SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Tactical Strike Review

I'm not sure why, but Sony's PSP mantra seems to be, “Portable versions of beloved franchises mustn't bear any resemblance to their console bigger brothers. Instead, we need tactical gameplay, dammit!” When the PSP first game out, Metal Gear Solid was the first to get this treatment, with the release of the two admittedly excellent Metal Gear Ac!d titles. Next came Final Fantasy, with the remake of the original Final Fantasy Tactics. Now, PSP owners have been treated to a tactical portable version of the popular SOCOM franchise. I'm not complaining, as most of these have been rather good games, but if someone stopped you on the street and said, “Hey man… which system should I get for tactical versions of established action and RPG titles?” your answer would have to be the PSP.

The popular online shooter SOCOM doesn't make the jump quite as well as Final Fantasy or Metal Gear did, but Tactical Strike is still a very enjoyable game. If you aren't familiar with the SOCOM series, all you really need to know is that you're in charge of a four person squad of Marines who are there to shoot at bad guys, terrorists and non-Christians (haha… just kidding… sort of). The structure of Tactical Strike is essentially the same, though the gameplay is slightly different. You'll still control four Marines, but instead of dealing out well-placed headshots, you'll be placing them around the battlefield in a game that more resembles Chess than the ‘shoot first, ask questions later' theme of the console versions.

The best way to think of Tactical Strike is to imagine what Final Fantasy Tactics or Jeanne D'Arc would be without the standard grid-based movement. Instead, you have the freedom to move one or all of your characters pretty much where you want, but the ideas of setting up attacks and planning ahead are still intact. For example, the first level places your squad in a South American country where some rebels have captured a U.S. official and a higher up in the local government. You'll have four Marines to work with so you'll want to use one of two to attack and the others to cut off the rebel's escape route. After you play with the game for a bit, you'll realize that it makes almost as much sense to present SOCOM in this manner as it does in the conventional shooter model.

As badly as I really wanted to like this game, it has a few issues that, in the end, I just couldn't get past. My main complaint was the game's camera. One of the things that make other tactical games work is that you can view the entire map at once from above. Tactical Strike doesn't allow that luxury. Instead, you'll still have the same behind-the-back view that only works marginally well in the SOCOM action titles. Here, it can be absolutely maddening. On more than one occasion, I was ambushed by enemies, not because I was playing sloppily, but because I couldn't see around the next corner. Frustrating doesn't even begin to describe it.