How to get the most out of your computer games by using real world tactics.


Most of my fellow gamers, I would wager, like as much realism in computer games as possible within the limits of the medium, without it being a boot camp style of learning. I had been into flight sims for awhile before deciding to play them a little bit more seriously. I read two books, one from Dan “Crash” Crenshaw called “How to live and die in the virtual sky”, and another by Robert L. Shaw titled, “Fighter Combat: Tactics and Maneuvering”. Both are very good books with a lot of images and drawings to explain the basics and more of fighter combat; I have used that information to make my flight sims even more enjoyable. While reading both books, one thought kept popping into my head “someone should write a book about squad tactics in war games and police games”.

Well, I’m no writer, and definitely don’t have the time or know how to publish a book, however, with almost 30 years total service in the U.S. Army and in civilian law enforcement, I figure I have enough know how to write a half way intelligent article on the subject. So for others like me who play today’s computer games, here are some basics of real world tactics that might help improve your game or at least make it more fun.

Part One is about police SWAT tactics, while Part Two is about squad and platoon level war time tactics. You may already know some, most, or even all of this information. This article is for those who don’t know and want to learn to get the most out of their favorite land based games with the added realism of real world tactics .

Part 1: Police SWAT Tactics

Part 1 applies the most to SWAT 4 which is about the only police squad shooter I am familiar with unless you count SWAT 3 which uses the same tactics. And if you do, the improvements in SWAT 4 are well worth the upgrade. Still hopping for a SWAT 5 game one day, if they don't dumb it down, which seems to be the trend in tactical shooters now-a-days.


The in game command and reply structure works pretty damn well, but if you can connect with a co-op group on a team speak type server it will make it a lot easier and a lot more fun to multiplay.


While you’re looking at the briefing screens, equipment options, and entry locations, decide first who will be the element leader for that one mission. He is the one and only person to give commands; it’s his show, let him run it the way he wants and then on the next mission someone else can be in charge.

Decide who will team up as red and blue teams, and those two members in a team should NEVER, EVER leave each other’s side.

The element leader is in back, giving the orders to red team and blue team. (i.e.: “Red cover left door, Blue stack up on forward door.”)


Decide on who is taking what weapons; each team (2 teams in an element) should have a less then lethal option, an opti-wand, and flash bangs. Each of the two teams should be able to operate fully on their own, with their own equipment. No team should have to ask the other team to use their equipment.


The optiwand is your third best friend; the first is your partner/team and the second is your primary weapon. Every single door, every single corner, every single room should be mirrored. If the element leader says “Red mirror the door”, Red One (w/o the optiwand) covers in case the bad guy opens the door while being mirrored. Red Two (with the optiwand) checks the door and should respond to the team, something like this, “Large room, long wall on left side, 2 more doors on right, 1 armed subject next to hostage.” Then the element leader orders how the team will enter.

Stacking up

Every door is a new entry, a new situation. After getting the optiwand report, the element leader decides on entry, “Stealth entry, pick lock” or “Dynamic entry, breach with C4, bang and clear.”

Entering a room

You should already know if someone’s in the room, (but don’t assume there isn’t a bad guy hiding there) and already have a general idea of the room layout, walls and doors from the optiwand users report. You already know your element leader’s orders for entry. So when it’s time to enter, the element leader should say “Element (or just red/blue team) prepare for entry, Blue team breach, bang and clear… go when ready” The blue team will be up against both sides of the door, with the two red officers behind each of them. Blue One would prep the door for blasting or breaching; Blue two would prep the flash bang. As the door blows open, Blue One switches to his weapon immediately, Blue Two tosses in flash bang then immediately switches to his primary weapon. BANG… Blue One enters. Blue Two enters, moving down the left and right sides, while Red One enters to the left. Red Two enters and moves to the right. In order of entry, you report “all clear”, or “subject down”, or “subject surrenders”. (ie: Blue One: “Clear!”, Blue Two: “Subject down!”, Red One: “Clear!”, Red Two: “Clea!”.) Then the element leader walks in like the king and orders the officers to restrain, report, or cover the next threat/area.

