Full Spectrum Warrior: Ten Hammers
War, We Want no more. That's unlikely to happen any time soon though, either in global terms or in the world of gaming, where virtually no conflict remains untapped in the name of entertainment. In Full Spectrum Warrior the developer even makes up fictional wars, and any similarity to actual events is entirely coincidental. If you've no idea what we're on about, the original FSW was a modified version of a US military training program, specifically one designed to teach the intricacies of the vaguely pornographic-sounding MOUT, otherwise known as Military Operations in Urban Terrain. Mario Sunshine, it wasn't.
Featuring a bunch of gung-ho good old boys steaming into a fictional Middle-Eastern country - Zekistan, no less -and laying waste to the populace in the name of Uncle Sam, Ten Hammers sees you redeployed to the northern city of Khardiman, where hard-line loyalists have attacked a US Army Civilian Security team. With the country on the verge of civil war, only you -and superior firepower - can save the day.
Search And Destroy
As for the mechanics of the thing, you generally have two squads of four - alpha and bravo - which you can switch between and give orders to. Most of the time you don't actually fire the weapons yourself, and Ten Hammers can essentially be thought of as a real-time strategy game with you in the thick of the action.
Missions are the usual mix of search-and-destroy or rescue-based affairs, and in general involve hiding behind whatever cover you can find, pinning down the enemy with one unit and flanking them with the other. That's the theory anyway, and missions can effectively be looked upon as extended lateral-thinking puzzles, which can be solved through the shrewd application of military strategy.
Of course, what really happens is that you go piling in, get torn to shreds by rampant insurgents, swear a lot and try again. For all its strategic pretensions, much of the threat can't be accounted for, as enemies appear in areas that have previously been deemed clear. Get caught in the open and it's usually curtains, as the interface simply doesn't allow for split-second reactions. Adapted from the console game, it's a largely inelegant affair that requires you to place a series of pointers where you want your soldiers to move to.
Given the paraphernalia of the battlefield, simply moving the pointers to the right place can be a chore in itself, and you're often grappling with the interface as much as the challenges of the particular mission, with panic setting in as you attempt to move your boys to safety. Further complications have been added with the ability to split each unit into buddy-teams of two, and even briefly control individual soldiers, but ultimately making it more complex doesn't make it any more intuitive.
Too Tough To Die
Cumbersome though it can sometimes be, it's still extremely involving, and you'll find yourself attempting missions numerous times until you get it right, often through a case of trial and error; simply remembering where the enemies are going to come from and reacting accordingly. And thankfully, the elaborate save-game procedure of the last game has been dispatched in favour of a more traditional checkpoint system.
Even so, you cover the same ground several times. What's more, while the missions are fairly lengthy affairs already, they become even more laborious if you get a soldier injured, as you have to drag him - sometimes literally - back to a CasEvac (casualty evacuation) area for treatment. To its credit the game doesn't shirk from the horrors of conflict and the soldiers even show a modicum of remorse when civilians are mown down in the crossfire. And unlike some games, you can inadvertently decimate your own squad with a case of 'friendly' fire.
There's still a bit of Hollywood thrown in for good measure though, and when one of your team takes a fatal hit, it's shown in spectacular slow-motion as his innards are spilled onto a foreign street. Mention must also be made of the music, which adds to the tension, kicking in dramatically in the heat of the battle. In fact, sometimes the only way you know you're under fire is when the music speeds up.
Elsewhere, there's been a vague attempt to imbue the individual soldiers with a personality, presumably in the hope that you'll forge some kind of protective bond with them and be deeply upset when they buy the farm. This never happens though, and they're little more than hapless grunts sent to die at your whim, thousands of miles from home.
In their defence, they do swear like f...ing navvies though. Whether moaning about their wounds - "My f...ing arm!" - or simply chatting among themselves - "We're f...ing dickheads" - with the profanity filter switched off it's a near constant stream of foul and abusive language. There's even some impromptu rhyming, such as the touching couplet: "Alpha team, lean and mean, taking out Muhajadeen..."
Other conversational snippets cover such topics as rap music, spinal injuries and the fact that the dying soldier slumped over his team-mate's shoulders has been eating too many kebabs. This is about as far as the humour goes though, and it's fair to say that Ten Hammers is as serious as cancer. The antithesis of brightly coloured faraway lands often depicted in games, the word 'game' doesn't readily apply - it's based on a military simulator after all.
As joyless as it is, Ten Hammers does begin to suck you in, and you do occasionally find yourself thinking like a soldier, avoiding open space, applying suppressing fire, covering your mate's back and whooping like an idiot when you blow up some foreigners. That said, without the constant instructions, you wouldn't have a clue what to do.
With patience, it can be an engrossing experience, as you tentatively eke your way through a foreign town, with deadly threats lurking round every comer. It's dramatic, it's tense, it's infuriating, but is it fun? No. It's not fun, it's war.
You can drive my tank...
