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Travis Steiner talks SOCOM 4

24 Mar 2011  by   Paul Younger

IncGamers was recently invited to take part in a conference call with SOCOM 4′s Lead Designer, Travis Steiner. Steiner gave extensive details and fielded questions about the forthcoming team-based shooter. Here’s the rundown of what he had to say.

SOCOM 4′s single player campaign will span 14 missions and be based in south east Asia. A violent uprising has wiped out the peacekeeping force there and left any allies in the region either dead or scattered. Players take the role of an ops commander; someone who sees frontline action, but also has some of the authority of a general (meaning you’ll have periodic access to external tactical options i.e. airstrikes).

You and two other Navy SEALS have escaped the uprising and will meet up with some surviving South Korean special forces members to complete a five man squad. All of the single-player campaign missions will take place in the field. There’ll be no heading back to a handy aircraft carrier parked offshore, you’ll just have to improvise with the equipment you come across.
A feature called the ‘active armoury’ will enable you to store and use any weapons you find during missions, as long as you carry them back with you. This can create a potential dilemma as each squad member is limited to just two primary weapons, so you’ll have to choose your arsenal carefully.
Steiner was keen to stress that single-player will have a heavy focus on dynamic AI. He talked about the need to surprise the player each time with enemies who don’t just follow the same script. Although the intricacies of the enemy AI were not divulged, it was mentioned that they’ll be capable of flanking manoeuvres and laying down suppressive fire when necessary. 
Stealth recon missions will be an important part of the single-player campaign too (four of the fourteen missions classed as ‘covert’). Steiner reasoned that SOCOM has always had stealth to some degree, and its specific inclusion is an attempt to add a little variety to the campaign. During these missions, players will take control of a female operative from the South Korean forces, known only as ’45′. She’ll be sneaking into places at night, prior to a primary assault, in order to gather intel or sabotage a key target.
Steiner talked about a specific situation in the campaign where your squad is aware of the enemy’s plan to launch a stealth frigate, and it’s your job to take it down but you don’t know what kind of fortifications or weapons systems you’re up against be facing. This is where 45 comes in.

During these covert ops missions, there will be an onscreen stealth meter that’ll display how successfully (or unsuccessfully) you’re sneaking around. Ideally, you’ll want to avoid enemies and any potential firefights but, it is possible to take foes down using quietly without creating a ruckus. Steiner mentioned the ability to toss a shell casing as a distraction, and the importance of picking up and hiding bodies to prevent alerts being raised.
It was revealed that Battlestar Galactica composer Bear McCreary worked on the game’s music, which will feature traditional east asian instrumentation. All cinematics will be rendered in realtime, in-engine.

Of course, the SOCOM titles of the past have been geared towards multiplayer andSOCOM 4 will be presenting plenty of options here too.

The online co-op (offline will not be possible,) will feature two distinct modes: Takedown and Espionage. In the first, teams must take out a specified VIP target, while in the second they must locate key pieces of intel – which in turn will reveal a final objective.

When planning a co-op game, the host will select a scenario from the two above, then choose a map and alter customisable options like the density of enemies. It’s also possible to string several missions together, creating a makeshift co-op campaign of sorts. As with single-player, Steiner emphasised how important dynamic AI would be to the co-op mode. Enemies will come from dynamic spawn locations and exhibit semi-randomised behaviour, to give the sense that each co-op mission is a unique experience. It sounds, in principle, similar to Left 4 Dead’s zombie director, but more tactical than horde-based.
Co-op team members will be able to select their own gear, depending upon a preferred playstyle. Steiner suggested that it would be most helpful to have a mixture of specialists in the squad, to provide the greatest flexibility on the battlefield. It was mentioned that the d-pad would function as a method for marking targets and locations.

If anything, teamwork sounds even more crucial in competitive multiplayer. Steiner explained that the main incentive for working closely together was simply that it would lead to victory. Players who can function as a group, rather than going all ‘lone wolf,’ will be far more likely to achieve objectives in the various competitive game modes. The key actions in each mode will be best supported by a group of guys watching your back. In addition, there will be a number of lower-level rewards for ‘good behaviour,’ such as an armour bonus for sticking close to the bomb technician in Bomb Squad mode.

There are four of these competitive modes. Suppression will be a simple team vs team mode, though Steiner noted that it will have no random spawn points so it won’t be a straight deathmatch. Bomb Squad, as mentioned, will feature one member of a team taking the role of a bomb technician who has to defuse various enemy bombs. The bomb tech moves slower than other team members, but can also take more hits. One team will be escorting him, the other will be gunning for him.

Last Defence will feature three control points on a given map. If all are controlled by a single team, that team will be able to call an airstrike on the opposition base. It sounds like a back-and-forth territorial control mode. Finally, Uplink will see one team trying to break into a compound to obtain intel, while another team tries to prevent this from happening.
Some degree of customisation will be possible with all of these modes. Steiner mentioned that if players wanted to play a ‘shotguns and snipers only’ match, for example, this would be possible.

He also attempted to allay fears from the SOCOM fan community that this edition of the series has had its strategic depth compromised in favour of greater accessibility. This game “will still feel like SOCOM,” he insisted. The proof of that will be in the playing, and the SOCOM community will make its own judgements, but Zipper is at least attempting to cater to these dedicated players with some ‘classic mode’ options. These will include a lack of respawns (putting a player out of action until the round expires) and the removal of the health regeneration mechanic, making ‘classic’ multiplayer a more traditional SOCOM experience. 

Like Killzone 3, SOCOM 4 will be playable with the PlayStation Move and compatible with the ‘sharp shooter’ application. 3D compatability is also confirmed, with Steiner saying that they wanted SOCOM 4 to be one of the earliest games making the most of the technology. He argued that the layered backgrounds (dense jungles and the like) of the title made it ideal for 3D, and claimed that it made the HUD really pop out from the TV.

The same message was being pushed throughout the call: that SOCOM 4 emphasises teamwork in all modes of play, dynamic AI is key to both single-player and co-op modes and that the game is “made in the core spirit of the franchise.” IncGamers will be putting the multiplayer beta to the test to see if these claims hold up.

SOCOM 4 is scheduled for release on 19 April (US,) 20 April (EU) and 22 April (UK), exclusively on PS3.

A closed beta is currently underway for PlayStation Plus members, with access for other PS3 users planned from 5 April.

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