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Full Spectrum Warrior

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


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Xbox Review - 'Full Spectrum Warrior'

by Corey Owen on June 23, 2004 @ 2:02 a.m. PDT

Genre : Action
Developer : Pandemic Studios
Publisher : THQ
Release Date : June 1, 2004

In a day and age where innovation seems to be on the decline and sequels are on the rise it’s refreshing to see a game like Full Spectrum Warrior come along. Part war sim part real time strategy FSW brings a new type of gameplay experience to the Xbox. There really is nothing like it out there for any system as far as I know. The best part is while attempting to do something different they also managed to make it incredibly fun in the process. While not without its faults FSW does a ton of things to make this game a largely enjoyable experience. So what is this game all about and what makes it so unique? Let’s find out.

Built from a U.S. army training sim, FSW puts you in control of two squads of four men apiece. You are dropped into Zekistan to oust their leader Mohammad Jabbour Al Afad and end the terrorist threat to America. The entire story takes place in one day from early in the morning to late in the afternoon as your squads make their way through hostile urban environments trying to locate Al Afad. This story mode was added for the benefit of gamers as THQ imagined we would all get bored by simply doing training exercises. While they may have been right, the story is a little typical and doesn’t really offer anything that hasn’t been done before. With that being said it does a fine job of laying the foundation for some excellent gameplay and the characters do have some funny quips along the way.

As mentioned before this game is a blend of RTS and sim so don’t go into it thinking this is a third person shooter where you control a squad like in Brute Force or Rainbow Six. The gameplay mechanics work like this. You have an Alpha squad and a Bravo squad that you can switch between using the Y button. Occasionally you will have a Charlie squad that you can switch to by pressing and holding the Y button, but for the most part it’s just the two squads. To move your team an icon with 4 circles corresponding to each member of a squad is moved around the map. The team leader position is indicated by a brighter yellow circle than the other members of the squad. Formation movement is location sensitive. What I mean is your team will move in different formations depending on where your team is moving i.e. behind a box for cover, to a corner of a wall, into open ground, etc. Using the standard move command your team will run all at once at full speed into the position you designated. There is also a maneuver called bounding where two team members will move into position slowly and cover a designated area while moving while the other two members stay in their current position until the other members have made it to the new location. Then the roles reverse and they two members in the new position cover the area while the other two move up. There is one more aspect of movement to mention. As this is supposed to be realistic game, when a team mate is gunned down you can not leave him behind. You have about 30 seconds to treat his wounds and pick him up before he dies and the game is over. Once you have him that team will only move as fast as the man carrying the downed soldier can move so the other team will have to provide crucial cover fire.

So what about this firing I speak of? If it isn’t a third person shooter how does it work? There are two basic fire commands you can issue your soldiers, point fire and suppression fire. Point fire brings up a circular reticle that encompasses a decent area. When you press A it will issue a command to your soldiers to kill any enemies that come into that area or fire at existing enemies. This does have some serious side effects though as the team may not notice other enemies moving into the area outside of the target area. For this reason you must use your other squad wisely so as not to endanger your men. This is where one of the games flaws comes into play. This type of order may be standard military procedure and it may be realistic military tactics, but it can be very frustrating in gameplay when an enemy is shooting your team down from just outside the targeting area and your team refuses to fire back. This will lead to death on many occasions. This type of behavior also occurs when you issue the bounding order. For some reason the two team members who move first rarely if ever fire at enemies behind cover until they are all the way in position which means they will often be gunned down in the street when they could have simply fired back. These flaws can be covered if you use your second and third teams wisely, but regardless of the ability to get around these flaws they really shouldn’t be there.