We were promised new player-controlled mechanised units. What the developer meant was that you could get behind the levers of a tank and blow great big f...-off holes in the scenery, simultaneously killing and mutilating insurgents beyond recognition. Yep, when the story deems appropriate, you'll briefly be put in charge of a heavily-armed vehicle and given free reign to terminate with extreme prejudice. It's one of the few moments of the game where you actually enjoy yourself. After hours of skulking around by proxy, to actually be in direct control of a large weapon is a rare joy. Boom!
Download Full Spectrum Warrior: Ten Hammers
Originally We Planned to write this hands-on while sipping away at the premium-strength cider Three Hammers that Will found in his local CostCutters last month, hopefully producing four-pages of dangerously honest beliefs about supposed weapons of mass destruction, openly derisory comments about George Bush and an anecdote about Saddam, a leper and a sausage which we believed to be funny at the time.
Eventually, we planned, it would descend into a paragraph-straddling drunken slur against misplaced morals, asinine politics and dubious ethics, bereft of spelling and grammar and punctuated by random mentions of the game I'm supposed to be playing, no doubt inserted by a frustrated editor while I nurse a hangover that could level a hippo.
Maybe it was fortunate then that as I raised the apple-scented paint-stripper to my lips I was immediately stabbed by about 12 icy glares from various official types around the office.
Apparently it's frowned upon to get supremely hammered in the workplace, and so I have to write about Full Spectrum Warrior: Ten Hammers while sober. Honestly, the things I have to put up with.
You no doubt remember Full Spectrum Warrior as the squad-based strategic shooter that while making a pretty decent impact on PC, was always an Xbox classic first and foremost Set in modern-day combat scenarios (a made-up Middle-Eastern town in a made-up Middle-Eastern country), the original game placed you in command of a squad of four troops who must liberate the residents of the fictitious dictatorship in a hail of gunfire and patriotic shouting. The twist was that you don't directly control any of your men, instead you give orders, set firing sectors, apply suppressing fire, covering fire, chuck grenades about and generally get the job done. Later levels, meanwhile, saw you controlling more than one squad, allowing you to employ complex flanking manoeuvres to outwit and outgun the enemy. That was the gist of FSW -manoeuvre, flank, neutralise and move on.
Make It So
Ten Hammers is shaping up to be everything Full Spectrum Warrior was, except this time around Pandemic has the freedom to tweak the garneplay towards something a bit more action-orientated. Whereas the original touted a utilitarian, urban warfare-simulating engine actually used to train US soldiers, Ten Hammers is aiming to add more Hollywood flair to the mix, along with a a few manoeuvres that are a little more gung-ho than the marine's last outing. You've still got all the basics - a couple of squads of four soldiers each with a speciality (riflemannery, grenadery, machine gunnery and team leadery), multiple squads covering one another and manoeuvring into flanking positions, using suppressing fire - all the nitty-gritty real-life strategies supposedly employed by nitty-gritty real-life soldiers. But gone, for example, is the realistic yet potentially confusing 3D fog of war which cloaked the original in fuzzy grey areas, replaced by 360-degrees of pure, unadulterated perception. Tweaks and changes like this are what constitute Ten Hammers' step away from the simulation genre and towards the probably more lucrative action-shooter genre. Still intact are the gory slow-mo deaths and stalemate standoffs with the locals, the conveniently placed piles of rubble and sandbags - but now there are more rooftops and vantage points. Oh, and you get to drive tanks this time.
Yes, we love tanks, but it was a problem we had with the original: tanks sometimes made cameo appearances but you could never actually tell them what to do. This time around however, they're yours to command in much the same way you command your squads. Controlling a squad consists of right-clicking to bring up a positioning reticule which snaps to comers and walls, and then clicking when you're satisfied with the reticule's position before watching your merry squad sprint towards their intended destination. Left-clicks bring up what experts call a 'firing sector1 (or what we call 'the shoot in this general direction-o*meter'), which makes your squad train their sights on a certain area, applying covering fire and liberating the enemy when necessary. Controlling a tank is much the same, with right-clicks moving you about the sandy streets with unerring grace, and left-clicks deciding which bits of the Middle East you want to destroy at any given time.
It's clear to see that the intuition involved in moving troops around has been left unscathed. In fact, it's been improved -almost every command can be further specified with various radial menus: you can split your squad into two teams of two men, move with caution, drag injured soldiers to safety and access grenades with ease. In addition, you can now take direct control of a single soldier for a brief moment, either to take a pot-shot with your rifleman or launch a liberating grenade or two with your grenadier. It's a feature that works well, enabling you to precisely pick off or blow up certain targets. Hie same can be said of the vehicles, with the tank's lethal cannon being directly controllable and turning those wacky insurgents into assorted flying limbs and a fine red mist.
I Can Do Sums, Me
The AI has been improved, meaning instead of scripted enemy positions and strategies, you'll often be faced with randomly generated enemies who, while not being smart enough to outflank you (they are untrained madmen after all), can do a pretty good job of staying under cover.
It's fair to say that there were a few occasions in which my American hunters and insurgent hunted started playing silly-buggers. For instance, like the time when I successfully flanked a lone terrorist snuck to within a few feet of his encampment and ordered my troops to "Kill, kill, kill!", before watching them blast holes in the wall behind the evil-doer, who then proceeded to accurately put four holes in the four heads of my four highly-trained soldiers with ease. These are, though, in all probability, the hallmarks of early code rather than anything else.
