As gamers, we have seen a lot of our favorite franchises die over time, taking with them the passionate communities that had supported and celebrated their titles throughout the years. It’s very similar to when a long-running television show that has been a consistent source of entertainment comes to an end for whatever reason, whether it be poor ratings or it’s simply run its course, which in turn results in the end of all the early morning water cooler debates, twitter discussions, and forum chats. It only makes sense that when the object of discussion is no longer producing anything to be discussed, that these once fervent fan communities would naturally dissipate into the wind. In my opinion, the SOCOM community is one of those rare communities that have kept going strong, even after Sony shuttered the doors of [SOCOM developer] Zipper Interactive almost 2 years ago to the day. The failures of SOCOM Confrontation (developed by Slant Six Games) and SOCOM 4 only made matters worse for a community that had watched their baby evolve into something else; something they didn’t recognize and most certainly didn’t want. With no signs of the long hoped for “SOCOM 2 HD Remastered" — one of the most requested and commented on suggestions on the PlayStation Blog Share — and the servers for everything SOCOM shut down now, it appears that this very well could be the last we hear of the SOCOM franchise.
Though there is one developer who has heard the cries from the loud, proud, and passionate SOCOM community, and that developer is SOF Studios (Special Operations Forces Studios), a studio comprised of Special Operations veterans and premier gaming experts. They are led by Creative Director David Sears who, for those of you outside of the SOCOM camp that may not know, was the creative director of both SOCOM 1 & 2; widely regarded as the best games in the franchise. In order to get this project off the ground, David took to Kickstarter to help fund the initial production of the game in order for them to be able to pitch it to publishers. When I read that they wanted to make a game that was a “spiritual successor to SOCOM,”despite my reservations regarding Kickstarter in general, I backed the project simply because I want what SOF Studios and David Sears are promising to deliver. As a long time SOCOM fan, this seemed like a much better option than waiting for an HD remaster that's likely never to come.
My Addiction to “SO-CRACK”
I’ll be the first to admit I never played Zipper Interactive’s original SOCOM U.S. Navy Seals, which ushered in online gameplay for the PlayStation 2, when it was released back in the summer of 2002. I had always heard great things about it, but because my parents only had a dial-up connection through AOL, I never gave it much thought since I didn’t have access to the necessary broadband internet service I needed just yet. I was definitely interested in online multiplayer because I enjoyed local multiplayer so much (thanks Goldeneye 64!). I had also heard so many good things from the PC camp in regards to Counter-Strike, which was obviously influential to SOCOM’s development.
Jump ahead one year later (while training for the job I’m still working today!), and my parents had finally upgraded to broadband internet before SOCOM 2 released in the Fall of 2003. Disregarding the fact that I had to be to work at 7:00 am the next morning for more training, I decided to stop by Best Buy on my way home from work to pick up the online adapter, SOCOM 2, and a USB Logitech Headset. Once I had everything set up and ready to go, it was pushing 10:00 pm. I distinctly remember thinking to myself, ”Ok, I will just play a few games and call it a night." Yeah... talk about setting yourself up for disappointment, right? I can’t even remember why I looked at the clock when I did — I was so into the game — but I was shocked to see it was 4:00 am! 4:00 am! What the hell happened?! How did I manage to let myself get so hooked by this game?! Well, the answer to that question is the very reason why I hold SOCOM 2 in such high regard.
"I backed the project simply because I want what SOF Studios and David Sears are promising to deliver. As a long time SOCOM fan, this seemed like a much better option than waiting for an HD remaster that's likely never to come. "
Now, this article isn’t meant to be a “History of SOCOM” piece, so I will keep this portion of it very brief. At the time, as I alluded to earlier, SOCOM 2 meant so much to me for various reasons. First and foremost, it was a game that was easy to pitch to my friends and family that had moved away, whether it was due to school or work. These were people who I didn’t get to see on a regular basis anymore. The fact that we could hop online and talk a whole bunch of crap to one another, all the while channeling the same excitement we felt when playing Goldeneye 64 locally, was reason enough for them to go out and pick up the online adapter and the game.
Obviously the social benefits alone were extremely appealing, but there is more to this addiction than just that. Before I managed to make believers out of my friends and family, I had to become a believer myself. This happened one night while playing alongside a rather hilarious group of Portuguese fellows who demonstrated early on the importance of communication via the headset. After a few games I was picking up on their play style and tactics, and when I had questions, they were extremely open to helping me along. By the end of the night, I felt I had matured more as a team player and was awarded with an invite to their clan. It was this experience that solidified my interest in online gaming. The fact that these dudes were cool enough to help an obvious “noob” along, while in turn I was able to perform well enough to net an invite to their clan, was something that would resonate with me forever as a gamer.
In SOCOM 2, it was important that your team communicated well, as it was the only way to ensure a chance of victory due to the strict ground rules implemented in the SOCOM universe. There weren’t any med packs or regenerating health to rely on if you were low on health. The game also featured round-based gameplay, meaning respawns were not available to help offset any reckless behavior that might get you killed quickly. If you tried to be a hot-shot and engage multiple enemies guns blazing, you often found yourself watching as a spectator while your team attempted to operate short-handed due to your foolish choices. It was an incredibly rewarding game because you were held accountable for your actions. You couldn’t rely on overpowering kill-streak rewards or UV drones to point out enemy positions. It was you, your team, and your gun skills; that’s what made SOCOM so special.