Different methods

All gamers should be familiar with the four main types of room entries: Old school – Button Hook, Old school – Criss Cross, New school – Wall Flood, and New school – Penetration.

a) Old school, Button Hook: When two officers each stack up (setting up) on both sides of a closed door, once the door is opened or breached, officer 1 enters and clears from 12 o’clock to the position he was in outside of the door. Meaning if you stack on the left, you go in and turn left to be on the left side of the room and vice versa on the right side.

b) Old school, Criss Cross: When two officers stack on each side of a door, then once the door is opened or breached, officer one goes from the left side of the door crossing over to the right, then the stacked right officer follows crossing over to the left side of the room.

c) New school, Wall Flood: When either 2 or 4 officers stack up even on each side of the door, then once opened or breached they all enter in order: 1, 2, 3, and 4… 1 moving to the left, sliding down the wall, 2 moving to the right, sliding down the wall, then 3 moves to the left half way downl, then 4 moves to the right half way down… All officers then move in line formation to clear the rest of the room.

d) New school, Penetration: When a team of 4 officers enter a room simultaneously and move to the middle of the room facing outwards to cover and control a quadranl.


You should be working in pairs (NEVER leave your wingman) when moving down a hallway or an open danger area. One 2 man team stays back to provide cover across the danger area or one side of a hallway. The other two man team moves across the danger zone quickly to their destination. When going down a hallway, one officer should be duck walking (kneeling) while the other is standing behind him, two weapons downrange. You should also stay on one side of the hallway so your back up team has a field of fire.


Always reload before entering a room or before stacking (setting up) on a door. ALWAYS go in a new room with a full mag.

If your moving through a danger area, or hallway while engaging and you need to reload, yell “Reloading!”. Kneel down and reload, while your number 2 officer, your best buddy, is covering or firing over your head down range. When done, yell “Ready”. Do not move while you reload, stop, kneel and reload, while your buddy covers you and vice versa.

Practice, Practice, and Practice. Train so that when you do these missions you and your team work flawlessly and smoothly. Never leave your best bud ever, and never go running after someone on your own, or without clearing areas first.

Part 2: Squad / Team Level Military Tactics

Whether you’re playing the most realistic military shooters, like ArmA3 and the classic Ghost Recon, or the latest Run and Gun like the Call of Duty series or Battlefield series, the team with the best tactics, along with the best skills will usually win. Here are just some basic tactics to know and use. Working as a team, even in a run and gun, will reward your team with more wins and less failures. More guns downrange working together will almost always beat a single gun – no matter how good that gamer is.


The key to good teamwork is communications. You can use the in game comms if you wish, but the best way I have found to communicate with my comrades in arms is via a team speak server or similar program. You need some discipline when using the communications server. If everyone is talking at once, then no one can hear orders. The squad leader (or team leader) is the one who should do most of the talking. The soldier should be listening and carrying out orders. You should only be reporting mission critical information back to the leader, or calling out enemies you spot or are engaging. (While alive only, once dead it’s called ghosting, and not proper.)

Planning Either before your team joins the game or while your picking servers, sides or teams, or waiting for a game to load or start, discuss a plan. Once again the guy who has either been picked as the leader or the guy randomly assigned as the leader should get to select the plan. If it’s an objective, assign teams or members to move out as a unit. If you want to keep it as real as possible, then the best way to organize teamwork is by assigning members to teams.

The leader would be the squad leader, and then you can have 2 to 4 separate teams, usually referred to as Alpha team, Bravo team, Charlie team, and Delta team. You could also have a sniper team which I like to call Sierra team. A sniper team consists of a sniper and a spotter. Your teams should ALWAYS stay together, never separate; they need to operate as a unit. You might say something like, “Alpha team approach objective from the south, Bravo team move out to the right and flank objective.” Whatever the plan, have one, share it, and keep it simple stupid, KISS. No need to have a detailed plan because most of the time things don’t work out as planned and there’s a need to be flexible. That’s where your leadership skills come in. When a plan starts to fall apart, change it even if you have to retreat, go defensive, and then form a new plan for the objective.

A little side note: even if you’re not playing with a group that you know, or have contact with, no one should ever be alone. If you see another player running off on his own then team up with him. No solider should ever die alone. Also, if you’re planning a game with a mission goal, never forget the goal. To play the game the way it was designed, you and your teammates should strive to reach the assigned goals. So many times I’ve heard and seen gamers tell everyone to stay away from the mission so they could get more kills If that’s want you want, then I would suggest another game or maybe a single player game for you.


