May 11, 2007 - Though franchises like Gran Turismo, God of War, Ratchet and Jak, along with third-party franchises like Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy, are the tops of Sony's exclusive titles list and help sell more systems than pretty much anything else on any of its platforms, arguably the most important series from a technical standpoint is SOCOM. The series helped launch the PlayStation 2's Network Adapter and headset support, and pushed the PSP's networking capabilities further than any other title. And let's not forget that it also introduced the underutilized voice support on the handheld system. So it's no surprise that the series is seeing another PSP release this year that will continue to push some changes.
But this isn't the SOCOM that you might be expecting. Rather than sticking to its first/third-person shooter roots, SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Tactical Strike is more of a strategy game, though one that features just as much action as its predecessors. Indeed, this isn't your father's turn-based strategy title where every move is thought out and planned to perfection, but rather a reactionary title that tasks you think on the fly while bullets whiz around your squadron's heads.
Tactical Strike's draw distance allows for plenty of open battles.
Tactical Strike is something of a cross between Full Spectrum Warrior and the squad command element from Brother in Arms. You're in command of four soldiers broken into two smaller fire teams, and you're able to issue commands to either team, an individual soldier or all four guys at the same time.
Unit selection is simple - tapping R swaps between the teams while tapping L will switch between the two guys on the currently selected team, and holding down R selects everyone. It's an easy method that allows you to cycle through soldiers painlessly. The only small gripe we have, and this is quite possibly due to very limited experience with the game, is that you can sometimes become slightly disoriented while switching between separated teams. It's not because of camera movement but rather because it takes you a second to recognize the environment and their placement. Again, this is likely due to a lack of playtime with the game and we imagine it's something you'd quickly get used to, especially if you actually think about what you're doing and keep track of what's going on.
Once you have your men selected, you'll find that the command list is very similar to what we've seen in past SOCOM games. Each command button has a quick context command that will perform your most likely maneuver, or in some cases, the last command you used. So for example, tapping X while pointing at any enemy will have your men attack, while holding X for a second will open up the options for suppression fire, fire at will, hold fire and so forth.
The hardest enemies to kill are the ones you can't see.
One problem with some other strategy titles is that you can't always be certain how your men will line up behind certain bits of cover. Tactical Strike gives you a "ghost" preview of sorts with transparent forms showing where your men will go, allowing you to see if you're sending them into danger or not. If you want to specifically place each and every soldier, rather than having to cycle through and move them one-by-one, the Deploy Fireteam option allows you the ability to place each soldier in succession, and then they all move out at once. On a similar front, you also have the ability to issue a series of commands and have your men wait for your mark, allowing you to plan a simultaneous, multi-faceted attack.
There are two main elements to most encounters in Tactical Strike, the setup and the execution. The setup can be pretty easy in that so long as the enemy doesn't see you coming, you should have plenty of time to get situated in whatever way you want. From what we've seen, most every encounter will have enough cover and vantage points that you'll be able to utilize all kinds of strategies. Of course, you can just run in guns blazing, but the chance of you coming out unscathed is very close to zero and the time we tried it ended up with all four men dead in a matter of seconds.