Before long, I had managed to recruit quite a few friends and family members over to SOCOM 2. Sure enough, we were playing 4-5 hours a night on a regular basis, which is a lot when you're juggling time between a spouse or significant other, a full time job, and the game proper! We were absolutely consumed by the addicting gameplay. The use of microphones to communicate, the incredible variety of quality maps, and a plethora of objective-based game modes had us playing just about every night. We had never played a game that was so focused on team play before, and to this day, it’s a formula that seems to get passed over in favor of the more frantic, lone-wolf encouraging online shooters that glorify individual achievements. Other than a small handful of moderately successful games featuring some of its qualities, there hasn’t been anything out there since that fully captures the essence of tactical team play quite like SOCOM 2.
After SOCOM 4 failed to revitalize the franchise — which could partially be blamed on the the great PSN Outage of 2011, as well as the fact that SOCOM 4 deviated from it’s once addicting formula in favor of a more Call of Duty-esque approach — the community was left hanging high and dry in terms of getting its SOCOM fix. Shortly after, Zipper Interactive was closed for good, and the future of the SOCOM franchise was left in doubt. The President of Sony’s Worldwide Studios, Shuhei Yoshida, had this to say about the future of the SOCOM franchise, “It’s not done. We never retire any franchise…it’s sometimes good to have a fresh look at the franchises we have.” Despite those encouraging words, most of the SOCOM community saw the writing on the wall and began to draw their own ill-fated conclusions. The nail was driven further into the coffin as the last of the SOCOM servers were shut down over the past year, leaving fans of the series to resort to thinking outside of the box in order to continue playing some of the older versions — by other means — or moving on altogether.
"It (SOCOM 2) was an incredibly rewarding game because you were held accountable for your actions. You couldn’t rely on overpowering kill-streak rewards or UV drones to point out enemy positions. It was you, your team, and your gun skills; that’s what made SOCOM so special. "
David Sears And SOF Studios Answering The Call
On June 9th, 2013, H-Hour: Worlds Elite appeared on KickStarter. Its goal: raise enough money to allow SOF Studios to construct a playable build of H-Hour to show off to investors, in the hopes of securing the financial backing needed in order for H-Hour to become a fully realized title. When I read over the vision that Sears and company had for H-Hour, I felt like this could be exactly the type of game our passionate SOCOM community could get behind, reinvigorating that old feeling we haven't experienced since the days of SOCOM 2. Even though I had read some differing opinions of KickStarter in general, I truly felt that this could be our last shot at bringing "SOCOM" back, and I decided to back it Day 1. It only took a month for Sears to announce that H-Hour had raised the $250,000 needed to get the project started.
It’s important to point out that this won’t be a carbon copy of SOCOM 2, but will instead be a “spiritual successor” to the franchise that embodies a lot of the key components and gameplay elements that made the SOCOM titles so engaging and tense. It won’t just be limited to the US Navy Seals either, as H-Hour will feature multiple Special Forces groups from around the world. The game will encourage working as a team and approaching every situation tactically. The focus won’t be on fast, frantic action where a quick respawn can bail out a careless decision, but instead on realism emphasized through slow, methodical gameplay. If you take a headshot, you can’t just sit behind a dumpster and wait for the hemorrhaging to miraculously stop. The best way to avoid an early exit is to make sure you’re in constant contact with your team, knowing your surroundings before making your next move.
This is the type of gameplay that the SOCOM community is hungry for. It’s truly a game of chess out there, and the smarter team will always prevail. As much as we all like seeing our name in the lights with a stellar KDR, there isn’t anything quite like coordinating an ambush with your team, and seeing everything workout as planned. I remember being a part of many games where I may not have gotten a single kill in a round, but I knew my team was able to operate with a sense of calm because they knew I would stay where I needed to be, covering their blind spots and making sure we didn’t get flanked by the opposition. Working as a team allows you to embraces your victories (and defeats) together, which is way more rewarding than worrying about who is at the top of the leaderboards.
”H-Hour will instead be a “spiritual successor” to the franchise that embodies a lot of the key components and gameplay elements that made the SOCOM titles so engaging and tense "
I really hope SOF Studios and David Sears are able to accomplish the mission they have set out before them, and judging by their newly released gameplay video (keep in mind this footage is from a VERY early build), it appears they are on track to do so. The SOCOM community is an extremely passionate community, and I really believe this could be a game that they can all flock to and get behind. H-Hour: Worlds Elite is slated for an early 2015 release and, as of right now, is targeting a launch on both the PlayStation 4 and PC. They are currently trying to get their game approved for Steam Greenlight as well, so please stop by the site and give them a big “YES” vote so the game can reach as many people as possible! Use this link to do so.
Did you back H-Hour World's Elite? Are you a die-hard SOCOM fan, and if so, what are some of your favorite SOCOM memories over the years? Let us know in the comments below if you're excited (and why!) for H-Hour Worlds Elite!