If you want to get some friends in on the action, SOCOM 4's cooperative mode lets up to five players team up online to tackle stand-alone missions that involve recovering info or killing enemy VIPs. You can tweak the settings to determine how skilled and how numerous your enemies are, and the difficulty really ramps up in the tougher matches. When you take on the hardest missions, your enemies are often aggressive to the point of wrecklessness, but their enthusiasm doesn't make it less fun or less challenging. Smoke grenades become essential to creating cover while you revive your incapacitated friends, and communicating with your team via headset or in-game waypoints can make the difference between success and failure. It's a shame there are only six maps and two objective types available for co-op play, because working as a team to take down a fierce enemy force is very satisfying. You can also play these scenarios single-player, but this is likely to appeal only to diehard challenge seekers and players grinding for weapon improvements.
However, not all the human players you encounter in SOCOM 4 are friendly--specifically, those players on the enemy team in the online competitive multiplayer mode. These matches support up to 32 players across four core game types: Suppression (team deathmatch), Uplink (capture the flag), Bomb Squad (defuse/defend bombs with one player boasting a bomb suit and improved weaponry), and Last Defense (when one team captures all three points, secondary target objectives are revealed). The first two are solid incarnations of these ubiquitous game types that succeed largely because of the impressive maps, which offer plenty of different routes and cover positions. Bomb Squad is basically team deathmatch until you locate the bomb technician, at which point it becomes a frantic hunt to kill the VIP. For the other team, it's a balance between escorting the bomb tech and trying not to reveal his position by all clustering around him. Last Defense usually begins as a tug-of-war as each team scrambles to hold the three objectives, and then becomes an all-out assault or defense, depending on your team's performance. Each of these modes can also be played with classic SOCOM rules that allow players only one life per match.
Even with the ability to respawn, SOCOM 4's multiplayer arena is a perilous place. A few shots to the body or a single headshot is all it takes to end a life, so finding cover and minimizing your exposure to enemy fire are important skills. Skirmishes are tense and exciting, doubly so when you know you won't respawn before the round is over. Though death is ever-present, the action isn't slow and methodical. You can get into some entrenched cover-based shootouts, but there's also a fair amount of running and gunning. As you navigate the spacious maps, you may see players scurrying off of ledges like cartoon characters or going prone in weird positions, and though they are consistent with the game mechanics, these visual oddities are strange to behold. We also ran into occasional network issues when, in a few matches, players lapsed out of sync with each other. In these cases, you might fill an enemy full of bullets and then watch him run away, only to get credit for the kill (or die yourself) half a minute later. Fortunately, these matches were the exception to the rule, and generally fixed themselves after the round ended.
From coastal fishing villages to fenced military installations, and from ramshackle slums to concrete urban jungles, SOCOM 4 takes you to a variety of locations throughout the campaign and multiplayer modes. The busy environments always feature a decent number of cover positions, and using the local flora to your advantage can also help. The foliage is diverse and the levels are full of nice details, though the visuals do have some rough edges and can sometimes feel a bit too cluttered. SOCOM 4 isn't a beautiful game, but its accompanying soundtrack is quite good. The driving orchestral score imbues the action with a motivating energy, while the percussive chimes and plucked strings of a gamelan interject to add a nice sense of place to the musical setting.
SOCOM 4 also supports the latest in gaming gimmickry--the PlayStation Move and stereoscopic 3D. Both the control scheme and the visual effect work quite well, providing properly equipped players with a fun way to put their purchases to good use. Yet no matter how you are equipped, SOCOM 4 has a lot to offer, despite its notable limitations. The entertaining campaign, challenging cooperative play, and frantic multiplayer firefights combine to provide tens of hours of enjoyable content, making SOCOM 4 a very appealing shooter.