If you ever imagined that being a SWAT officer is an exciting and rewarding profession, Target Liberty will feed you a healthy dose of reality. In this stealth/action game's world, people can't move faster than a brisk walk, civilians must often be beat on the head to comply, and the Department of Homeland Security is willing to let a team of three local boys deal with nuke-wielding terrorists on their own. There are quite a few ridiculous elements at play in Target Liberty, and the ensuing action usually boils down to repeating the same basic tasks over and over again. Yet in spite of the occasional tedium and dreary, late-blooming storyline, Target Liberty has its enjoyable moments. It just needed a lot more of them.
Target Liberty's first misstep is its story. As Kurt Wolfe, you and your "team" of two officers are involved in a turf war between rival Korean gangs in New York City. But these things really are never as they seem, are they? Eventually, the boring tale of thugs terrorizing Central Park turns into a nuclear standoff between your tiny troop and a small army of terrorists. It's not clear why the three of you are the only available specialists to handle a nuclear scare in America's largest city. What is clear is that the narrative's excruciatingly slow start ensures that you never feel terribly involved with what's going on. Never has a story of impending destruction been so devoid of suspense.
You control the action from an overhead view, moving Kurt around using the analog button. He's trailed by two officers, though you do have some rudimentary control over them. You can manually order them to various locations, have them bust down a door and toss a grenade before entering, or order them to restrain and interrogate witnesses. Issuing commands to your yes-men is simple, thanks to context-sensitive button presses, and manual movement is performed by holding the right shoulder button and moving the reticle that appears to the location you want the officers to move.
You also have some room to customize your officers. There are a few officers to choose from, and they bring different strengths to your missions. Gramps is a survey specialist, so he's better at spotting enemies from further away than the others. Subway focuses on negotiation, so he can get better information from suspects when interrogating. You can choose their weapons, and even customize whether you want them to subdue enemies without killing them or just shoot them down. At the end of each mission, you earn a score based on how many suspects you subdued, how many statuses you reported, and so on. As your score total rises, your officers get better at their roles.
It's nice to have the guys along for the ride, and the artificial intelligence does a reasonable job of keeping them helpful. But even with the AI teammates, every mission turns into a litany of the same moves, over and over. Move to a doorway. Peek under it with a mirror. Order your officers to infiltrate the room--perhaps gassing it in the process. Engage in limited firefight with a small array of enemies. Restrain and interrogate everyone in the room. Move to the next doorway. And so on. This could have been more enjoyable if the action itself was more interesting, but it's awkwardly paced and lacks intensity.
Part of this is because Target Liberty fancies itself as a stealth game: You can position yourself behind objects and peek out, and your movement speed--even when running--is somewhere between tortoise crawl and zombie lurch. But the overly streamlined controls shoot the game in the foot. Hiding behind a planter or pressing yourself up against a wall happens automatically--sometimes when you don't realize it. You may find an enemy suddenly upon you, and your attempt to run (or in this case, jauntily meander) to a better location will be foiled because you are glued to the wall. Yet when you want to take cover, you can't always make it work right. But you can't get satisfaction by going in guns a-blazing, either. Not only do you get bonus points for making it through a mission without killing anyone, but your bullets have a tendency to go flying through the bodies of your enemies while all of their shots land squarely on your forehead. And since you usually take on only a few foes at a time, the action is over before you know it. Sadly, Target Liberty can't maintain the balancing act between its stealth elements (which are too loose) and its action (which is too bland).
Yet the game retains your interest more than it has any right to, if only because of its superficial delights. You can order suspects and civilians to comply by pressing the triangle button, but sometimes civilians won't listen, so you have to run up and bash them on the head before you can restrain them. Both suspects and innocents will spout a few different one-liners, and while they get repetitive, they can be cheesily amusing. And if nothing else, there is a lot of visual splendor to gawk at. Levels like Grand Central Station and Coney Island capture the gritty nature of the Big Apple remarkably well, while the abandoned hospital map is appropriately creepy. Rats scurry, trees sway, and rooms are packed with small details. Too bad it takes such an excruciatingly long time to load all these pretty trinkets between missions.
It may take you only five hours or so to finish the campaign, though completists may want to revisit the missions for higher scores, or to find the collectible art scattered about. You can also experience the clumsy action with up to three others, provided they have their own copies of the game. In football mode, hostages spawn on the map, and they follow you (walking like a daddy longlegs in the process) to different corners of the map to score points. In rodeo round-up, you compete for points by killing or subduing terrorists, much like in the campaign. And in great escape mode, one player escorts a gang leader to safety while the others try to prevent the escape. None of these modes are all that fun, thanks to the slow movement speed of your avatar, so you'll get an hour or so of enjoyment out of any of them, tops.
SWAT: Target Liberty is a generic shooter that is neither tactical nor especially action-packed. It tries to toe the line between stealth and gunplay, but fails to succeed at either. You can squeeze some fun out of it, but you won't remember anything about it the following day.