Know your equipment and how to properly deploy it. If it’s your assigned primary weapon like the M16, M14, G36, or AK47, know how the weapon fires, how it recoils, what modes of fire it has, and what type of sites you have, (iron sights, red dot, or other.) You don’t want to waste ammo so you should strive to control your burst. If you’re a sniper, or laying in ambush over a nice big area target, then maybe a single shot will work best for you. Remember one shot, one kill, (usually only in the head in computer games, otherwise it may take a couple of shots). If you’re on a suppression team then automatic should be your mode of fire. You want to keep rounds going downrange, to keep the bad guys ducking for cover. If you’re on regular patrol, or walking through the streets, mountains, or jungles then a three round burst should be the rate of fire choice. You get more control on automatic, and get more rounds at the target then with just the single round of a sniper.

A little gaming note: if you have a slow connection to the Internet then automatic or at minimum, three round burst should be used. Because of the nature of pings and lag, if you shoot one round at a target, that target may not be there by the time the other player or host server gets the round projection. Also know how to use your alternative weapons. In some games you may have a pistol as a sidearm; most that I play give you access to grenades.

A fragmentation grenade is a killer, when it explodes friends and foes within a certain radius will be killed or seriously wounded. Know the range of the grenade blast and warn your teammates that a frag is going out, so they don’t decide at the same time to run into the blast radius. A flash bang is used to stun people in a room or closed in area and once thrown your team can enter to clear a room or to engage bad guys. A smoke grenade is used to provide concealment for your team to move to a new location. It is especially useful when you and your team need to cross a danger area like an open area. Toss a couple of smokes, wait about 20 to 30 seconds, and then move from point A to point B. Just remember to keep close to your team mates for proper support and engagements, but not too close that one fragmentation grenade is going to wipe out the whole team.


Know your Role

Previously I said that the most important part of teamwork is communications. Probably the second most important part is playing the role you are assigned. Too many times I have joined a open multiplayer game and as soon as the game starts, people start running off on their own to do their own Rambo action flick. If you’re going to do that, then I recommend Doom or Half Life. If you’re going to play a great team game like America’s Army or Battlefield 2, then follow your assigned role as part of a squad or team. If you’re the Sergeant in Charge, (usually called the platoon sergeant or squad leader, depending on the size of the team) then take charge and start issuing orders. If you’re the private in the group, shut up and listen to your orders. Then follow your orders out to the best of your ability. Even if you don’t agree, let the player who is assigned the task of leader lead , you’ll get your turn soon enough. I’ll break down the most common roles and try to explain which task is assigned to each.


In a squad, there is a squad leader and usually 2 to 4 teams.


In a team there is usually a team leader, a rifleman, a grenadier, and a machine gunner. Each team should operate as one, supporting each other.
Squad Leaders

A squad leader is usually a Sergeant with a number of years in service. He is in charge of a squad which normally consists of 10 to 12 members. He receives the mission from above and then determines how best to utilize his squad members to accomplish the task. He is the one that forms the overall plan for the mission at hand. In computer games, it’s always nice to rotate who will be the squad leader either each mission, or each round of missions. That way every gamer gets a chance to show his leadership skills. If you receive an order from your squad leader, you should do everything in your power to follow those orders to accomplish the mission, even if you think you have a better way. Wait your turn to lead.

The quotations below were taken from the America’s Army description pages, all released in fan kits to the general public. I found these while researching after I wrote my similar paragraphs.

“US Army soldiers work as a member of a squad. Squads are lead by the Squad leader, who has the rank of Staff Sergeant (SSG). Armed with the same weapons as a rifleman, he is fast and maneuverable. Additionally all SSGs are equipped with binoculars. SSGs also can use the squad radio to issue commands.

Your primary responsibility is leadership in combat, requiring competence, character and skill. Squad Leaders take charge by synchronizing the efforts of their fire teams. Armed with the M16A2 rifle or M4/M4A1 carbine, the Squad/Team Leader accepts overall responsibility for the success or failure of accomplishing the mission.”

Team Leaders

There are usually 2 to 4 teams within a squad. Each team has a team leader who answers to his squad leader and gets his soldiers to follow the squad leader’s orders. If the squad leader should go down, then the Alpha team leader would take over as squad leader and so on.

