Full Spectrum Warrior deserves credit for being something other than just another military-themed shooter or strategy game.
- Innovative game design--there's nothing quite like this
- Budget price
- Co-op mode--who can say no to that?.
- Sluggish, choppy frame rate drags down the presentation
- Linear, puzzlelike levels require more trial and error than strategy
- Numerous unrealistic contrivances fly in the face of the authentic presentation.
Full Spectrum Warrior started out as a military training simulation commissioned by the US Army, and only later did publisher THQ and developer Pandemic Studios decide to turn it into a video game about modern squad tactics--but you'd never know that from playing the game. Full Spectrum Warrior features an innovative design and an effective control scheme, and it convincingly delivers the sights and sounds of modern squad combat in the war-torn Middle East. It may look like a shooter, but it isn't one, since you never actively aim or fire weapons in the game (except for grenades). The thing is, Full Spectrum Warrior isn't a fully featured strategy game, either, and it relies on a fairly simple, surprisingly abstract gameplay model that has trouble sustaining a relatively short campaign (which can be played alone or cooperatively online). Indeed, the game often ends up feeling like a string of puzzles whose solutions are pretty obvious. Nevertheless, Full Spectrum Warrior is good overall, and it deserves credit for being something other than just another military-themed shooter or strategy game. It's just too bad that it isn't more involving.
Full Spectrum Warrior was originally released for the Xbox a little less than a year ago, and probably the greatest thing about that version of the game was the quality of its presentation--it at least looked very realistic. The subsequent PC version fared just as well if not better, but on the PlayStation 2, some sacrifices evidently needed to be made. Actually, this version of the game still packs in plenty of detail, though some of the cinematic lighting effects have been cut back and the colors aren't as vibrant. However, the game runs sluggishly, limping along at a choppy frame rate. This hurts the presentation, and it's also something of a liability from a gameplay standpoint, since the frame rate makes it relatively more difficult to issue precise, split-second orders to your fireteams. The PS2 version also seems to lack the Xbox version's hidden US Army mode (an interesting bonus on the Xbox, though mostly just a novelty), but it does include a couple of additional chapters in a campaign that ended too abruptly on the Xbox. One of these, a fairly interesting defensive mission, is exclusive to the PS2. Also, the game is available at a budget price--but so are the other versions at this point. At any rate, you'd ultimately be better off playing either of the other two versions of Full Spectrum Warrior if you had the means, since the game heavily leans on the strength of its presentation, and that presentation isn't as strong on the PS2.
The game begins with an optional MOUT (military operations on urban terrain) training course that effectively familiarizes you with Full Spectrum Warrior's unique fireteam command system, which includes how to use cover, how to lob grenades, how to lay down suppressive fire, how to flush out foes firing from behind cover, and more. These step-by-step training scenarios, like the rest of Full Spectrum Warrior's presentation, are thick with authentic military atmosphere and they establish that each of the men in your eight-man squad is a unique individual with his own personality. You, the player, do not represent a specific character in the game, but your disembodied perspective is always near to whichever of your squad's two fireteams is currently selected, as if you're in the thick of the action right with them. Your line of sight is limited to theirs, and when they run from cover to cover you'll appear to be running right with them, as if you're an embedded video journalist capturing the action on camera. Full Spectrum Warrior gives an outstanding first impression.
Perhaps this first impression is a testament to the Army's MOUT training. Ironically, the training scenarios in Full Spectrum Warrior are so comprehensive that they teach you practically everything there is to know about the gameplay, leaving little else for you to learn during the actual campaign. The campaign takes place in the near future in a fictitious setting that's a dead ringer for Iraq. Here's how the gameplay unfolds in a nutshell: Most every campaign mission is basically a completely flat, linear obstacle course of sorts in which enemies will routinely pop up and start firing on you using small arms and, occasionally, frag grenades or rocket-propelled grenades. These enemies will typically fire from behind cover, and your men should always be standing behind cover when not in transit or else they're much more likely to get shot. Taking out entrenched enemies is what Full Spectrum Warrior boils down to, but the process very quickly becomes routine and ceases to feel risky or dangerous despite the authentic-looking presentation. Also, since the levels are scripted to play out basically the same way each time, with predetermined enemy placements and mostly clear-cut paths to objective points, thwarting enemy ambushes becomes more of a matter of trial and error than skill and planning.
The most significant contrivance in Full Spectrum Warrior is that men hiding behind cover are completely invulnerable. For instance, if your team is firing around a corner at a man 10 yards away, who himself is firing with an assault rifle from behind some sandbags, no one is going to get shot, no matter how long you allow the stalemate to drag on and no matter how many bullets seem to nearly hit their mark. The game professes that, when you're behind cover, you're in a safe zone (though, certain types of cover, such as sofas or wooden crates, can't absorb much fire and will realistically fall apart before long). This aspect of the game may initially come as a surprise, but it's a fair element for Full Spectrum Warrior to impose in the interest of making the player focus on tactics rather than on twitch gameplay. However, the tactical options themselves are fairly limited.
So what do you do in a stalemate situation? You may: toss a frag grenade if you're close enough to the enemy (your men have weak throwing arms, apparently, as you can't send grenades very far); fire an M203 grenade (which, for gameplay reasons, flies straight ahead like a rocket, whereas the real-world weapon is more like a mortar); toss a smoke grenade in front of your foe so that your fireteam may safely advance to a different location; or lay down suppressive fire on your foe, causing him to duck and cover, creating an opportunity for your other fireteam. You have limited use of all these options, though you'll find places to replenish your bullet ammo (but not your grenades) during the course of a mission. You always have two fireteams at your disposal, so in practice, you'll frequently have one engage the enemy in a stalemate while the other creeps up from the side and whacks the enemy where he's exposed. Little shield icons floating over the heads of friends and foes make it perfectly clear whether or not someone is in danger of being shot.