Full Spectrum Warrior
It's A Sad fact, but the conflicts in the Middle East are showing no signs of cooling off any time soon. However, if there is a small silver lining in the black clouds of burning oil, it's that they make a damn fine videogame setting. Full Spectrum Warrior is the latest PC wargame to storm the desert, and this third-person squad-based action title, already released on Xbox, is certainly one of the most original and enjoyable.
Set in the fictitious country of Zekistan - a sort of hybrid of Iraq and Afghanistan - the game puts you in command of UN and NATO-backed American soldiers on a mission to depose the terrorist leader Al Afad, blamed for the genocide and sterilisation of the ethnic Zeki people.
There are two fire teams under your command - Alpha and Bravo. Each is made up of four soldiers with special skills. There's a high-ranking Team Leader for issuing commands and taking charge, as well as an Automatic Rifleman armed with a fast-firing M249 machine gun. Plus, there's a Grenadier holding an M203 grenade launcher, and a Rifleman packing a light rifle, available for giving aid to injured soldiers in battle.
Full Spectrum Warrior is not your standard third-person shooter - for a start, you only directly control the aim of a weapon when you're using grenades. Basically, the gameplay is about deploying your two light infantry squads (sometimes growing to three) to the best of your ability. Use the best tactical positions, take cover at all times, take out opposition forces and make it to your next objective without getting any soldiers killed. In some ways, it's like a more complex, true 3D Cannon Fodder- but maybe I've spent too much time in combat lately...
You certainly learn an army-dictionary worth of new B phrases, the first and most important being MOUT, or Military Operations in Urban Terrain. This is how you operate in a hostile, built-up environment teeming with dug-in enemy snipers, mortars and tanks.
This is one of the best elements of Full Speccy Warrior - that it actually teaches you much about how soldiers plan and execute military operations in urban areas. No great surprise really, considering that Pandemic initially developed the game as a training tool for the US army.
Where To, Sarge?
Moving your Alpha and Bravo squads is simple and intuitive. First, choose which team you want to control by clicking the mouse wheel, then tap the right mouse button and you instantly bring up four location markers that represent where your four soldiers can be positioned in the environment. You can now move these circular markers around the gritty 3D world, and watch as they automatically suggest correct formations depending on the context - in a line behind a wall, for example, or in a wedge shape behind a burnt-out car.
It's beautifully simple, but also brings an element of tension as there's always a few seconds between issuing commands by tapping the left mouse button, and seeing them carried out on the battlefield. This delay can be fatal if you don't give your troops enough cover from enemy fire, as it's difficult to react quickly if you make a duff decision.
Actually, yomping your fire teams around the environment is when FSW makes its first big impression. The juddering, handheld view of the game's camera as it follows behind the shoulder of the soldiers is truly fantastic, giving a real documentary feel to the action -you half expect a flak jacketwearing Kate Adie to pop up from behind a pile of sandbags.
As well as rushing your troops around, you can move them using a 'bounding' move, which is a slower, but more methodical manoeuvre. Your team of four troops split into two smaller teams of two to cover each other, with the added bonus that they'll be on alert and react instantly if fired upon. The animation of your troops during this move - as with most of the game - is impressive, with your soldiers holding their weapons menacingly, constantly checking for enemies in the direction you've ordered them to face.
When they've reached their destination, you can then define a 'fire sector' for your team, so any enemies that blunder into it are shot immediately. Alternatively, you can use suppressing fire to make any of Al Afad's goons duck for cover and allow your other team to move safely, but this burns through bullets very quickly - run out. and you're a sitting duck.
Most certainly, the key in Full Spectrum Warrior is to always move from cover to cover, such as shielding your squad with an obviously-placed pile of rubble or the comer of a wall. Also, placing your Team Leader correctly means he can lean out and call out any opposition forces he sees. If your team is in cover, a shield icon appears above their heads meaning that any amount of enemy bullets won't hurt them. Of course, the flipside of that is that if an enemy is behind cover, they can't be hit with bullets either, which often results in both sides firing upon each other in a lengthy but futile exchange of hot lead.
True To Form
Missions are pretty straightforward, with variations on search and destroy/disarm, and rescue, organised into bite-size chunks with save points and CASEVAC stations where you can reload with ammo and treat any fallen comrades. It's really a great shame, but the initial excitement of FSW soon pales when you realise that the game is really just a series of quite linear puzzles. You solve them by inching forward using cover, flushing out foes with grenades mortars, and using your other team to flank enemies by using smoke grenades and convenient alleyways.