If you got sweaty-palmed last time around, meanwhile, you've got even more heart palpitations to come - what with the new enemy tactics giving Ten Hammers a faster pace than the first game. Conflicts come thick and fast, usually lasting a few moments, especially when backtracking through places you thought were clear, only to encounter yet more resistance. The excellently engineered set-pieces of the original are here too, forcing you to think laterally in what are almost puzzle-like scenarios (with your squads forced to traverse particularly dangerous streets or flank awkwardly placed enemies). Situations like these usually have more than one solution, requiring some intelligent strategic thought rather than all-out liberation.
Dunes Of Hazard
Of course, with the addition of a competitive multiplayer mode, Ten Hammers is set to please Full Spectrum Warrior fans looking to shoot one another rather than co-operate. With more action, more detail and more beautifully choreographed teamwork, this will no doubt end up being an intense urban warfare experience waiting to be enjoyed by anybody who's seen some grainy CNN footage of some sand dunes and thought it looked mildly interesting.
It's fair to say that the early code I was fiddling with was like trying to play Tic Tac Toe from 50ft away with a pen tied to a really long stick - with the control configuration menu as yet un-implemented and the tutorial having button icons either missing or from an Xbox controller, I was flying blind. Sure, the interface will be cleaned up and the misplaced icons removed soon enough, but to me it's a sign of Ten Hammers' underlying leaning towards an Xbox release. But these are the times we live in.
Whether or not the tweaks, changes and additions are enough to shake the squad-based shooter tree isn't clear yet, especially as the departure from the original game isn't exactly immense. One thing's for certain though - once the game's released there'll be a cardboard cut-out of a soldier in every game shop, maybe doubling as a shelf for the game, with copies of Ten Hammers embedded in his stomach like shrapnel. It'll be popular too, no doubt thanks to the same TV advert a gearing every two minutes. It may even cause army enrolment figures to rise slightly, but will it achieve the greatness required to merit the advertising budget? We'll find out in March.
Tanks... as wonderful as kittens and cornfields in late summer
One of the main additions in Ten Hammers, and easily one of the most interesting, is the ability to control vehicles, tanks in particular. Big tanks with guns and cannons. Strategy goes out the v/indow as soon as you take control of these - you'll find yourself instead trundling around the streets killing everything you see and avoiding the occasional RPG-touting terrorist. The fun ends when the friendly AI snatches the tank from your control and drives it off somewhere else (as though the game decides you're finished playing with it). Besides being the most powerful weapon in the game, the tank is actually useful for laying down the best suppressing fire you can get and allowing your squads to move about with relative freedom. Not only can you command tanks, you also get to control those nifty little Humvees with the machine guns on top.
I love playing games that blaze new territory and the first Full Spectrum Warrior was just such a game. With feet firmly planted in both FPS and strategy games, it provided a new and entertaining tactical experience, making realistic gameplay both easily accessible and incredibly fun. And yet, with such a pedigree, I'm ambivalent about the sequel. On one hand, Ten Hammers has a few gameplay improvements that really punch up some of the action. Yet, on the other hand, this game has a few bugs and glitches that really hinder it. Combine that with narrative and voice acting that's a full order of quality below the first game, and I can't help but feel torn.
In terms of gameplay, the developers of Ten Hammers have succeeded in one important aspect. By adding little improvements that don't complicate the gameplay, and yet give the player more options, they've really improved well without sacrificing the simplicity of the controls. For example, this time around you'll get to control Charlie and Delta teams as well as your normal troops. Depending on the mission, they can be comprised of Special Forces troops or even a Bradley fighting vehicle. I'm not sure if it was intentional, but I also couldn't find the blur effect from the first game. It represented your blind spots, and I'm thinking it might've been removed to improve performance. Finally, they've expanded the different tactical options you've got, from splitting into buddy teams to being able to control tactical spacing.
No story is complete without the downturn, however, and there was plenty to complain about in this game. Cover seemed less effective overall, so I died a lot more. You can now use rifleman's scope to engage in precision shooting, but the timing necessary to pull it off is nightmarishly annoying. The final straw was when I found all manner of geometry problems, from hand thrown grenades being thrown into the chest of comrades to direct fire M203 shots impacting inside a building's gray space without destroying it.
In comparison to the original, the graphics are pretty much the same. They're effective, and not too simple, but now that the next-gen titles are here, I'm finding myself missing light bloom and bump mapping. Unfortunately, things aren't quite as good for the audio. The voice acting in the first game was nearly perfect, but not so in this one. Aside from being given some absolutely horrible dialogue, many of the voice actors sound like they're in a Saturday morning cartoon, instead of a military action title.
When I play games like this, I get nostalgic for games that I used to love. And it's a shame too, when you consider that, really, only a few small points keep this game from being a sequel that lived up to expectations. If they could've fixed the little gameplay flaws and put a good script in the hands of the voice actors, it would've meant so much in this game.