The most frustrating element of SOCOM: Special Forces is that you have to play as an Aussie.
He's actually a NATO Special Forces Operations Commander, and different regions give him different accents, but for us, he's an Aussie. This wouldn't normally present too much of a problem, however the exaggerated accents for him and his teammates get old fast. It's worth pushing past, though.
This SOCOM's story is for the most part forgettable. The main character's name is Cullen Gray, but everyone just calls him "OpsCom". He's given just enough backstory to justify various actions which NATO would never sanction in the real world. The complete indifference of the UN to a potentially world-changing civil war offers a few more hints that you're not in Kansas any more, but as the plot is just an excuse to murder people it's all good. The main enemies are a terrorist group called "Naga," who are pretty much trying to cause global chaos for a profit.
Gray is joined early on by a pair of Koreans, one of whom is a female sniper by the name of Park. OpsCom insists on calling her "Forty-Five" instead, and although there's virtually no outright aggression between the two, subtle cues like his refusal to use her name give you all you need to know about their mutual animosity.
For such a predictable story, it's surprisingly well-told. Forty-Five's experience in Recon gives pretext for the obligatory Stealth missions, which she runs solo, while players control OpsCom in Assault missions.
However the singleplayer is approached, there are problems with the execution, leaving it feeling slightly tacked-on. Assault missions are decent, and it's a novelty to feel like the friendly AI is babysitting you instead of the other way around. Even your shotgunner is deadly at mid-range, and Forty-Five can usually take down half the enemy snipers before they get a shot off. On easy difficulty, you'll be fine to survive a few shots from anyone – including said snipers – but ramp it up to hard and it's a challenge to escape damage even when you're in cover. If the enemy is alert, and you've got no wall between you and them, you'll be hard pressed to stay standing, and unlike everyone else on the team, you can't be patched up when you go down.
Collision detection is unreliable in singleplayer as well, which can result in shots passing through an enemy's head instead of killing them. When this alerts several enemies instead of landing a silent kill, it's usually up to your teammates to bail you out. Sometimes shots will pass through concrete or metal barricades to kill you, too. As OpsCom, you have the ability to issue orders, setting up ambushes or flanking manoeuvres during combat. There are times where it's best to let the AI sort themselves out, but giving the right orders at the right time can be critical, especially when you turn up the difficulty.
Stealth missions are horrendous though. In the moments where everything works properly, you either feel like an awesome ninja, or the idiot who stupidly ran into a guard because they were facing the wrong way. This is fine when that's what actually happened, as the issues with hit detection are problematic. When you expose yourself early in the mission, you'll trigger a failure condition and have to restart; when a "near miss" from shooting someone right between the eyes can set that alarm off, you know something is wrong.
There are also the times where lying prone behind a wall can still trigger an enemy to call a friend over to surround you, despite being well in cover. At times, entering or breaking cover will be registered as a sound the AI responds to, and it's even possible to run right past an enemy without being detected. If the AI was capable of remaining consistent in their behaviour for an entire mission with only occasional glitchy moments it would be fine, but with the frequency of these events, "broken" seems a more appropriate description.
Whether you use Move or a standard Sixaxis controller, the controls are easy to pick up, and either option is comfortable and easy to use. The Move functionality is well-implemented, but it doesn't quite feel as reliable as normal controls. After giving both options a good run, the Move controller's aim and sight commands feel complex and unintuitive, requiring multiple buttons to be held down at once. It's a lot of fun, but when it came down to it, the standard controller provides much more precision, and leaves the Move feeling more like a gimmicky option than one worth using in serious play.
When you go online, the kinks all seem to work themselves out. There doesn't appear to be any hit detection trouble, even during co-op against the single-player enemies. There's minimal lag, although playing against those further afield than Australia can cause voice communication issues. The co-op mode's gameplay is also available offline as "custom missions," but the excessive enemy numbers combined with the friendly AI's inability to revive you (co-op players can revive one another) makes the challenge pretty steep even on the easiest settings.
The only real complaint levelled against the multiplayer is that players who have a high level online have access to blatantly superior weapons. The two teams in multiplayer get their own selection of weapons, each side having a decent variety in each weapon class. The problem is the modification system, where you unlock new mods for each weapon by gaining experience with it. Some, like scopes and silencers, are optional, but most will just permanently give you a better version of the gun because you've been using it for longer. This system works fine in single-player and co-op, but it's unfair to give skilled and experienced players weapons which are clearly better than the ones they started with, then send new players in without the same advantages.
If you can get together a decent team (either on purpose or just randomly having a team with headsets), you can turn the tide against more experienced players by coordinating your efforts, so the edge they get isn't totally insurmountable until they start using underslung grenade launchers. The experience with a weapon translating into modifications is identical in single-player, but while this carries over to co-op, it doesn't upgrade your PvP weapons. To unlock weapons in single player and co-op, you have to pick them up in the game world. Any new weapon you're carrying at the end of a mission will be immediately added to your collection.
SOCOM: Special Forces isn't an epic single-player game, but it's not trying to be. The plot is mostly predictable but better told than the same story in other shooters, and the glitches are surprisingly absent when you take the game online. It's very obviously oriented towards the multiplayer experience, so if that's what you're after, this is one of the most enjoyable and complete tactical combat experiences in the current console generation.
It's a shame the single-player isn't quite up to the same standard, but it does a decent job of preparing you to go up against the rest of the world, even if you will spend a lot of time losing to them until you unlock that sweet grenade launcher mod.