Oct 26, 2007
You may wonder how a third-person shooter could fit into an RTS, but it makes sense when you don't try to imagine the typical overhead-view, build a base, control an army RTS. SOCOM Tactical Strike puts you in control of exactly four men, and you are right down on the ground with them, using an over-the-shoulder camera similar to other SOCOM games. In fact, it's not far off from the single-player missions where you gave orders to your squadmates. The difference here is that you don't do the actual aiming, and instead focus on planning confrontations before they happen.
At first, the method of controlling your two two-man teams is confusing and awkward, and the tutorial is far from helpful. Once you experiment on your own, you'll eventually be moving around and giving orders like it's second nature. The interface is definitely a bit clunky, requiring you to hold down buttons to bring up menus multiple times for some commands, and all while the game is not paused. It's easy, even when you're used to the system, to accidentally give the wrong commands. Still, considering the huge obstacle of translating complex RTS controls to a handheld, it's surprisingly easy to get your teams to perform cool flanking and crossfire maneuvers simultaneously.
The game is all about setup and planning, and it makes you think because the enemies are deadly. Between missions you can upgrade each squad member's stats RPG-style, and choose from a huge assortment of weapons and equipment. These decisions matter immensely - it's the difference between a smooth mission and total disaster.
Pulling off a successful attack while taking minimal damage is thrilling and satisfying. However, there are some significant problems that can interfere with your ability to do so. While it's cool to have a camera that's down in the action instead of floating high above, sometimes it can feel a little too close. With your teams constantly hiding behind cover, you'll want to peek over or around obstacles a lot, but the only ways to look around are by moving the aiming reticle about or switching to binoculars - neither of which help when your men won't peek their heads out, or their bodies are in the way of where you're trying to look. This can be compounded by nearby objects stopping the camera from rotating or shoving the view even closer to your soldier's backs.
The real issue that leads to frustration is your soldiers often not doing what you want them to. You'll tell them to sneak to cover, but one of them chooses to go right in the open and get caught. You'll tell them to retreat in a dire situation, and they'll run right back toward the enemy and all get killed. These problems wouldn't be so bad if the game wasn't so unforgiving - one mistake on your part, or one idiotic thing your men do, and it's all over in a split-second... and sometimes you'll find yourself starting at a save point a looong ways back.
Another annoyance is that your men often won't fire on an enemy two feet in front of them even when you directly tell them to attack that enemy. Most of the time you want to keep your men in a mode called "Hold Fire" which keeps them from randomly firing at enemies and revealing your position. They are supposed to still fire on any targets that shoot them, or any you give orders to attack - but it doesn't always work.
Sometimes you can be hacking a panel to open a door, and an enemy will suddenly appear around the corner behind you. You can frantically tell your men to attack the enemy (a direct order that's supposed to override "Hold Fire"), yet your men will just sit there for several seconds while one of them takes heavy damage. The guy who's getting shot responds appropriately by shooting back, but the other three just watch him getting killed before going "Oh, you've been telling us to help our buddy kill that guy for the last 5 seconds, okay, NOW we'll shoot!" That's not quite good enough.
We have no problem with getting killed for making a mistake. But losing your team multiple times because they don't follow orders gets annoying. Still, the game from the outset requires serious patience, and if you play both patiently and meticulously, you'll be able to avoid some of the frustrations your soldiers can create. If you factor into your plans the possibilities of your commands not being followed perfectly, you can have a slow-burn, satisfying experience.