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PSP Fanboy hands-on: SOCOM Tactical Strike

SOCOM: Tactical Strike recently went gold, and it's been in our hands for the past week or so. We have to admit, we're totally enamored with this brand new re-imagining of the SOCOM series. It's hard to think of a single flaw with Tactical Strike -- it's just that good. Of course, there's a lot more we have to do. After the first five hours of play, we've only gone through three missions. Ignoring any Instant Action replays or Infrastructure-enabled multiplayer, it's clear that Tactical Strike will offer at least twenty hours of gameplay, if not more.

Tactical Strike delivers on so many levels, and is easily on its way to becoming more than just PSP Game of the Year. No, the sheer quality of this title makes it an easy contender for Game of the Year on any platform. The technical excellence is absolutely astounding. Graphics like these simply shouldn't be possible on the PSP, as it easily bests most of the PS2 library. If you thought Logan's Shadow of Chains of Olympus looked good, you haven't seen Tactical Strike. Textures are incredible, especially for a PSP game. The character models are well detailed, and feature incredibly detailed animations. Then, you add real time lighting, fantastic volumetric smoke effects, and large, expansive, detailed environments that must be seen to be believed. Just wait until you see the streaks of sunlight pour through the jungle flora above you. On the PSP screen, or connected to a TV, this game looks absolutely incredible. These screenshots just don't do the game justice: it must be seen to be believed.

The gameplay is absolutely engrossing -- maybe too much so (we've missed a couple of subway stops thanks to this game). There's a significant learning curve, but the built-in tutorial does a fantastic job of teaching players the basics in an intuitive way. Players control two squads of two soldiers, and must use their tactical knowledge to complete their objectives. Players never take direct control of the soldiers: don't expect this to play like previous SOCOM games. In fact, each soldier has its own AI and will try to take care of themselves -- you merely provide the directives and suggestions that they must try to follow. Careful positioning and timing is vital to success, as it only takes a second or two to see the results of your actions. Smart players will remain stealthy, killing enemies as quietly as possible. When gunfire needs to be used, players will know how to set up Alpha and Bravo fireteams to fire from opposing angles, to take enemies by surprise. Enemies will die in a few bullets ... but so will your soldiers.

The incredible realism of the game makes it so utterly compelling. Don't expect to run and gun your way through levels. Enemies will intelligently respond to the changing environment and will do an incredible job of trying to flank you and hide behind cover. They will call for reinforcements, be cautious when someone is mysteriously killed, and will even use snipers to try and get rid of you. This is a brutally difficult game, where no man can be "left behind." To tackle such overwhelming odds, you will find that you will start thinking in totally new ways ... and the game will always try to counter your tactics. It's a brilliant game of chess, but faster and far deadlier.

We won't go into specifics about the game's incredible story and presentation -- that's something we're going to save for our final review. Unless something drastic changes in the game's latter half, we're confident that this will be the single best game in the PSP library for a long time to come.

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