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Full Spectrum Warrior

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox
Genre: Action
Publisher: THQ


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PC Review – 'Full Spectrum Warrior'

by Thomas Leaf on Oct. 26, 2004 @ 1:33 a.m. PDT

Genre : Action
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Pandemic Studios
Release Date: September 22, 2004


Since the critical and commercial success of Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon, there has been a glut of military-themed action games and shooters which revolve more around the methodical nature of small unit tactics than the tried-and-true run'n'gun methodology of the past. Since then, gamers have enjoyed all sorts of high-intensity gaming set in low-intensity conflicts taking on the persona of elite Special Forces soldiers. The tactical shooter was born and has been a highly-coveted genre ever since.

Pandemic Studios marches in with their take on the tactical shooter with what can be best described as a hybrid game that blends real-time strategy with a third-person action game perspective. At its core, Full Spectrum Warrior is a real-time tactical strategy game. Coupled with its third person "over the shoulder" camera, FSW takes on a totally different slant than what gamers are accustomed to. The notion of resource gathering isn't even a factor here, and the only resource to manage is ammunition. You do not build bases or buy units to deploy; you simply start off with an eight man rifle squad from an Army Mech Infantry Division (in this case the 3rd Infantry Division) into a MOUT (Military Operations in Urban Terrain) environment to operate said squad. There is much to talk about when it comes to this gameplay setting, but first a history lesson…

FSW began as a training tool for the Army's Officer Basic Course, meaning that infantry officers used this program prior to training with real soldiers to learn concepts of fighting in city streets. Any officer will tell you that a fight in a city is one best avoided. Indeed, if there is a reason as to why Hitler's Blitzkrieg across France and Poland was so devastating and complete, then it was because each time a major metropolis was encountered, it was circumvented and isolated. On today's battlefield, where low- to mid-intensity conflicts are the rule of the day, avoiding the city street fights isn't an option if that is where your opposition resides. Take Saigon and Hue, for example, and add to those city battles modern examples such as Mogadishu, and most recently, Fallujah, where American soldiers had to fight from street to street and house to house because there was no other means of ejecting the enemy. FSW is an attempt to imbue American junior officers with the knowledge, concepts and skills necessary to win a street fight. No one really thought it would make an excellent game, but Pandemic took a shot first on the X-Box, and the game met with critical success, and that amazingly inventive and original game has since been translated onto a seemingly more appropriate platform, the PC.

As soon as you load up and boot up FSW, the first thing you will notice is the whole hearted attempt to capturing the presence and essence of being a working soldier in the Army. While Hollywood has its stereotypes of different soldiers, FSW goes a step beyond and shapes those stereotypes into real characters. You have the wise-ass private and the hard-ass sergeant. There's a guy who has six different girlfriends back home and there's another guy who is a Green Beret wannabe. What makes these guys different however is that they constantly complain. It's not annoying, but from the start of the game, these guys bemoan everything they are ordered to do. From "I hate this part" to "You wanna get us into some f***ing cover?", these guys have something to say about any position you may lead them into, and you know what? Soldiers really do that. If there is one thing a soldier holds dear to his heart, it is his ability to complain. It has been said by many an officer that the only time he worries about his men is when they stop complaining.

Moaning and groaning aside, FSW achieves a sense of depth, realism and grittiness that lends itself to cinematic experiences very similar to films such as Blackhawk Down and We Were Soldiers. The third person camera imparts a very intense sense of cinema verite that I have not experienced in an RTS game. If you can find yourself getting lost in this, then you will be rewarded with a fully realized and intense experience. The only trick is that FSW is not a game of compromises. You need to learn, pay attention and be methodical in everything you do to succeed in this game, which is good because in the real world you need to be all of those things if you are going to deliver your boys home.

To begin to understand the game that is FSW, one must understand that modern combat (especially of battles fought at the squad/platoon level) revolves around the principles of combat roles and teamwork. Every man in a rifle squad has a designated role to fulfill. Your automatic rifleman lays down suppressing fires. Your rifleman places accurate fires on a specific target. Your grenadier applies direct heavy weapons fire onto a hardened or entrenched target. Your team leader directs the squad's maneuvers and fires and keeps a line of communication with the chain of command. Everything these soldiers are trained to do is in the hope of providing efficient movement and fire. One team moves while another fires.

