SWAT: Target Liberty Hands-On First Look

Sierra will bring its PC-based tactical shooter series to the PSP later this year, and we got to try out an early build to see how it will translate.

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The long-running SWAT series has its roots all the way back in the PC graphic-adventure tradition, beginning with Sierra On-Line's classic Police Quest series, which debuted in 1987. After almost two decades, numerous sequels, and a transition to first-person tactical action gameplay, SWAT will finally get its first portable installment later this year with the PSP game SWAT: Target Liberty. At a Sierra press event, we recently had a chance to try out an early build of the new game, which eschews the first-person action of its PC cousins in favor of an overhead orientation that seems like it will be more fitting for the handheld's smaller screen and relatively limited controls.

The perspective has changed, but the police work is the same.
The perspective has changed, but the police work is the same.

Given the varied and mediocre success rate of first-person shooters on the PSP, the decision to go third person was more than likely a wise one on the part of the designers. You'll play the part of a SWAT leader with a team of four other officers at your disposal, and you'll be able to select two officers to accompany you into each of the game's 12 missions. You'll control your own character directly with the analog stick, while the two support officers will follow your movements and actions by default. So not only will they trail closely behind you as you move into a new room, but they'll also mimic your weapon selection if you've got a nonlethal weapon equipped. You can also position your teammates independently of your own movement with a cursor in point-and-click fashion.

SWAT's combat isn't entirely automated, but it does make significant concessions to the relatively imprecise control scheme of the PSP. Basically, anytime you enter a room containing enemies, each of them will be flagged with one of the PSP's face buttons. So to fire at the enemy labeled with the square button, you simply press the square (imagine that). But you don't get a guaranteed hit; an expanding targeting reticle indicates your accuracy at your current distance from the target. Each mission also features random enemy placement, so you won't be able to just memorize the locations of enemies before you bust into a room. Sometimes you'll take part in other sorts of shooting, such as a hostage situation we saw. We were able to access a sniping mode that gave us a first-person, through-the-scope aiming view, which we used to pick off the bad guys while making sure not to hit the hapless hostages.

True to SWAT standards, you'll want to apprehend rather than kill as many suspects as possible. To that end, you can hit a button to verbally order all hostiles to submit to your handcuffs; then you can approach them and further encourage them with the butt of your rifle if they don't take the hint. Again, you can order your teammates to cuff the suspects automatically if you want to focus on the next task. Of course, the worst crooks will leave you no choice but to shoot it out, but you'll want to avoid a reprimand by not gunning down every shady character that looks at you funny.

A random-map generator should give the multiplayer mode solid replay value.
A random-map generator should give the multiplayer mode solid replay value.

Target Liberty is set in New York City and the surrounding areas, with missions taking place in such noteworthy locations as Grand Central Station, Ellis and Coney Islands, Central Park, and more. Sierra didn't fill us in on many of the story's particulars, but we do know that the game's narrative was written by Scott Rosenbaum, executive producer of the gritty cable cop drama The Shield. And when you've had your fill of the story mode, there will be a team-based multiplayer mode for up to four players. This mode is still being fleshed out, so we didn't get to take a look at it, but it will feature a random map generator that assembles levels out of component parts, which will hopefully give the competitive action some extra longevity.

We got to see only a few minutes of SWAT in action, but it looks as though the designers are giving due thought to making the game work well on the PSP. We'll find out exactly how well it will work when the game ships around the third quarter of this year.

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