The gaming industry has had a long history with military shooters, allowing players to experience what it’s like to be a part of an elite team of highly trained operatives on missions, without the real threat of getting killed. There’s been a lot of pushback recently on military shooters, especially with the likes of the controversial Six Days In Fallujah, but one series that’s been a fond memory for a lot of PS2 players is SOCOM.
For a while, the SOCOM series was PlayStation’s premier tactical third person shooter, but after a decade of dominance, the series was shut down and has been lying dormant for the past ten years. Today, we’re pondering the question: will we ever see the SOCOM series make a return in some form?
The History of SOCOM
SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs is a tactical third-person shooter series that ran from 2002 to 2011, featuring 10 games across PS2, PSP and PS3. The SOCOM name comes from United States Special Operations Command, an overarching branch of the American Military that supervises the special operations of the Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force. From the name alone, you can probably guess which force SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs focuses on.
Beginning life on the PS2 in 2002 and developed by Zipper Interactive, SOCOM follows a four-man SEAL team as they complete missions across the globe. You play as a guy with the codename Kahuna, so it’s the best game ever made, clearly. Between missions, players can change their loadout with different weapons and equipment to best suit the mission at hand, and with multiple difficulties and ratings to unlock, there was plenty of replay value across the game’s 12 missions.
Far from just being a simplistic military shooter though, in a similar vein to the Call of Dutys and Medal of Honors of the world, SOCOM allows you to command your squad to complete missions. Split into Alpha and Bravo, you can command your units or teams independently, meaning Bravo team can defend an objective while you as Alpha team can push forward and flank enemy positions.
On top of that, SOCOM blazed a bit of a trail for the PS2, as it was one of the first games to feature online play, with players picking between playing as SEALs or terrorists. This was before the advent of services like Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, making it a real landmark feature that became a defining staple for the series going forward. There was also a USB headset that allowed you to bark orders at your AI squadmates, which is certainly noteworthy. Voice commands were typically seen gimmick-y, especially back then, but to be the first to play around in the space makes SOCOM a rare breed.
Zipper would go on to develop SOCOM 2 & 3, which released in 2003 and 2005 respectively. Both games would come to offer features that have since become commonplace, with SOCOM 2 introducing friends lists and clan rosters to allow players to properly play together across matches, while SOCOM 3 introduced purchasable DLC maps from the first two games, something that other games would soon follow on from as the industry pushed towards the PS3 and Xbox 360 era.
In 2005, the SOCOM series branched out to the PSP with the Fireteam Bravo series, a trilogy of PSP games spanning 2005 to 2010. Naturally, the PSP’s lack of second analogue stick and triggers meant that the controls were switched to a lock-on system, while retaining the same squad command aspects that the series became known for over the years. Tactical Strike, developed by Slant Six Games, also launched on PSP in 2007, with a different approach to strategic gameplay, which saw you solely commanding your crew to kill terrorists.
The most notable release during this period was SOCOM: Combined Assault for the PS2 and Fireteam Bravo 2 for the PSP, which both launched in 2006. Both games featured crossover between the other, with players unlocking new features for each when linking them together. Combined Assault also introduced the ability to play the campaign online with your friends instead of with the AI, which is nice.
The series finally moved to the PS3 in 2008 with Confrontation, an online-focused SOCOM game developed by Slant Six Games that would be considered a bit of a failure for both the developer and the series as a whole. The game received a 63 on Metacritic, and a host of problems plagued the game at launch, including invisible gun glitches, lag and promised features that weren’t delivered upon when the game dropped, despite the developers pushing the release date back by a month to polish the overall experience.
Online however, there was enough of an audience to warrant Zipper Interactive to develop some DLC for the game. In October, the Demolition map pack added a brand new mode and maps, while the Evac co-op pack in November offered a brand new co-op mode along with some new maps and skins. Those would prove to be the last pieces of SOCOM content launched though, as the company would be shut down by Sony in March 2012. In a statement about the announcement, Sony chalked the decision up to resource realignment.
“Sony Computer Entertainment can confirm the closure of Zipper Interactive, a Seattle-based internal game development studio that has been part of the global development operation of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios (SCE WWS). The closure is a result of a normal cycle of resource re-alignment within SCE WWS. Zipper has completed all work associated with its most recent project, Unit 13 for PlayStation Vita. Zipper titles MAG, SOCOM 4 and Unit 13 will continue to be supported, including the new Daily Challenges in Unit 13.”
Sony would support the servers for the PS2 and PSP games only briefly, with the multiplayer for all eight of those games shutting down on August 31st, 2012. Confrontation and SOCOM 4 would enjoy a bit more time in the sun before being Thanos snapped out of existence, with Sony ending support for those games and fellow Zipper title MAG on January 28th, 2014. Now, the SOCOM series is nothing but a memory, though some would like that to be changed. We’ll get to that.
It depends on whether there’s demand for it. The U.S. military would probably love to see another shooter come to market, because clearly Call of Duty isn’t enough, but there’s been some pushback in the military shooter genre recently. The controversial Six Days In Fallujah seems to be the catalyst for this, which is an apparent passion project for Peter Tamte, CEO of Victura, who are now publishing the game. Tamte has been working to get the game published since 2009 and earlier, and has noted links to developing a “Judgmental Shooting Simulator” in collaboration with the FBI and CIA.
At the very least, SOCOM had the good sense to focus on fictional countries and fictional conflicts, like Call of Duty does for the most part. So long as SOCOM doesn’t take a leftfield turn into referencing a real life war crime, it’d probably be fine. SOCOM games are more about the gameplay and communication instead of storyline anyway, so leaning into those aspects would allow the game to potentially sidestep controversy.
There has been a very vocal contingent of SOCOM fans who have remained determined to keep the spirit of the game alive. The SOCOM Community is a collection of players who operate on Discord and use emulators to play SOCOM, SOCOM 2 and Combined Assault online with like-minded players. The fact that a near-two decade old set of games can find a new lease on life on a new platform is absolutely astonishing, and proves there’s people out there who would love to see the series make a return.
Considering that SOCOM is a Sony property, it would be a good move to see them release a new SOCOM, as it would help diversify their exclusives portfolio. No disrespect to Sony, as clearly they’ve established a formula that works, but there’s a lot of third-person narrative focused action adventures in there. While still being third-person, a co-op shooter that focuses on realistic modern combat and player communication could be a decent addition to the PS5’s roster of games.
A model of that exact game has been made already in the form of Ghost Recon: Wildlands and Breakpoint, which slots nicely into the emerging trend of live service games. The SOCOM series pioneered DLC with its additional map packs even on the PS2, so a live service co-op game, which adds new maps and co-op missions periodically, could be a real winner for the PlayStation. Days Gone’s creative director John Garvin even said he’d be willing to make a new SOCOM game, though his version would be single-player and story focused.
SOCOM is arguably one of the most iconic military shooters ever made, so it’s shocking to see that there’s been no real attempts to revive the series in the past ten years. At the very least, there’s no shortage of similar games out there that can fill the game, but the announcement of a new SOCOM game would likely blow everything else out of the water.
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