SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Tactical StrikeESRB:
Developer – Slant Six Games
Publisher - Sony Computer Entertainment
Memory Stick Due 650 KB
PSP Headset Compatible
Wi-Fi Compatible (Ad Hoc) (2-4 Players)
Wi-Fi Compatible (Infastructure) (2-4 Players)
With two previous SOCOM games already on the market since the launch of Sony’s Portable Playstation; SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Tactical Strike arrives on the PSP with little hoopla. When our Editor-in-Chief handed me the game last week I was stunned that there was another SOCOM game as I hadn’t heard much about its release. Unlike previous games in the series, SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Tactical Strike was developed by Slant Six Games as opposed to Zipper Interactive. Having played and enjoyed previous SOCOM games I was very curious to see if Tactical Strike could not only live up to previous instalments of the franchise, but exceed them as well. So does the new game pay off? I think so, but prepare yourself for a bit of an overhaul.
The visuals in SOCOM Tactical Strike are stellar and are arguably the best aspect of the game. Granted the characters and environments are nothing new as we have seen similar soldiers in countless number of games from Call of Duty to Rainbow Six. The environments are no different. Nevertheless, by itself Tactical Strike is solid and overall looks great on the PSP’s 16x9 LCD Widescreen.
When you first fire up Tactical Strike you are treated with a slick looking SOCOM logo and a great opening cut-scene once you embark on your campaign. The cut-scene was well done and was presented quite nicely. My only concern is that the cut-scenes are few and far between. I was expecting to see some at the beginning and ending of each Mission however sadly this is not the case.
Another aspect that caught my eye were the lighting effects and the environments. The lighting is quite stunning and amongst some of the best I have seen on the PSP to date. The night missions are non-problematic and you won’t have any trouble seeing your way through these types of levels. As for the environments, they are quite large and nicely put together. The buildings look great and surrounding areas certainly create an effective combat atmosphere. The game’s maps are also very open so you don’t have that linear feeling you get from so many shooters already on the market. The solid visuals come at a cost however; this cost being long loading times. It can be painful at times, nevertheless it’s small price to pay for such slick looking visuals.
In terms of the character models, Tactical Strike features solid looking soldiers. The little details such as the handgun packed on the side of your characters pant leg to the detailed bullet proof vests with pockets, all add to the game’s realism. The characters move fluidly too, albeit a little to slow for my linking at times. Too bad there wasn’t a sprint button because at times it just seems like your squad of four is plodding along like turtles.
As far as the sound is concerned, SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Tactical Strike delivers. The game's sound is an excellent complement to the strong graphics. The game features a wide variety of weapons. It’s impressive enough that it will surely appease any ‘Guns & Ammo’ magazine subscriber or gun junkie out there. The different shotguns, pistols, machine guns, sniper rifles and rockets all appear to have very unique sound effects. The weapons sounds are sharp and bang-on. The explosions are also thundering and sound pretty good coming out of those tiny PSP speakers.
The voice acting, similar to previous versions of the franchise, is once again solid. In Tactical Strike you are also able to control many different special force groups such as SAS, South Korean, and American forces. The foreign forces all have voice tracks recorded in their native languages, so if you choose to play as one of the foreign forces you will see the subtitles in English. I thought this was very cool and added lots of realism to the game. The subtitles did not bother me in the least. If it bothers you, you can always go back and use the American soldiers. I should also mention the narrator’s voice heard in-between missions is also very clear and understandable.
The games audio soundtrack is also pretty good. It’s nothing incredibly original but it does the job and amps-up as the action becomes a little more intense. Overall Tactical Strike’s audio is well done and no serious concerns surface.
As I indicated at the top, SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Tactical Strike is a significant departure from SOCOM's previous style of gameplay, which was more ‘run and gun’. This time around you do not control any of your squad mates directly but rather you give them commands, such as move to a specific location, throw grenade, revive squad mate, etc., and the actions are done on the screen in front of you. Any of you who have played Full Spectrum Warrior will be familiar with Tactical Strike’s gameplay. At first it was very awkward and I kept thinking I must be doing something wrong. As I was going through the tutorial I kept wondering when they were going to show me how to shoot my weapon and reload. Going in, I had no idea this was how the game was to be played. Once you get past the initial learning curve the game becomes very enjoyable and navigating your squad becomes second nature.
