The better part of six months ago, Slant Six’s SOCOM: Confrontation was released to the US market and excited gamers were presented with what was basically a half finished game.

For an online-only gaming experience, the servers were fatally flawed and the lag, screen tearing and pop-up made the game virtually unplayable.

Patches came thick and fast, applying Band-Aids on the gushing wounds and some of the problems were fixed. This seems to have delayed the PAL release to give the developers a chance to finish the work they should have done in the first place and, to a point, they seem to have been somewhat successful. More on that later.

Being an online multiplayer experience only, the $60 price point reflects the fact that it’s basically half a game, having no single player campaign to speak of. Just as a side note – perhaps publishers who release games with no multiplayer or online component, should also charge for what is essentially half a game in this day and age. But that’s another argument for another time. The SOCOM series is the quintessential tactical shooter experience, despite a couple of sub-par releases, and the online environment is where all the series’ longevity lies. So SOCOM: Confrontation comes with a lot of promise and potential.

Before heading into the field of battle, you must create and customise two separate characters to play as - a commando and a mercenary - because the game requires you to play on both sides of the fence. The customisation options are lacking to say the least. Even if you think you’ve delved deep enough to give your character a ‘unique’ look, before too long you’ll come across other players who look exactly the same. Even if the camouflage pattern is slightly different – it’s barely noticeable due to the fact that the textures and character models are far from being up to the standard of a PS3 game in 2009.

Given that Confrontation is an online game, it’s a disappointment that you can’t give yourself a distinct appearance to make you stand out in amongst the masses.

Once you’ve got your look sorted, then it’s time to get kitted with primary and secondary weapons as well as one supplementary gear slot for grenades, mines or the obligatory rocket launcher. Commandos and mercenaries have a nice array of weapons on offer including SMG’s, assault rifles, shotties and sniper rifles which can have scopes and laser sights equipped if you’re so inclined. If you choose to lug around a rocket launcher though, expect your mobility to be severely impaired, and make sure a team-mate has your back. Weapons-wise everybody plays the game on a level playing field as all the game’s weapons are selectable from the get-go. There’s no unlocking or upgrading as your skill level or rank increases or if you earn one of the many trophies – and I can see the sensibility in this choice.

If you’ve played any SOCOM game for any significant length of time then Confrontation’s controls should fit like a well worn glove. The only real difference is the use of the Sixaxis controller to peer around corners by tilting it left or right, down to go prone and up to peek over cover. This feels a little weird at first, as does any Sixaxis involvement in any game, but you soon realise the beauty of the reasoning behind it as this frees up the shoulder buttons for other uses. Before you know it, you’re tilting the controller to peek around corners like you’ve been doing it your whole life. The game also has a new camera perspective – an over the shoulder view much like Ghost Recon. Don’t worry, you can switch to the classic third-person chase view, but to be honest I found SOCOM worked better in this new view, especially if you’re playing stealthily or sniping. It’s nice to be able to have the choice though.

Speaking of playing stealthily, that’s exactly what this game is all about. Gamers with a gung-ho, run & gun attitude will not only get killed quickly and piss off your teammates, but probably get your team killed in the process. And there are no respawns in any of the ranked matches - get killed in the first thirty seconds and you’re spectating for the remaining time.

Confrontation is all about teamwork, communication and tactics. The team that talks to each other and works with each other will often win out in the end. This means that you need a headset to play successfully. You can play without one, but you’ll be more of a hindrance than a help and will most likely get booted the moment anyone realises you’re incommunicado.

There are six different modes of gameplay, including the usual variants of deathmatch and objective-based matches which have commandos attempting to advance on a series of barriers while the mercenaries defend both them and the intended target. Another, Extraction, sees commandos rescuing several hostages from the mercenary team. All games require strategy and continual communication amongst team members to achieve victory. This teamwork is enhanced by making organising clans a breeze. It’s easy to arrange matches and tournaments by sending messages to multiple recipients.

The maps, or distinct lack of, is perhaps one of the bigger disappointments in the game. There’s only seven and all of them are based around urban environments. No swamps or jungle localities here, just your standard abandoned towns that we’ve all seen before. That’s not to say they aren’t fun to play, as all require different tactics to play on. One has high-rises for sniping and another has streets and alleyways converging on central courtyard which is great for intense gun battles. Veterans will recognize a couple of the maps from previous SOCOM games, but these have been expanded on to support up to 32 players at once. It’s just that there’s not enough variation in the maps which makes the game seem even smaller and lacking in substance.

Graphically, apart from the aforementioned average character models, the game still suffers from pop-up and there’s really no excuse for it. The lighting is first-rate and some of the little touches here and there make you think at least someone was paying attention during the making of this game. The score is standard gaming fare, but the audio for the weaponry is some of the best I’ve heard. The sound of your weapons firing really gives them a presence.

So the big question remaining, and perhaps the most important for an online game is how the servers are holding up. The answer is – so so. It’s obvious they’ve improved dramatically since the well documented teething problems, but still the loading times are horrific while waiting for a match to load and I still encountered significant lag in about half my matches – faring better if there were several Kiwis or Aussies playing. When it all game together and I found a game which ran well then SOCOM: Confrontationn was an excellent and rewarding tactical multiplayer experience.

At the end of the day, had SOCOM: Confrontation been the multiplayer component of SOCOM 4 alongside the single player campaign then Sony would have a surefire winner on their hands. But when you consider that this was purpose-built for online-only 32 player competitive gaming, then the game should be polished, sharp and problem free upon release, especially considering this is a first-party title.