“Each squad is divided into 1-4 fire teams each having their own purpose. The leaders of these fire teams are Sergeants. Their purpose is to lead their teams to execute a command given by the squad leader in order to complete a mission. Since they are also armed with a rifle, their capabilities are the same as the SSG and rifleman. SGTs also are issued binoculars. This soldier is a fighting leader, assisting the squad leader by taking charge of a 3-person fire team. Armed with the M16A2 rifle or M4/M4A1 carbine, the team leader controls the actions, movement and placement of fire of his fire team.”

Machine Gunners

The machine gunners carry the heavy weapons. One should be assigned to each team, but if you only have one then assign it to the main team that will suppress any enemies encountered. The machine guns like the SAW or M60 are used to throw as much lead as possible downrange. If you have the machine gun then use it. If your team is moving to an objective and you get ambushed or start taking fire, the machine gunner along with his team should dive to nearest cover and get that weapon rocking. Even if you don’t know exactly where the fire is coming from, just a general direction, and then lay down some fire. The other team should then be flanking left or right, to pin point and destroy the enemy while there hiding from the awesome hail of bullets coming from the machine gun. “Armed with the M249 SAW, the automatic rifleman combines awesome firepower with quick maneuverability. The automatic rifleman is essential in providing overwhelming volumes of suppressive fire from medium to long range. No fire team is complete without the Automatic Rifleman. The Automatic Rifleman provides a fire team with a belt-fed machine gun. The M249′s high rate of fire and large ammunition capacity gives a squad/fire team a weapon that maintains a consistent rate of fire to provide cover for the unit. However, this weapon has its drawbacks, particularly weight. Due to this, the automatic rifleman is the slowest among the classes available.”


The grenadier usually has a M203 grenade launcher attached to his M16. He uses his weapon just like any rifleman, but when a little more power is needed he switches to his secondary fire mode and lobes a couple of 40 mm rounds into certain areas. You need to be a good shot and practice with the 203. If you miss your target, you could end up killing or wounding your own fellow soldiers. Most of the time you would use the M203 to clear out a window where there is enemy fire, or a place where the enemy has bunkered into and your regular riflemen can’t reach. “The grenadier is a key member of the U.S. Army fire team. Armed with an M16 and M203 grenade launcher, the grenadier can deliver explosive fire at point and area targets from medium to long distances. The grenadier is capable of sending 40mm high explosive grenades a great distance away, providing support fire for the fire team / squad. Additionally grenadiers also have a fully functional M16A2. Each fire team has one grenadier. Since their role is support, grenadiers also carry a larger inventory of smoke and stun grenades. However, their fragmentation grenade inventory is greatly reduced, since they already carry 40mm grenades.”


The rifleman is the backbone of the team or squad. While the sniper team is usually off on their own, and the machine gunner and grenadier have their own roles, the riflemen provide the detailed fire on targets and cover their fellow soldiers while they employ their tools of war. There will be more riflemen in a squad then anything else. If a grenadier or a machine gunner goes down, then a rifleman should pick up that weapon and take over the role. “The rifleman makes up the bulk of the infantry squad. To make the rifleman more versatile in all types of combat environments, they are equipped with a variety of rifles and grenades. The purpose of the rifleman is to complete his mission, give covering fire and act as a maneuver element (when organized into fire teams) to execute the squad leader’s plan.”


Like I said, sniper teams consist of two members. One is the primary sniper, while the other is the spotter. The Sniper is the one who decides where to go and set up, based on the mission and the overall plan. The spotter sticks with the sniper for protection, and to take his place if he is injured or killed. While the sniper sets up and takes out the assigned targets, the spotter should be watching the rear and flanks so the team doesn’t get surprised and shot execution style. “The advanced marksman is a unique soldier who is an expert marksman. To be an advanced marksman you must have scored 36 or higher at the rifle range and have attended advanced marksmanship school. From there, you will be able to use special long range precision weapons like the M24 and M82. Advanced marksmen can be identified by their hats. They usually wear “boonie hats,” but on arctic maps they wear kevlar helmets like the rest of their squad. Relying on stealth and patience, the advanced marksman is specially trained to employ either the hard-hitting M82 Barrett or the pinpoint accurate M24 SWS. The advanced marksman can be used in the offense, striking individual targets from great distances or as a reconnaissance element. You must complete Advanced Marksmanship training to become a US Army advanced marksman.”


Moving as a Team

When you move as a team there are a number of formations to use in land combat. The decision is dependent on the likelihood of enemy contact, and the type of terrain the team or squad will be moving over or through. You can move in file formation when enemy contact is less likely and the terrain is difficult. When you follow in this single file line formation, maintain some distance in case of booby traps or a surprise grenade attack.