The story is pretty simple and straight forward. The game begins with a cut-scene where the U.S. ambassador is meeting with the interior minister of Panama. A leader of insurgents named La Mano attacks the U.S. embassy. He eventually infiltrates the quarters where the Ambassador and Minster are meeting and he takes them both as hostage. The first level begins with you searching for the Ambassador. You don’t find him, instead you discover an agent who leads you closer to him. Without giving much more away, the same concept continues throughout the rest of the game and ultimately leaves you with of course, an ever so popular cliff-hanger. Overall, the story is very forgettable, irrelevant and bland. More or less, it’s something we have seen time and time again. I guess you just have to accept this as there are likely enough military/terrorist shooter story plots to fill up a hockey arena. Fortunately, you don’t have to pay too much attention to the story anyhow as the game pretty much guides you to where you are going.
The games missions play out quite nicely; most notably it takes some time to get through the levels as they are huge and your squad progresses more like a band of turtles than a band of brothers. As you progress through the missions you can either move you team of four together or you can split them up in two groups of two. For the most part, unless I absolutely had to, I kept the gang together. Moving your squad is easy as you simply hold down the circle button to bring up the movement icon. The game calls this icon a ‘skimmer’. Why they call it a skimmer, I have no clue. From there, you simply place the skimmer where you want to go. You can either make use of the map located in the top right corner of the screen or actually move the skimmer within the map. Here is where some troublesome camera issues come into play. Often the camera did not give me the best vantage point, especially in tight spaces. It can be problematic at times as you are spending far too much time messing around with the camera trying to get the icon to go where you want it. Often I found myself looking up at the map and back down into the game, just to try and get the icon where I wanted it to go. It may seem like a minor technical issue but it is an unfortunate re-occurring theme throughout.
Aside from the camera issues, controlling your squad mates and watching them knock down enemies is where the true entertainment value comes in. Surprisingly, your squad does a pretty good job killing the enemies, moving into position and communicating. It was actually much more rewarding than I thought it would be. Frankly, I thought I would have been bored stiff just giving orders to my squad all game long but that was not the case. On the other hand, the enemy AI really doesn’t offer much of a challenge unless they have you surrounded and you are somehow busy trying to revive a teammate. If an area appears to be too much of a challenge it is more likely that your squad mates are out of position as opposed to simply being out-gunned by the enemy.
Another issue which interferes with the gameplay is the save and checkpoint system. Whenever you hit a checkoint everything stops, the screen goes black and a menu appears. It asks you if you want to save the game. Most would say yes, as I did. So you click the button, the game saves, puses for a minute and then the game loads up again. I hated how everything came to a grinding halt when you hit a checkpoint as it really takes away from the gameplay as it interferes with the flow. I am not quite sure why the developers did not include an autosave or quick save feature but I think the game could have benefited from one.
Another concern is the reloading of the game when you die. Whenever your troop dies the game kicks you back out into the menu and you have to wait through those excruciatingly painfully long loading times to get back into the game. I can’t speak for everyone but I think it’s safe to say most of us prefer getting right back into the game with as little of delay after we have died.
As far as the multiplayer is concerned, SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Tactical Strike is fantastic and is surprisingly deep. Up to four players can battle each other online or offline. There are five modes and lots of customizable options. The five modes are: free for all, suppression, extract, collateral damage and demolition. Free for all is your typical deathmatch where everyone is fair game. Suppression is a team based deathmatch and extract is a mode where you escort a VIP to safety. Collateral damage is where you have to destroy a number of vehicles while the other team protects them. Finally, demolition is similar to the attack and defend modes we traditionally see in many shooters. All in all, the games are a blast aside from some occasional lag issues.
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