There is a second method of attack that involves your grenadier and hand grenades. By holding down the X button you bring up the grenade menu. There are four types of grenades each of which is tied to a direction on the D pad. Left will bring up a stand frag grenade. These have a decent blast radius and can deal some serious damage to enemies behind destructible cover. One compliant I had with the grenades is the distance you are able to throw them. I know grenades are very heavy and realistically you can not throw them great distances, but I am pretty sure you can throw one greater than about twenty or thirty feet. There were many instances in which a grenade would have been the perfect solution, but my team leader couldn’t throw one that extra 15 feet I needed. The second grenade effect uses your grenadier to fire his M203 grenade launcher over much greater distances than a hand grenade ever could be thrown. The only complaint I have with this aspect of gameplay is whenever your team is under fire the grenadier won’t fire his weapon. When I issue a command I want it followed immediately whether we are under fire or not. Why my team will stay in position and take a beating when I issue a point fire command, but my grenadier waits until there is an opening to fire his grenade I can not explain. The next grenade type is the smoke grenade. You can use this to provide cover for your team to move to a new location. This is a great tactic, but the enemy never fires through the smoke. Clearly they can’t see your movement, but they could fire some random shots into the smoke, because clearly they must know what you are trying to do. The final grenade isn’t really a grenade at all, but rather a call for support from some heavy artillery. An icon appears that you can move around in the same fashion as the move icon. This will turn green when positioned where it can be used and then you can call in the cavalry. While this is only used a couple of times the effect is really cool.

The last gameplay elements that need to be discussed are the A.I. and the multiplayer. I already commented somewhat on the teammate A.I., but there is one last thing that needs to be said. By holding the B button you can order your team to take cover. This works great for the most part. When under fire your team will run back to the nearest wall, box, or broken down vehicle and take cover, but on occasion they will simply lay down prone in the middle of the street. It may be a case again where the A.I. is programmed to take cover if it is within a certain distance or otherwise lay prone, but lying prone is almost always guaranteed to get you killed. Again this may be standard practice in the military, but in the game it would have been better if they had run for cover in every situation. The enemy A.I. fares much better than that of your team. They will take cover when they see you coming and if their cover gets destroyed they run to the next nearest location. The RPG enemies will fire at the walls and ground near your position and kill you with the blast radius. The only problem with the enemies is that there are too few of them. You have eight men at your disposal and there is rarely a situation where you are fighting more than four enemies. This makes for a fairly easy game even on hard mode. Luckily they have an online coop mode so you and a friend can take the game on together. While this doesn’t extend the life of the game all that much this game makes for a great coop experience. You can also swap replays of missions so if you are having a hard time completing an objective your friends can send you a replay to show you how it’s done.

The graphics in FSW are really nicely done. All of the characters have unique personality that comes across well in the facial animations. All in game animations are fantastic and really draw you into this urban war. The way the team leaders use hand signals that correspond to your orders sells the whole experience. They also have a rag doll physics system so watching enemies and teammate die is quite an experience. This is especially true when your own team dies because the game slows down to give you a better view of just how badly you screwed up. The environments are well detailed and have some nice ambient effects like blowing sand and smoke. They can get somewhat repetitive at times seeing all that brown, but it is the desert so it’s true to life. The ingame cutscenes are very immersive and remind me a lot of the move Black Hawk Down. Most of them showcase how every branch of the military is involved in a war. Army Rangers and Helicopters join you in the battle and this makes the war seem more real. They really did a nice job with the immersion factor.

The audio is another area that really shines. All of the gunfire is authentic and sounds fantastic in Dolby Digital 5.1. The tanks barrel through the streets with authority and the medical vehicles chug along with diesel engines roaring. The voice acting is done well and they cast people who sound like typical soldiers. You might think this would make the game cliché, but it really helps to convince you these are real soldiers. Enemies talk in Arabic and yell what I assume to be obscenities at you. One of the coolest features is how the squads communicate with each other. If you move one squad into position and then switch to the other squad they will call back to you over the communication gear and report any enemy presence as well as confirmed kills and amount of resistance. One feature that would have greatly improved the game is the ability to issue commands via the headset. This should become standard fare in squad based games and is sorely missed in FSW.

All in all FSW is a unique gameplay experience that is very enjoyable. It is a little easy though so you will want to play through on hard mode to get the full experience. Coop play extends the life somewhat, but you will only want to run through the game so many times. Graphics and audio are top notch and really sell the urban warfare experience. If some of the A.I. flaws are corrected the enemy presence is beefed up in a sequel it would be a near perfect experience, but as it stands this game is still a blast. They have succeeded in creating an immersive, fun, and most importantly original game that is easy to pick up and play. As long as you understand that this is a strategy game and not a 3rd person shooter you should be pleasantly surprised by Full Spectrum Warrior.

Score : 8.6/10

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