So long Zipper and thanks for all the kills

Years ago there was a game called Spec Ops: Stealth Patrol on PS1. It was terrible. The AI was psychic, it looked like someone had left a ‘present’ in a sandpit and stirred it up, and there was a bug that meant the difficulty options had been reversed. But. It had one thing that kept me coming back: you could control another man.

At the time that was my mind blown. On the way back from the shop I planned flanking manoeuvres and carefully staged pincer attacks – me and my new digital friend were going to be the ultimate 80s action movie team, running in slow-mo through exploding enemy camps.

What actually happened was this: I would spend hours painstakingly crawling, pixel by pixel, through levels only to be shot to ribbons by guards so far away they were potentially in another country. It was a tedious, soul destroying ballache at every stage and so very, very hard.

The order system consisted of essentially saying ‘walk in the direction I’m facing’ or ‘stop’. Using this method you could, by spinning on the spot and shouting, guide the other character through levels like a lobotomised Big Trak. All in the hope of setting up a crossfire. It never worked. Guards could detect you through mountains, I’d lose my team mate because he’d got his face stuck in a tree, or I’d die in a gunfight against distant brown specks while my back up rotated gently on the spot to get a better look at the moon.

But, oh, that one time it worked. He popped up from behind a sandbag. I popped up from behind a sandbag. We both opened fire and when the smoke cleared most of the people who were dead weren’t us. I was hooked. I traded and re-bought that stupid frustrating game three times because every time I was away from it I convinced myself it would work next time.

Then SOCOM came out and it was love at first GO LOUD. It had orders. Multiple. And three people to boss about. They did what you told them (mostly), they went where you told them (mostly) and when they got stuck in trees they at least seemed to be sorry about it.

I spent hours creeping through jungles and ordering people around. I even played it online using the big brick network adaptor you had to screw on to the back of the PS2. My flatmate at the time was a full time security guard, a part time not-a-real-policeman policeman and for some reason owned a bulletproof vest. He loved it. We spend countless Friday nights drinking beer, discussing the best guns and playing multiplayer games for literally seconds before being killed and having to watch 15 minutes of other people dying.

It didn’t matter that we were dead almost straight away. The thrill of every moment we didn’t die was electric, as was seeing other people online. Real people piped through a 14k modem stretched on a taut wire from the hall to my room. Real people with superhuman reactions and aim. Real people I grew to hate eventually. But it was beautiful in the beginning.

SOCOM might have gone off the boil in the last few years but there’s a sizable chunk of my life defined by it. Me and my mate passing the controller as we fought on a 14 inch portable TV; my first real experience of online multiplayer, and realising I probably shouldn’t wear a headset if I was going to use that kind of language. Many of the combination swears I still use online today were shaped by SOCOM’s no respawn, hardcore difficulty. And a Spanish clan with questionable tactics.

So thanks for all that Zipper. I had a great time. I can still remember some of the 2002 game’s maps. Especially crawling up to reach The Ruins’ temple top sniping point. Mainly because I rarely lived long enough to reach it. I’ve many fond memories of my PS2 experiences and I even got a job out of it – one of my staff writer application examples was a SOCOM review, so I kind of owe you Zipper. Best of luck to you all.