Gunplay has never been easy to make fun on the PSPB — the device’s one analog stick makes it difficult for players to both aim and move. So when the incredibly popular “SOCOM” franchise first made it’s way to the portable, the game felt like it was making the best of a bad situation. (Ditto the sequel.) But with a new development team in charge, and the concept of having to aim and move thrown out the window, “SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs Tactical Strike” is both fun and easy to play. Third time is the charm, particularly in online play.
This time around, gamers control a team of four members of a Special Forces team called upon to rescue the ambassador to Panama after a rebel force captures him. The game has players strategically taking out bad guys in jungle, urban and industrial centers inside the increasingly unstable country. Gamers can choose to control a SEAL team or members of a Special Forces unit from the U.K., Australia, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, South Korea or the Netherlands.
Instead of the traditional controls of moving the team around and shooting bad guys, “Tactical Strike” has players issue commands to the members individually, as squads of two or the entire four-man unit.
Either tapping or holding one of the four buttons can bring up a variety of commands, from ordering teammates to attack a target, use suppression fire to pin down an enemy, or throw a grenade. The commands can also be delayed, allowing gamers to set up multiple squads around a map and start firing all at once.
This more thoughtful approach to warfare takes away the visceral thrill of a run-and-gun shooter, but makes up for that with more thoughtful and accessible gameplay. “SOCOM” franchise is no longer hampered by the lack of two analog sticks, and, in fact, the game is much more engaging than most of the first-person shooters available on the PSP.
Missions are mapped out rather linearly, but the range of tactics available make the game feel fairly open ended. Unfortunately, the artificial intelligence of the bad guys leaves quite a bit to be desired. Engaging in a firefight with the enemy rarely seems to alert nearby units that their base is under attack, and while Tactical Strike gives gamers a plethora of strategies to use on the bad guys, the bad guys rarely take advantage of the same moves in return.
This doesn’t gut the game, but it certainly removes some of the luster. Fortunately, “Tactical Strike” isn’t just about the single-player mode. Players also can go online for matches of two-on-two or four-on-four.
This seamless online play is ultimately the game’s salvation, opening up a battlefield that allow players to test their tactics as much as their reflexes.