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SOCOM: Tactical Strike - in the trenches

 Aug 20, 2007

In case there are any Fireteam Bravo fans out there who still haven't heard, the next SOCOM game for PSP won't be a shooter - which probably won't come as crushing news to most of you, seeing as traditional SOCOM never felt quite right on the PSP anyway. Instead, SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Tactical Strike takes a real-time strategy approach, putting players in command of a four-man SEAL squad that they'll need to carefully guide through firefights, hostage rescues and other tense situations - all while never actually pulling the trigger.

When things heat up, Tactical Strike's methodical, strategic approach actually makes for a fast, intense game - although it's hard to understand that if you haven't played it. That might have been part of the reason Sony hauled us - along with a busload of other journalists - out to a remote compound in Ontario, Calif., not only to try out the game, but to see firsthand that squad tactics are anything but dull.

By "seeing firsthand," we mean we were split up into five-man squads, handed Airsoft guns (realistic replicas that fire hard plastic pellets) and shoved into an anti-rebel simulation in a dark warehouse. Said warehouse had been reshaped into a convincing replica of a sleepy Panamanian town square, complete with parked cars, a fountain and screaming Airsoft pros who'd been hired to shoot at us. Our only goal would be to make it to the "embassy" - actually just the exit from the staging area - in one piece, covering our squadmates and following orders from our squad leader, another journalist taking the "player" role. It was hot and muggy and we were all weighted down with camo BDUs, gunbelts, sweaters, ALICE harnesses and floppy hats (all graciously provided by the Airsoft guys), bringing us a little closer to how a soldier in sweltering Panama might actually feel.

Not coincidentally, Panama is also one of the settings for Tactical Strike, as the SEALs - or the British SAS, or any of the seven other multinational elite forces you can play as - are called in to help put down a group of rebels-turned-narcoterrorists. Over the course of the game's missions, you'll battle through jungles, city streets and drug-baron mansions, ordering your SEALs around as either a four-man unit, two two-man "elements" or as individuals. Using a simple interface, you'll tell them when to move, where to take cover and who to kill, and once you get the hang of it, it's a lot of fun - not to mention really, really deep.

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