Genre: Tactical Shooter
Developer: 3G Studios
Release Date: Fall 2007
When the first images of SWAT: Target Liberty flashed across the screen at the Sierra Spring Event in San Francisco last month, the only thing I could think of was Killzone: Liberation. The most obvious similarity is visual in nature, but it goes much deeper than that. Like Liberation, Target Liberty attempts to transform an established first-person experience into something else altogether: an action/shooter with a three-quarters overhead perspective. While producer Paul Pawlicki acknowledges the visual similarities, he contends that it is merely a coincidence — and potentially a positive one.
"It wasn't our intention in the beginning," Pawlicki claims, "but once we saw what they were doing, we were quite happy to see that they were bringing back this kind of style — and that it was very well received. They did a lot of great things that were intuitive, but we're definitely doing a different take."
Pawlicki and the team at 3G Studios initially wanted to carry over the first-person gameplay of SWAT 4 (the last PC entry, on which Pawlicki was also a producer), but the small screen of the PSP limited their options, and the resulting perspective didn't give them what they wanted. And though SWAT 4 is still considered their starting point, Pawlicki isn't kidding when he asserts, "We are starting from the ground up."
SWAT: Target Liberty throws players into the shoes of Kurt Wolfe, the head of the New York City SWAT team that is tasked with stopping a potential nuclear attack within the city. Previous games in the series were largely focused on self-contained missions, but the developers wanted something on a grander scale — an overarching narrative that would tie together all of the events in the game. To achieve this goal, 3G tapped Scott Rosembaum, writer for gritty cable series "The Shield" (and its universally panned PlayStation 2/PC counterpart), to pen the script. Though Target Liberty is taking the series in several new directions, the overall feel of the experience should remain similar to that of its predecessors.
"SWAT was all about giving commands to your guys, but [having] them [be] smart enough to still handle situations on their own," said Pawlicki. "You don't want to have to micro-manage. It's not a simulation — it's an arcade game. We actually are even moving a little bit more away from some of the authenticity [of previous iterations]."
Sierra had a playable build of the game available at the event, and though some elements of the experience had yet to be implemented, the build gave us a decent look at what to expect from the gameplay. Following an initial briefing, each mission starts with the player being given the ability to customize Wolfe's crew by choosing two of four potential A.I. companions. Each member of the team brings a particular advantage to the table; for example, one may be especially intimidating, while another excels at restraining enemies and bystanders.
As Pawlicki mentioned, you can give your teammates commands, though they can act autonomously as well. To trigger the command cursor, hold the right shoulder button and then use either the Square or Circle button to address a character. If your desired command is not the default one, you can press Triangle to access additional options. Though not yet implemented in the build, the final version will allow players the ability to lean up against walls, which will then prompt the companions to also take cover.
As your team stalks through the urban environments, the goal is not to annihilate every enemy in sight. Rather, players are encouraged to make use of their non-lethal ammunition (such as beanbag shotgun rounds) to complete missions without casualties. Doing so will unlock additional weapons and bonus content, which has yet to be ironed out at this time. When approaching an enemy from a distance, players can issue verbal commands in the hopes of reaching a non-violent solution, at which point you can take custody of the willing captive. Just don't attempt negotiations when standing next to an enemy — the X button also controls the billy club, and Wolfe apparently loves him some beatings.
"We're hoping for about seven to eight hours of the single-player, plus our multiplayer has quite a lot to offer," said Pawlicki. The game boasts four-player Ad Hoc play, and aside from a couple of levels based on the single-player missions, Target Liberty will also feature a random level generator that will deliver a unique multiplayer experience every time. Pawlicki did not go into depth about the multiplayer modes in the game, though he did mention that one would task each player with rescuing a separate hostage as quickly as possible.
SWAT: Target Liberty is currently on track to ship sometime this fall for the PSP, though it may be the first of many non-PC titles if it finds a large audience. "If this is really well received, I think we're going to see a big push from the management to bring it [to other platforms]," claimed Pawlicki, though he acknowledged that it would face stiff competition from games like Ghost Recon. And just as Wolfe seems to enjoy a good beating, Pawlicki himself wouldn't mind being part of a similarly active experience. "I'd love to see it on the Wii," he admitted. "I'd love to have a billy club and just beat people into submission."
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