So close to greatness, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades
SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Tactical Strike offers diverse gameplay elements that expand on the SOCOM series. But it’s an expansion that hinders the series more than enriches it due to a number of technical flaws. These issues should have been remedied before the game was released. A few of these ingredients are raw, leaving us with a cake that’s somewhat half baked.
Looking on the good side, the cake is still edible. There’s plenty of gaming nourishment to be extracted from SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Tactical Strike, although you’ll have to spit out some of the unsavory bits. Most of the problems I encountered were with the single-player campaign. Here you’ll have to deal with camera control issues, stupid A.I. teammates, and some awkward command controls. These aren’t huge obstacles to come to terms with, but considering how great the rest of the game is, it’s just disappointing that these elements should be overlooked by the developers. The multiplayer mode has its own problems. It suffers from command delays. Not to mention the A.I. teammates are still just as stupid.
Controlling a four-member squad, the game blends elements of action, shooting, stealth, and strategy. There is a story, but it’s not presented in a dramatic fashion. There is no emotion involved. It’s treated as just another day at the office as the SEALs are commissioned with rescuing a fellow American diplomat from his Panamanian captors. It’s not so much told, as it’s revealed through communications with superiors and in mission briefings. At least the story is believable. It provides a good setting for the ensuing combat with plenty of jungle, rustic towns, and rundown industrial compounds to frolic in.
Embracing a slightly new direction for the series, SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Tactical Strike, streamlines some of the strategic elements in favor of more immediate action, which deepens the experience. Stealth is not what you would necessarily call action, but it bridges the gap between action and strategy segments. It plays an important role in the gameplay, but it doesn’t overshadow it. There is also plenty of shooting, but unlike previous SOCOM titles, the shooting is also tastefully restrained to provide a good balance of gameplay elements.
Teammates can be directly or indirectly controlled. Orders are easily issued by pressing one of the face buttons which will then open up an assortment of options. Only the most basic of commands are available which greatly streamlines the process. You don’t have to be a computer programmer to command your unit. Commands such as shoot, move, launch grenades, snipe, open doors, and hold, can be assigned in advance and processed in order of execution. Obeying orders is not a problem for your A.I., as they go about their tasks with extreme efficiency. The problem is that they seem to have huge deficiencies in their survival instinct. Standing up in the middle of a gunfight while eschewing their cover, is just plain ridiculous. You can’t make excuses for a move like that. Also, when taking cover, they will sometimes get stuck trying to move through an object rather than go around it. You’ll also have a bit of babysitting on your hands when you have to escort non-military A.I. through hostile territory. They will often walk ahead of you as though they are impervious to lead fillings. Fortunately, there are commands to tell them to get the #$%& down.
There is an assortment of squads that you can choose from, even selecting individual teammates. These choices are purely cosmetic, as they all play the same. Missions can be replayed as soon as you complete them. There are different ways to accomplish your objectives, so you can really get your money’s worth by trying different strategies. The missions can be quite lengthy. Some can last over an hour. Another oversight is the lack of an in-game save. That’s important for a portable system. There are checkpoints, but if you die, you’ll have to start the mission from the beginning.
A moveable reticle lets you outline a path for your squad. This reticle is controlled by the nub. For the most part it’s pretty easy to move around, but there are some tight spots that make it really frustrating. For one thing, the camera angles don’t shift into any kind of reticle mode. Secondly, the reticle is fixed to the ground. If you have to go around obstacles, corners, or up or down stairways, you’ll have another kind of fight on your hands trying to move the damn thing around. Keep in mind these camera angles also adversely affect the gameplay even when not using the movement reticle. You can’t see around corners or obstacles, which leaves you open to a cheap enemy ambush. One that could be easily avoided with more controllable camera angles.
Multiplayer modes can be accessed locally or online. As I mentioned, there is some lag, but it doesn’t kill the experience as it’s intermittent. There are five modes which include the standard Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch in addition to VIP escort scenarios and Capture the Flag variations in which one team tries to destroy what the other team is defending. There’s plenty of gunfire and explosions in these modes. Certainly more action than the single-player mode. Up to four players can participate, but you don’t play as members of a particular squad, each player is in control of a four-member squad. So there’s no getting rid of the stupid bots.
SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Tactical Strike is a great looking game. The environments are huge and extremely detailed with lots of destruction modeling and ambient background animation to add to the realism. It’s so impressive that you can hardly fault the lengthy load times. Voice acting is good, if a little stoic, but it captures the emotionless essence of the story. Teammates are multilingual. They speak a variety of languages including Spanish and Korean. While impressive, it’s a detail I could care less about. Just make these guys smarter. Who cares what language they speak? How do you say “dead” in Swahili?
SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Tactical Strike is a good addition to the series, albeit one that needs some special consideration. It’s the black sheep of the SOCOM family and is in need of some refinement. It’s close to greatness, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.8 Graphics
Excellent detail. Huge environments. Smooth animation. 2.7 Control
Camera angles, latency, and clunky movement reticle restrict flow. 4.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Great music, sound effects, and voiceovers. 4.5 Play Value
Replay missions using different techniques. Five multiplayer modes. 3.7 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.