mention that after two patches the game is still experiencing these problems, just on a lesser scale than weeks previous.

As for gameplay, SOCOM: Confrontation feels like the majority of its predecessors. The controls are tight, the guns are accurate, and the game’s pacing is predominately slower than most other shooters. The majority of fighting is done at a distance (the shotgun and heavy machine weapons are useless in Crossroads) and I get the vibe that Confrontation will be all about fighting long-distance.

The map Crossroads is a labyrinth of corridors, crates, and minor outlets. It’s an interesting urban map that incorporates massive space, but also the opportunity for close fighting in the buildings. I was the most impressed with the multitudes of ambush points and specific choke points.

Confrontation incorporates SIXAXIS at its own fault. Motion controls always sound great in concept, but translating them to a shooter is never a good bet. By moving the controller sideways characters can peak out of corners. Tossing it up and down moves from prone positions. The game has a tendency to get annoying if players play the game with their hands at an angle as the character will walk and run while still peaking. Hopefully we can see some better integration in the future.

Visually the game looks great considering the context. Confrontation is an online game that will be able to host dozens of players at once. Understandably, it doesn’t have the slick and very brown Unreal Engine 3 look. There are a couple of issues with pop in and textures, but there’s still plenty of time to hash through that. As for the sound, it’s definitely above par. The scraping of enemies walking into rooms can be clearly heard if you’re quiet and the soundtrack is exceptional. It’s like Paul Oakenfold busted into Slant Six’s office and showed them what techno is all about.

Overall, I came away from the beta with a greater understanding of that Slant Six is serious about developing a realistic and diverse shooter. The technical problems of the can be easily ironed out and I have a feeling that the controls are going to get better by its October 14th release date. The best part about Confrontation is when you shoot a dude he dies. There’s nothing more gratifying than well-aimed shots, patience, and sound strategy.

Is it a faithful sequel? Absolutely. Will the full game please? More than likely.

Brad BradNicholson