We’ve all acted out the fantasy that SWAT: Target Liberty tries so desperately to recreate with authenticity. Perhaps in a trigger-happy daydream, or in an empty corridor when nobody is watching, most of us at some point have probably pretended to burst through a door and sweep the room with a pretend gun. It’s an enduring action-film mainstay, made popular by countless Hollywood films, and in selecting it as a subject for a game, developer 3G studios will attract the attention of numerous gamers enamoured by the idea of playing out the role of a door-kicking, tough talking elite SWAT officer.
Fans of action games should beware though, as despite the prevalence in the Target Liberty screenshots of butch, Kevlar clad lawmen and heavy, high powered weaponry, SWAT on the PSP is in fact a game of slow methodical progress and tentative gunplay. That would of course be fine, if this latest handheld release from Sierra was an engrossing strategy title.
Sadly, any strategic element to the game is somewhat slight to put it mildly, leaving SWAT in the rather unfortunate position of being little more than a very slow action game. As you might have expected, the missions involve progressing through gritty urban areas tackling various gangs and terrorist elements, and as you work your way through the training levels, it all seems like things are about to become very exciting.
Working with two team-mates who are obedient to your every whim, you can not only take cover and burst through entrances to rooms, but slip mirrors under doors, handcuff suspects, pin foes with gunfire and interrogate through intimidation. The isometric perspective also seems superb early on, offering a neat view of the action perfectly suited to the apparent tactical demands of the game.
Things quickly begin to test your patience though, and beyond the staggeringly slow pace of your character’s movement there are plenty of painfully drawn-out gameplay elements. The controls are the first to try your tolerance, as despite some neat tricks, they are lastingly frustrating. There are in essence three control schemes overlaid on the same buttons in SWAT, in a similar way to the two that co-exist in Grand Theft Auto. One deals with basic player movement and weapons control, while the other handles the commands and activities of your fellow officers. The final input set-up manages all the additional elements such as lock picking and door breaching, and while it must be said that alone the three control schemes are quite brilliant, mapped together they are fiddly, counter intuitive and contrary to one another, and will be to blame for many of your less enjoyable moments in the game.
Still, they would be scalable obstacles, if they weren’t partnered with a glitch riddled, inconsistent game world that leaves you gritting your teeth in irritation. The enemy fire from off screen areas and the regular appearance of floating dead bodies is bad enough, but is actually insignificant compared to the ludicrous lack of responsiveness and ability of your so called team-mates.
Both your co-workers are best described as imbeciles. They ignore your commands, get lost in the level maps, and stand motionless in the open under heavy fire. Their erratic movement when the action heats up is distracting, and their ignorance to your presence constantly disheartening. If they truly represent the cream of police talent when it comes to hostage situations and tackling interior exchanges of fire, then you need never worry about becoming their prey. With brains like theirs, you could likely thwart their pursuit by flinging some A4 paper in the air, or perhaps wearing a large stick-on moustache.
And still the cack-handed NPCs are not the game’s worst element. Sadly, as you delve deeper into Target Liberty’s many levels, you realise you could have just as well played the first over and over. Each involves the same tired tasks, of hunting down suspects, subduing them, interrogating them and moving swiftly, or rather slowly on. Progression is laborious, and feels a little too much like factory work defined by repeated motions.
All of this is a real shame, as SWAT: Target Liberty is full of delicate innovations, and as a concept is swollen with potential. It tries to tread a thin line between explicit action of the kind Syphon Filter has made so successful on the PSP, and more considered progress most acutely demonstrated by Commandos 2 on the PlayStation 2. Sadly the end result is actually like a more cumbersome version of dated games like Syndicate Wars, which is a real shame considering the appeal of SWAT’s core ideas.
Its visuals do actually bare such intense scrutiny rather well, and while it is no stunner it has a distinct and pleasant visual flair. The sound too is of fairly solid quality, providing plenty of atmosphere and lashings of the required shouting that SWAT team members are famous for. However, these modest technical achievements do not justify the ludicrous loading times in place. It may seem unfair to criticise the amount of time you spend looking at a title’s loading screens on a system renowned for making gamers wait, but here they are laughable. Sometimes, after a substantial load for a cutscene, you are made to face another long pause before the cutscene continues again. This would be fine if the game was worth the wait, but it sadly is not.
There is something to be gained from Target Liberty, and if you do enjoy the likes of Commandos it may be worth your time. For anyone else though, this sloth of a game will likely be far too lumbering and largely thrill free. While it is hard to hate the first outing for SWAT on the PSP, enthusiasm towards this mediocre release is hard to muster.