To this day, the SOCOM franchise remains the most popular of the PlayStation 2's online repertoire. But as the first game in the series to arrive on the PlayStation 3, the upcoming SOCOM: Confrontation faces a far different climate than its predecessors. With online connectivity out of the box and a much more painless network-registration process, PS3 owners already enjoy a wider selection of online shooters. So how do the folks at Sony and Slant Six plan on competing in this new market? To answer that question, we were recently treated to a developer demo showcasing some of the game's new features, capped off by our own chance to play this tactical third-person shooter.
Among the most ambitious features in SOCOM: Confrontation is the broad palette of community tools soon to be available through the official Web site, SOCOM.com. Instead of taking the standard route of using the game's Web site to advertise a scant few bullet points and screenshots, Sony and Slant Six plan on delivering a portal for you to organize a variety of aspects relating to your personal playing time and your clan. The series is already known for having built-in clan support, but now the Web site will add even more to that. The two big features relating to clans are tournaments and ladders. With tournaments, you can sign up online and check out brackets and information on the other teams. When you've signed up online, matches are automatically set up in the game itself; you just boot up the system and the preset match options are already in place, ready for the clans to compete.
Clan ladders use a similar system of automated matches, but with a bit more vigilante flair to the proceedings. Rather than using a ranking system that organizes clans based on their total number of wins and so forth, the clan ladder organizes groups based on who they've defeated and who they've lost to. Consequently, you can challenge the group above you to a match, and if you win, you'll move ahead of them on the ladder. When you challenge a clan, the lobbies are all preloaded, just like with tournaments. And if you're just in it on your own, it looks like you'll be able to track your own personal progress as well. You keep track of your level, ranking, medals you've earned, and other miscellaneous stats related to your performance. We even noticed a body-shaped heat map on the personal-profile mockup, perhaps letting you know all of the places where you've been shot in your playing time.
But if all this Web 2.0 business isn't your thing, you can rest assured knowing that there's still a game driving all of it. And that new game has plenty of interesting features as well. As you may have heard, Confrontation will be a multiplayer-only affair like Warhawk, available either through the PlayStation Network or in retail outlets at a reduced price. The final game will offer seven maps and seven gameplay modes. However, maps aren't exclusive to any one mode and can be mixed and matched. The map total includes five new maps scalable to 8-, 16- and 32-player matches, and two classic maps with 16-player caps. The gameplay modes encompass all of the modes featured in previous games, including classics such as team suppression, escort, control, and elimination.
All of the maps offer the same general North African setting, which will eventually change with downloadable maps. The one we got to play is called Casbah. This one is set in a walled fortress that features numerous courtyards, stairways, bridges, and even a pair of towers that can be strategically demolished in certain game modes. This map seemed to provide a nice balance between cramped corridors and wide-open areas ripe for large-scale firefights. Another new map that we were shown is Quarantine. Although we didn't get to play it, we were told that it's very symmetrical and has a sort of industrial water-complex scene, with pipes that react to the sound of hot water running through them in uncompressed 7.1 surround sound, an area in the game that Slant Six appears to be very proud of.
Whether you're already in the match or strolling through the pregame menu, you'll be able to customize several aspects of your character. This includes being able to alter your primary and secondary weapons in addition to your sidearm. Each weapon can be modified with two attachments, whether they're suppressers, grenade launchers, sights, scopes, and so on. You can also customize your character by choosing which of five real-world elite military units you belong to, the type of camo you wear, and armor classes for your legs and torso. If you want to make a German KSK operative who looks like a lollipop due to light leg armor and superheavy torso armor, you can feel free to make that choice.
In terms of controls, perhaps the biggest addition to Confrontation is the way that Slant Six is using the Sixaxis. There's no real sticky-cover system to Confrontation, so instead what you'll do is stand behind an object and gently tilt your controller to lean to the side. As you do this, you'll see your character's torso bend to peer past the corner. Given that soldiers in the game automatically crouch when they're at a halt, you can tilt the controller toward you to make him stand as you're leaning. In our hands-on session, we were surprised by the subtlety of movement that this mechanic offers. It's easily one of the most interesting uses for the PS3's motion-sensitive controller to date. And just like Metal Gear Solid 4, you can quickly choose which shoulder you're looking over by using the D pad with the standard layout. However, a multitude of layouts will be offered, including classic control settings.
One of the other interesting things that you'll notice about your movement in the game is how you interact with walls. When you're facing a wall and sitting right up against it, your gun will automatically go into the cold position, which means that it's held down and unable to fire. You'll need to back away from the wall to give yourself some space to lift up your gun and aim. The amount of space you need depends on the gun, so if it's a sniper rifle, you'll need plenty of breathing room if you're using a burned-out car as cover.
Other interesting little touches like that one litter the maps. For example, you can see brass casings lying on the ground from a recent firefight and birds flying in the sky that can be shot out of existence with a mildly disturbing puff of feathers. And though the environments and characters don't quite look on par with some of the more visually stunning shooters like Call of Duty 4, the levels still offer great detail for their size and character movement, and animations feel very authentic. In fact, character models even display exit wounds when shot. The sound is also coming along nicely, with the wide range of weapons offering their own distinct combat voices.
Finally, Slant Six also took a moment to show off the Bluetooth headset that they've been working on. Although you can buy the game via the PSN, the retail version will come with a sleek little headset that promises to be head and shoulders above the Warhawk model. It will also come with a charge stand and the option to mute yourself, something that the Xbox 360 headset offers but that very few Bluetooth models have managed to achieve.
All in all, SOCOM: Confrontation is looking like what fans of the series should be hoping for out of the first PS3 iteration. Beyond being bigger and prettier, it's got more than a few interesting and ambitious features worth anticipating. We'll have more coverage on Confrontation as its fall 2008 release draws closer.