The gameplay mechanics of FSW are complex and designed to allow you the greatest degree of flexibility on the battlefield while having to deal with the confusion and pressure a combat leader faces. On the X-Box, the control scheme translated very well to a gamepad. I would have thought it would have translated even better to a mouse and keyboard but at times, I found that the gamepad was actually more precise than the mouse and keyboard combination. You see, movement of your squad is done by left-clicking the mouse, moving the cursor (which is context-sensitive to the environment and available cover) and then left-clicking again. I would have preferred it if you clicked, held and then released, but that's a minor consideration. What made things tougher than they should have been was getting the cursor into the correct place. A lot of times, I found myself ordering my guys to post up on a corner, but they'd post up on the wrong side of the corner and get blasted. Perhaps you could say that I'm simply bad at this game, but it felt that the cursor was more stiff and finicky than it needed to be. You can select a specific soldier and move him out of formation a little bit in order to get him into better cover or give him a better look at the terrain. With the gamepad, this is done by selecting the soldier and budging the control stick a little bit in the direction you want him to go. With a mouse, you have to use the WASD keys to select the soldier and then use the left-click, move, left-click process to get him into a spot that is merely two feet away from where he is already standing. It takes a long time and in a fight timing is everything.

The developers will be happy to know that these are my only real complaints about FSW. On the plus side, the title has an awesome graphics engine that scales up nicely to PC hardware. The textures weren't bland or blurry as console ports tend to be. A nice hazy edge effect is employed, making the terrain look as if the heat affects your vision, and if you zoom in across the street, you can even see some nice heat shimmer. Soldiers are modeled and animated very well; they carry the right gear and wear the right uniform and even blouse their boots (even though they're not Airborne). Every time you move your squads, they move the way soldiers ought to move and scan their designated sectors for targets, with practical effect, as a soldier will only see a target when that target is in their direct line of sight. FSW also incorporates the vaunted Havok physics algorithms, which look awesome and add an even better sense of realism to the game. For instance, my automatic rifleman lit up a bad guy standing on the roof of a building (he did so on his own, as I had moved my squad into a spot where he saw the target out in the open and shot him without being ordered to do so, which is a standing order), and I watched as the body fell to its knees, rolled off the edge of the roof and tumbled head over heels into a heap on the ground below. It was pretty cool.

On the sound front, FSW doesn't fail to deliver either. With a good surround sound setup, you will hear bullets burn by and impact behind you. If a soldier cries out and he is off to your left, that is where the shout will come from. This really helps playability, as the ability to pinpoint enemy fire by sound is not only a realistic means but also enhances the sense of involvement during gameplay. The voice acting is on par with the game's gutsy realism. There aren't any watered down lines in this game, and if this were a movie, the language alone would earn an R rating. I don't mean that because the characters curse during the game that it makes FSW a good game, but if you're in a back alley while rounds are going downrange and you're ducking a sniper while trying to call in an artillery shift, then you're going to let a few four-letter words fly.

Multiplayer does not, just like the console version, offer an adversarial play. If you play a multiplayer session, then you will command one fire team while the other player commands the other. This makes for some really cool gameplay and teamwork possibilities, as having two live commanders in the field really makes this game into a live action battle. It would be nice if another live player could direct some of the opposing forces, as the computer's AI is competent and composed, but if you can maneuver into a flanking position, then you've pretty much nailed it.

With all things considered, FSW is an awesome game. Pandemic earned a hefty military contract so one would think that any earnings from commercial sales are pure gravy, but the console version of the game didn't exactly sell like hotcakes. It is a shame really, as FSW offers a truly dynamic and original style of gameplay to a genre of gaming that needs every possible breath of fresh air. The tightly told narrative of the single player campaign makes for a great romp on your desktop, and you can go through again with a friend over the internet Just make sure you have a solid connection and someone who has been through the game's MOUT course before marching into battle. With good visuals, immersive sound and a deep system of gameplay, it would seem that FSW delivers on all accounts. I would like to think that FSW would find a comfortable home among a more patient and mature PC crowd, but that's the gaming snob in me coming out. What it comes down to is this: Full Spectrum Warrior is worth the price of admission three times over. It is a good game that is well thought-out, plays well (assuming you take the time to learn the game) and is a very satisfying experience. I'd recommend it to any gamer who likes military-themed action games, especially ones with a heavy tactical slant. If you've rocked every Tom Clancy game out there and want something a little more challenging in a different sort of way, definitely give Full Spectrum Warrior a look.

Score: 9.2/ 10

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