Although you can use it to call in a recon helicopter flight on occasion, the handheld GPS device is really poor, only offering a confusing view of the area, with no way of rotating the map or zooming in on your squads' positions. Plus, although your own men react to situations and, if prompted, will automatically fire or find the best place to shelter from firefights, the Al of enemies is often suspect. For instance, throw a grenade towards them and they shout and scream, but also stay rooted to the spot, waiting patiently to be blown up.
Graphics textures are sometimes basic, but there are some really excellent particle and dust effects in FSW. There's also some polished soldier animation that has them coughing and shielding their faces in a sandstorm, as well as the de rigueur Havok physics, that sees soldiers slumping to the floor and bleeding in gruesome super slo-mo. Also included are wooden boxes that splinter and cars at fall apart.
All of the soldiers have their own voice and react to the situation with lovely phrases such as: "If that bastard kills me, I will kick his ass!" Plus, the general standard of the sound effects and music is top notch. We have to award points too for the superb replay feature, which, while enabling you to watch your battles in Benny Hillstyle double-speed, also means you can jump in at any point to rectify mistakes made.
Finally, there are two extra missions for the PC edition (although these are available on Xbox Live too), and co-op multiplayer, enabling you and a friend to play as the Alpha and Bravo fire teams. So, despite a few shortcomings - such as having a name like a Greenpeace anti-whaling ship -Full Spectrum Warrior has much to recommend, delivering a unique squad-based action game that Storming Norman himself would be proud of.
Treating Wounded Soldiers In The Field Is A Vital Part Of FSW
You won't find any convenient health packs in Full Spectrum Warrior. If any of your soldiers are shot and injured, they become incapacitated, leaving you with only a short time to treat them at a mobile CASEVAC aid station before they die. To do this, you have to actually pick up and move the wounded fella with your Rifleman - of course, this means that your fire team is immediately two weapons down and has to move at a slower pace.
Here's where you need to use your other fire team to suppress any nearby enemies, so you can make a retreat for the nearest CASEVAC, indicated by a cross symbol on your HUD and GPS. Once there, a medic will treat your soldier, returning them to full health, and your other troops will be re-supplied with ammo. Although this can often be a painstaking process, it brings a real tense realism to the missions and shows the horrible consequences of a bad decision in battle. Remember: the US Army has 'zero tolerance for casualties'. Ahem.
Download Full Spectrum Warrior
Blending the best elements of a third-person shooter and chess, Full Spectrum Warrior puts you in command of an army of four. Pandemic Studios has perfected the squad-based tactical shooter with this game. In it you must command two squads of four men, commanding them as you work your way through enemy territory accomplishing your goals without losing a single man. This is about as opposite as it gets from any shooter on the market.
Instead of frenetic atmosphere of constant movement, running and gunning your way through waves of idiot enemies, Full Spectrum Warrior is all about precision, tactics and cover. The game starts out by allowing you to either go straight into gameplay or take a quick training session to learn the nuances of this highly specialized game. I highly recommend the training, unless you've played Full Spectrum Warrior on a console. The commands are pretty easy to learn, the trick is knowing when to use them. In this game you don't ever aim, instead you issue commands: tell your men to cover an area, fire at hostiles in a direction, take cover, and provide cover. This is a game about commanding not about shooting.
Once you get through the training you're launched in the single player game. The game is essentially a series of missions in which you have to accomplish increasingly difficult goals without losing a man. That doesn't mean you can't be shot, it just means you can't let a man who has been shot die. If a man gets injured you can stop the blood loss, but then you have to carry your man back to a field hospital - essentially putting half of your squad out of commission. It may sound easy, taking out a handful of bad guys with two squads of four men, but your enemies aren't typical first-person shooter fodder. These bad guys think, they find cover and more cover. They move, they call for help, they run from grenades - it can be down right annoying at times.
The game's limited saves also makes getting through a mission unscathed a bit of a challenge. The game's single player mode is a blast to run through, likely even something I could run through a couple of times, but there just isn't enough there for a ton of shelf life. Worse still, the mutliplayer mode only supports coop. To play multiplayer you go online, find a partner and then work your way through the same missions you beat in single player mode. It's unfortunate that Full Spectrum Warrior doesn't include a head-to-head mode, though I don't know if that would really work with this game. I found the mutliplayer in Full Spectrum Warrior had the feel of an add-on tacked on at the last minute than a full-blown feature in the game.
