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SOCOM: Tactical Strike Hands-On Update

We delve deeper into Slant Six's strategic, portable take on Sony's popular military shooter series.


Developer Slant Six Games is moving into the final phase of development on the latest SOCOM game for the PSP, Tactical Strike, and we got a chance to get our hands on a not-quite-beta version of the game at a recent press event. Where the last two SOCOM: Fireteam Bravo games have attempted to emulate the direct-control, run-and-gun nature of the hit PlayStation 2 titles, Slant Six has wisely taken Tactical Strike in a more methodically paced strategic direction that seems like it will be a better fit for the platform. You won't be taking aim and pulling the trigger yourself this time around, but you'll certainly be employing the same kind of tactics and maneuvers that real Navy SEALs use in the field.

If you've played one of the Full Spectrum Warrior games, you'll be familiar with the basic gameplay model in Tactical Strike. You've got a four-man team split into two elements, able and bravo, and you can move all four of your guys at once, in pairs or individually. As we mentioned in our last look at the game, issuing commands is quite easy. For instance, you can pop up the movement cursor at the touch of a button, and once you move it to your desired destination, you'll see silhouettes of your SEALs appear at the positions where they would naturally take cover. You can similarly issue orders for firing and taking other actions quickly with one or two button presses in most cases, if you want to just get your guys moving and shooting quickly. Slant Six design director David Seymour says that you'll be able to recklessly run-and-gun most of the way through the easy difficulty level, but if you're looking for any sort of significant challenge on the regular or higher levels, you'll have to get tactical.

We were able to get a better feel for the game's command interface and visual lexicon this time around. For instance, those movement and attack commands are much more flexible than you'd think. When you're ready to issue a command, you can hold down the button to pull up a list of the possible variations on that particular command; so for movement, you can instruct your SEAL or team to move quickly or stealthily, as the situation demands. The firing options are even more diverse. You can target a specific enemy to have your SEALs take out that one enemy, or you can establish a "field of fire" with a large onscreen bracket that will automatically target and deal with any enemies contained within. You can also issue a general suppressive fire order, which is most useful when given to only a portion of your troops. They'll keep the enemy down while the other SEALs move to new cover, for instance. On the game's heads-up display, you'll see an icon indicating the fire state of each individual SEAL, and highlights on both the SEALs' HUD elements and their character models will give you quick reference as to which character or team you have selected.

It's still SOCOM, but now you'll have time to think before pulling the trigger.
It's still SOCOM, but now you'll have time to think before pulling the trigger.

We had a chance to jump straight into the game's first mission, which will also serve as the game's tutorial, to see how the action starts off. The mission is set in Panama City, where a group of insurgents ominously named La Mano los Gente has attacked the office of the interior minister in a coordinated coup attempt. Naturally, it's your job to get in, take out the bad guys, and get out. This mission provided us with the option to start with a tutorial or simply jump into the mission via "insertion point A," and thinking back to our own years of intense SEAL training, we naturally opted for the latter. It seems as though later levels may give you a similar option to enter the mission area from different locations in order to employ different strategies, though we haven't seen those levels firsthand just yet.

In the Panama City mission, we began on a dock and had to move slowly down the deserted streets, taking cover behind cars and other large objects as we moved toward a warehouse we had to breach and enter. Upon reaching the warehouse's locked chain fence, which had two sentries patrolling behind it, we saw how we could use a variety of equally viable strategies to progress. We moved our able element close to the gate where they could take cover behind an 18-wheeler parked in front of it, while our bravo element hung back behind a car farther up the street. One of our able team SEALs was equipped with frag grenades, so we attempted to lob one over the fence and take out both enemies at once. However, you won't get to use any omniscient overhead camera views in Tactical Strike--your perspective is limited to what your SEALs can see themselves--so we unfortunately expended our rather limited supply of grenades without any success. Since our blind grenade-throwing skills weren't up to snuff, we noted that moving the cursor over the gate showed us a lock icon, meaning we could direct one of our troops to move over and attempt to pick the lock on the gate. Of course, that's where our bravo team came in handy, as they could lay down suppressing fire to keep the enemies at bay while the able team went about its business.

During the event, we were fortunate enough to speak to some real-life Navy SEALs and observe a few of their practices and tactics in the field, which helped inform our understanding of a game. One SEAL told us that urban warfare is essentially a game of angles; you have to consider the angles from which any potentially hidden enemies can see you, as well as all the angles and directions you and your comrades are currently covering. SEALs move in the field as an omnidirectional unit, striving for a full 360 degrees of coverage, and we saw this reflected in Tactical Strike as our own SEALs moved from cover to cover. This even extends to the interface of the game in some key ways. For instance, whenever your SEALs make visual confirmation of an enemy, that enemy will be added to the game's internal list of "enemies the SEALs can see," and then you can cycle through all those known targets easily with the D pad. This makes it a lot easier to keep track of tangos that can sometimes blend into or hide behind the environment at long distances.

You can switch between your able and bravo teams with the touch of a button.
You can switch between your able and bravo teams with the touch of a button.

Tactical Strike looks like it's shaping up into quite a diverse and entertaining package for fans of military tactics, though we'll be curious to see how the hardcore shooter community embraces its slower pacing and heavier tactical elements. We're also curious to see the game's multiplayer, which we haven't gotten our hands on yet. Speaking of which, Seymour mentioned during our demo that the game will offer a bonus to those who conquer its toughest difficulty settings. You'll be able to play both single- and multiplayer modes with your choice of nationality for your special forces, and you'll gain access to a secret 10th faction when you finish the game on the highest difficulty. Who these guys are and whether they'll have any special gear or abilities remains to be seen, but we'll do our best to find out before SOCOM: Tactical Strike's early-November release date.

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