A line formation is when the team or squad moves up in a single line – say a ridge line to engage an enemy on the other side. It is effective when you’re moving up to engage an enemy or to concentrate maximum firepower on a target. You’re arm and arm next to each other; it’s like a wall of soldiers advancing.

The wedge formation is the best formation when moving from point A to point B as a team or squad. If you’re a squad then there will be at least two teams, (two wedges). A wedge will have a point man positioned ahead at the tip of the wedge; the team moves at his pace. If he stops then the team stops. If he approaches a danger zone or an enemy that hasn’t seen the team, he would report back and the team leader (usually in the middle of the wedge to direct his soldiers) would issue the orders to either engage or go around the danger area.

You can easily start in a wedge formation, come up to an enemy patrol or post, and then move up to line formation to begin the engagement.

Crossing a Danger Zone

When you come across a danger area like a open field or courtyard to cross, your team or squad would stop. You should set your two outside soldiers to watch the flanks, after popping smoke if needed, (remember smoke may give your position away) your soldiers will run across the danger zone and set up on the other side. Once all have crossed then you can continue on in the normal fashion.

3 to 5 Second Rushes

When you’re moving up on an objective or getting closer to an enemy for engagement and not out in the open, you should always follow the 3 to 5 second rule. Run from cover to cover for only 3 to 5 seconds. If you stay exposed any longer than, an enemy can sight and shoot you easier.

The first land maneuver that I want to explain has been around since the beginning of warfare. It was one of the first team movements learned in mass warfare. In the flanking maneuver a unit or part of a unit swings around to the left or right side of an enemy to engage.

I’ll try to explain it in story form: Your squad is moving through a lightly wooded area in a duel wedge formation. Suddenly you come under enemy fire from the front. The front wedge, Alpha team immediately drops to cover, and positions themselves in a line formation facing the enemy. Alpha team then opens up to engage and lays suppressive fire. While the enemy is suppressed the rear wedge, Bravo team, splits left or right on the direction of either the squad leader or the team leadert. Bravo team tactically runs left or right a good safe distance, then moves up parallel to the enemy line of fire and come in on the flank in a line formation. If it goes as planned, the suppression team is keeping the enemy pinned, creating a nice flank by the second team. Communication is key for timing and signaling the suppression team to shift fire away from the flanking side. The flanking team comes in and kills the enemy.

Bounding over Watch

This maneuver breaks down into two parts. The first part bounding means to go back and forth. Over watch means to watch over the other team. The bounding over watch maneuver starts with one team over watching the other team as they move over terrain. That team then gets into place to cover the other team’s movements. If you’re talking armor, then it could be a 5 mile over watch movement, but if you’re talking infantry tactics then bounding over watch could be from tree to tree or building to building.
For example: two teams are part of a squad. The squad needs to move from point A to point B. Team Alpha gets into a nice safe position to cover team Bravo’s movement. Team bravo moves to a safe covering place, gets into position and team Alpha moves out to bound over the other team. This goes back and forth till the objective is reached.

Cover vs. Concealment

Cover is something you can hide behind that a round can’t penetrate like a wall. You are better protected behind cover than hidden (concealed) in the tall grass or behind a bush from observation by the enemy. If you’re spotted while concealed, you are still susceptible to enemy gunfire.

Conclusion Debrief

The objective of this article is not to get you ready for war. It’s not meant to be an in depth or detailed manual. My aim is to teach or explain basic police and military tactics to fellow gamers so we can get the most out of our PC games. especially in cooperative multiplayer mode. There is tons more to cover, and if you’re interested, then I would suggest picking up a book on the subject. One that I’m reading now is the combat leader’s field guide. A very good read on the topics covered in this article, written by retired Sgt. Maj. Brett Stoneberger. About my Experience I spent 10 years in the US Army as a Military Police Officer. We had a dual mission: we performed police patrol work in our surrounding military post and also had a rear area command and control combat mission. We operated in platoon size and squad sizes doing basic rear security and light infantry missions. I personally was on the SRT (Special Reaction Team) and was a dog handler then and a dog trainer while in the Army. Afterwards I became a civilian police officer and have been one for 17 years so far. I started as a patrolman, became a member of SWAT, then the K9 section. I am the tactics instructor for my department, and now just under 3 years till retirement.