The graphics of Full Spectrum Warrior are simply riveting. The game's squad animations are dead-on, creating by using mo-cap of a combat veteran who is also an active duty sergeant in the U.S. Army Rangers. You really feel like you are commanding a squad of seasoned veterans when you watch them set up cover fire or take cover. The varied environments are also rendered well, adding to the realism of the game. The same can be said for the sound effects in the game. The realistic sound of gunfire, hits and explosions really help put you in the game.
I really liked Full Spectrum Warrior. I just wish there was more of it to enjoy, and something has to be done about the multiplayer - it just wasn't enough. If ever there was a game that cried out for a sequel, Full Spectrum Warrior is it.
In what is certain to be an instant classic, THQ has released a game which manages what few others ever do. It creates a new genre of gameplay. Full Spectrum Warrior blends real time strategy elements with a third person perspective, and a unique method of control that immerses you in the feeling of being in command of an actual unit from the US Army. This game's strength lies in its gameplay, but also saves enough energy to inject a tremendous dose of character into its participants, who comment and swear in a fashion that is incredibly convincing, realism aside.
Although the game starts out to intimidate you, the MOUT training course, which serves as a tutorial, shows you exactly how easy it is to use your teams effectively, moving between buildings, proving cover fire, and occasionally 'nading the butt of an aggressive tango. This gameplay ultimately proves to be the most singularly addicting and entertaining part of the game. Moving your squads from place to place is easy once you've learned to use the cursor, and with an icon system telling you what formation your men will use, it's usually quite easy to move to cover quickly and easily.
Flanking your opponent, suppressing him, and laying down cover fire are all handled well, and in a way more reminiscent of an actual strategy title. You order your men to open a fire sector on the opponent, rather than aiming yourself. This leads to some interesting quirks, as you won't get hit at all if you're behind cover, unless that cover is worn away, or the opponent uses a grenade or RPG. Add to this some excellent graphics, well laid out city streets (perfect for this urban warfare), and a real time fog of war that clues you in to your blind spot, and you've got a manageable, engaging bit of strategy on your plate.
My only real complaint is that the game is somewhat short. The tutorial shows you all of the gameplay available, and playing through the solo mission will take you through the same fights that you'll experience on Xbox Live. Live makes things more fun by letting each player control one of the two squads you've got in solo mode, but it's still playing through the same scenarios. Ultimately, I love this game, because is manages to take 30 seconds of fun and repeat them many, many times, but it still may be a small let down for the casual gamer. However, Full Spectrum Warrior is still a must for any hardcore gamer.
Maybe the government knows something we don't know (or maybe there's something we all know but vehemently deny), but it seems that videogames can indeed be a teaching tool to the masses. Take the history of Full Spectrum Warrior, for example. Originally funded by the U.S. Army to teach tactics to new recruits, the project soon was picked up and developed for the Xbox, and a year later, it's being brought over to the PlayStation 2, ensuring that anyone can be a modern armchair warrior.
Full Spectrum Warrior, simply defined, is like chess set on the modern battlefield. You control two special operative ground units that are right in the thick of one hellish day in a war torn (and fictional) Middle Eastern country. However, there's a pretty hefty twist to it all: while you command the units around, you don't have direct control over them. Even though there's plenty of action on the battlefield, you'll mostly just be seeing it: your duties as commander over the units doesn't place any weapons in your hands, but instead, you're relegated to issuing commands to ensure your units complete their objectives and live to see another day.
And, truth be told, it all works out just fine. Grasping the basics of Full Spectrum Warrior isn't all that hard thanks to a well done tutorial, and once you get into the mind frame for the type of gameplay FSW offers up, it all clicks to make something uniquely entertaining. Working your way around the battlefield, constantly finding cover while in the midst of an onslaught of bullets, is invigorating and the satisfaction that results from finding the tactical solution in the midst of that onslaught of bullets is immense.
The failings of FSW are somewhat debilitating, however. The camera isn't too flexible, often forcing you into situations blind (as you would in real war situation, but even so), but the big problem is the camera can make it very hard to precisely order your troops around over long distances. But the main beef with FSW is that it's too short, even in spite of an exclusive mission for the PS2. You can take it all online and work through the campaign with a friend, but even so, there's no real incentive to play through more than once.
With fantastic visuals that don't seem to have suffered all that much from the transition from the Xbox, Full Spectrum Warrior will be sure to delight tactical strategy fans looking for something different. It captures the exciting, and just as often, horrible atmosphere of war all the while being completely engrossing. If you missed out on it on the Xbox or PC, you can't go wrong with the PS2 version generously marked at just $20 bucks.