SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo

Tactically Proficient

SOCOM: Tactical Strike manages to present Sony's best-selling license in a new way that's entirely at home on the PSP.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: November 18, 2007
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It still amazes me how popular the SOCOM games really are. The decision to make the game a squad-focused online affair was almost single-handedly the reason why the PlayStation 2 had any online presence at all, and the games are still played religiously to this day -- good news for those holding out for the upcoming the upcoming online-only PS3 game.

But the PSP isn't a PS2, and it certainly isn't a PS3, both in terms of hardware muscle and in control scheme. Sure, there have been direct SOCOM entries in the past, and in truth they were actually pretty damn good, but what the series needed was something that wasn't trimmed or tweaked for the PSP, but was actually at its core a PSP game, and developer Slant Six Games actually delivered.

SOCOM: Tactical Strike uses the license to fantastic effect, but better than that, they created a game that is wholly unique on the PSP, incorporating some basic elements from more tactical shooters like Full Spectrum Warrior while combining them with familiar settings, commands and the overall feel of a traditional SOCOM game. The result is intoxicating -- when it works, and unfortunately, for as many thrilling ups as the game produces, there are nearly as many (if not more) moments where you'll want to chuck your PSP out the window.

For starters, the game is something of a load-heavy behemoth. Thanks to more than a few cheap deaths (which I'll get to in a moment), you'll be staring at the game's logo with only a spinning icon in the lower-right of the screen for what seems like minutes at a time. Though the game tries to be fairly forgiving about allowing you to revive fallen teammates (even with limited medipacks for regaining health, you can revive someone an infinite number of times until a little overall health meter completely drains), the camera (which sticks to the back of one of the squadmates and is limited to their field of view for the most part) can paint your squad into some sticky situations.

Top this all off with almost nonexistent checkpoints and no way to create your own with manual saves and Tactical Strike ends up becoming an arduous exercise in tedium. The fact that you're graded at the end of the missions and then given upgrade points to improve things like stealth or overall health or accuracy -- not to mention proficiency with different weapons -- means there's even more pressure to execute more or less improbable missions impossibly well. Sure, you can fail here and there, but it'll affect things down the line, in both the later parts of a current mission (some of which seem to stretch on forever) and in future missions.

All of the ingredients for a solid game are here, and at times they sync up beautifully; being able to stack commands with your squad and then execute them simultaneously can lead to gleefully quick encounters from multiple angles, with four or five enemies all taking dirt naps in the span of a few seconds before everything goes still again. It's just as you'd imagine a SEAL insertion would go, and for this Tactical Strike should be applauded.

Unfortunately, those moments require two things: a ton of pre-planning and maneuvering into position without being seen before the attack, and a reliance on the game's AI to get your men there since you have no direct control over their movement. When just one of these things goes wrong, it can mean an instant end to the mission, and when your men run outside of a building into the open to breach a door from the wrong side, only to be stand still and get gunned down by an enemy not 10 feet away, it's enough to make someone swear off the game entirely. That Navy SEALs could be so grossly incompetent when, say, firing on someone on the other side of a crate, unloading entire clips and hitting nothing while being taken out almost instantly by the tango, it just makes one question how so much else about the game could be done right without thinking about the close-range parts of it.
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