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The tactical command system at the heart of SOCOM 4 is reminiscent of SCI's Conflict series and Pandemic's excellent Full Spectrum Warrior. Action is divided between controlling Squad Commander Cullen Gray and issuing orders to his squad members, combining cover-and-shoot gunplay with tactical exploitation of multiple routes to flank and outmanœuvre an engaging enemy AI.
Do you smell what the rock is cooking?
Three basic orders: go there, cover me and shoot him, work well in preparing for firefights. And they excel in the game's underused 'last stand' set pieces, where you need to keep re-organising your squad to repel incoming waves of enemies. But with no option to take control of individual squad members, or pause the action to issue commands, the constant distraction of self-preservation in sustained engagements dilutes their efficacy, reducing the mainstay of combat to an average, third-person cover shooter.
Espionage sections provide welcome respite from the monotony of combat. Set during nighttime, you control Forty-Five, using the cover of darkness and vegetation to infiltrate cleverly designed compounds. The third-person mechanics transpose well into stealth, and, although highly derivate, Forty-Five's stealth kills and dead body concealment abilities bring a satisfying additional depth to gameplay.
More potholes than a Bob Marley T-shirt
But espionage levels also reveal SOCOM 4's technical cracks. An additional ability to distract guards by throwing empty bullet casings proves hit and miss, with guards often failing to react, or heading in completely the wrong direction. And dim lighting and threadbare undergrowth require you to suspend disbelief entirely by providing impenetrable cover from nearby enemies, despite your body remaining clearly visible on-screen.