Tactical shooters are one of my favorite video game genres so I was pretty excited when SWAT: Target Liberty came across my desk. Unfortunately, no thanks to a tricky targeting system, inefficient AI and repetitive mission design, my enthusiasm for the PSP title quickly turned to apathy.
SWAT: Target Liberty is a top-down tactical shooter (think Killzone: Liberation). You play the role of SWAT Leader Kurt Wolfe, called in to command a three-man SWAT team in an effort to diffuse an ongoing conflict between two rival Korean gangs, the Jopoks and Gangpehs, currently wreaking havoc across New York City.
After a series of training exercises, the first mission will see your SWAT team sweeping a Manhattan subway station in order to subdue members from both gangs, as well as rescue civilians caught in the fracas. The second mission will take your SWAT team to a shipping warehouse where you’ll have to subdue members from both gangs, as well as rescue civilians caught in the melee. The third mission, in Grand Central Station, subduing members from both gangs…you get the picture. The locations change but there’s not enough variety in terms of mission objectives. Play through the first mission and you’ve pretty much seen it all.
Fundamental gameplay issues compound that problem, the worst of which is the game’s targeting system. When you encounter multiple suspects, you have to press and hold the left shoulder button and, much like you would do to choose a receiver in Madden NFL to throw a pass to, select which suspect you wish to target by pressing the designated face buttons. Then you can start shooting at them. Once your initial target is down, you have to repeat the process all over again to select your next target. In the heat of battle, this targeting process is way too time-consuming. I’ve often complained in the past that I’ve had to kill most of the enemies in these sorts of shooters but it’s just the opposite with SWAT: Target Liberty. You have to constantly rely on your teammates to take gang members down.
The targeting system is somewhat balanced out by inefficient enemy AI. At close range, gang members are entirely inept, firing round after round at about a 40% accuracy rate. It also takes several hits for them to take you down. The friendly AI, on the other hand, is much more efficient in combat, though pathfinding can be a problem for them. It’s not uncommon to see your fellow SWAT members get stuck on various objects in the richly detailed environments, unable to get away unless you go back and lead them out by the hand.
SWAT: Target Liberty does attempt to implement some interesting concepts, but even these fail to pan out. For instance, as you progress through the campaign you and your SWAT team members will advance in such skills as accuracy, intimidation, interrogation, observation and leadership, but these skills don’t play enough of a role in actual gameplay. There’s a cover system present that works better in theory than practice since enemies seem to be able to shoot right through cover. Your SWAT team also has the ability to use a mirror on doors, ala Rainbow Six Vegas, to see potential enemies in the next room, but it only shows their location (indicated by a green circle) with no visual evidence to confirm whether they’re actually gang members or innocent civilians. It becomes a guessing game as to how to enter that room.
SWAT: Target Liberty does feature multiplayer for up to four players via Ad-Hoc. Three modes, Football, Rodeo Round-Up and The Great Escape, are available on any of the variant maps unlocked by playing through the campaign. It plays well enough but it doesn’t nearly make up for the disappointing single player experience.
Having enjoyed the SWAT franchise on the PC, I really wanted to like Target Liberty, but it misses the mark by a fair margin. Some ideas, such as the skill advancement and cover system, are underdeveloped while others, like the targeting system and overall mission design, are poorly executed. In the end, Target Liberty is more frustrating than engaging, more tedious than fun. That’s never a good thing.