The military shooter, one of the most influential genres in recent years, has spawned many different games, under many different guises. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine the genre without a plethora of first-person shooters. While proving popular among a large section of gamers, the traditional military shooter may now have found an adversary in the form of THQ’s new military strategy title, Full Spectrum Warrior.
Commission And Conquer
A worrying trend amongst videogame companies seems to be that of a ?this was successful, let’s jump on the bandwagon’ philosophy that constantly spews out FPS after FPS and rarely innovates or produces something unique to enhance the gaming scene. However, every now and again, an original title will appear and make you wonder why no development team has done it this way before – and that’s why Full Spectrum Warrior stands out in the crowd.
Some time ago, the US army commissioned Pandemic Studios to create a training tool that would help soldiers understand procedure and strategy in an urban battlefield environment, albeit an artificial one. Once the studio had finished the project for the military, they realized the title’s potential as consumer software. An in-game story was developed and some tweaks were made to give the game a more consumer friendly face, yet the basic design stayed true to the army’s version, including its originality.
THQ, along with developer Pandemic Studios, have created something unusual and refreshing within the military genre with their new strategy game Full Spectrum Warrior. Upon looking at the game’s case, you could be forgiven for thinking this was some kind of lost Tom Clancy title. The cover art and reverse side pictures will seem very familiar to anyone who owns a Clancy game, especially Ghost Recon, and would lead you to believe they were the same type of game. This, however, is where the similarities end. While Ghost Recon and its ilk stay firmly rooted in the conventions of the FPS, Full Spectrum Warrior deviates from the mandate and does not deliver a traditional shooter in any respects; in fact it plays out more like a strategic puzzle game.
Learn To Stay Alive
After loading the game, the first playable feature is the MOUT (or, for civilian types, Military Operations Urban Terrain). Basically, these stages serve as the game’s tutorial and cannot be bypassed in favor of the main campaign. Though this may annoy those players who just want to get into the game, it does help set the scene for coming events. It also lends a nice sense of authenticity to the proceedings, and shouldn’t take more than an hour’s gameplay to get through. The only real problem with the MOUT training is that the concepts of the game can often be mastered quicker than the narrator can relay, or you will already have practiced certain elements of what you’re being instructed to do. If you know what’s going to be asked of you and try to put the maneuver into operation, the game will not permit you to do so until it dictates the time is right. Considering this is only a small annoyance, it can leave an ominous feeling as to how the main game will control.
Rifleman To Bishop’s Four
The good news then is that the main campaign exhibits none of the restraints placed upon the two controllable squads of soldiers during the training missions. The basics of the gameplay involve learning to use the weaponry at your disposal, and how to keep your soldiers safe behind environmental objects – some of which are destructible and only offer protection for a short length of time. The other, perhaps more important, elements to learn are the viable tactics to be used in any given situation. This is also one aspect of the game that really sets Full Spectrum Warrior apart from its military brethren, as there is no direct control given to the player over either squad. No ability to squeeze off a few rounds by hammering one of the face buttons, or to immediately move your character to a specific place, should you wish to. Everything is done by command; and commands take time to issue. Typically, from the player issuing a given command on the controller, it takes a couple of seconds to filter down to your team; this is not a control issue, but it takes that time for your team leader to relay the order, and then the men move once the order has been verbalized. When moving your squad, you will notice four circles on the floor; each one corresponds to a member of your squad, and the formation the circles take are dictated contextually by where you position your men.
Points Of Bounding Suppression
Another interesting aspect of giving orders is the defensive and aggressive commands. You have several actions available to you, including throwing or firing grenade rounds, calling air strikes, and issuing fire orders that take three basic forms. The first of these is point of fire, which orders your squad to fire if they see an enemy. Then there’s suppressive fire, which allows you to open up on enemies and force them to remain hidden to avoid your barrage of fire, and allow one of your teams to move safely across dangerous zones. Finally, there is bounding, a technique used to move while being aware of your environment and potential ambush areas, and the ability to fire in that direction should the need arise. While all of these abilities suggest a military experience of enviable depth, the actual game is somewhat shallow. It takes a short amount of time to realize that a situation will primarily have you encountering an embedded enemy, and then you must figure out an effective way to outflank that enemy in order to take them out. Then, once that’s out of the way, you set about doing it all over again. That’s not to say the game is boring, it’s exactly the opposite, but it’s so much fun that you simply wish there were more things to see and do. This is a small complaint indeed considering the overall quality of the package.
Nice F**king Game, Sir
Graphically, Full Spectrum Warrior is very well executed, from the animation of both the squads, to that of the enemy units. Everything graphical about the game lends credibility to the subject matter; there are no spectacularly disintegrating bodies or screen enveloping explosions, the game is very grounded in its depiction of battle. In fact, explosions may not be as impressive as in other games, but they convey an appropriate sense of destructive power. The physics engine, while not flawless, does a reasonable job. Every now and again a body will fly a little higher than perhaps it should, or in a slightly odd direction, but, in general, fallen squad mates or enemies will collapse with very painful looking realism. This is just one of many little touches that make the game an enjoyable experience. The sound is as well implemented as the graphics; being as dramatic as it is believable. The music comprises of both swirling Arabic-sounding riffs, and pounding military tunes. The sound effects also do a wonderful job of supporting the rest of the soundtrack, the guns and explosions sound appropriate, yet not overwhelming, and they’re all very well executed. Actually, they sound exactly as you’d imagine them to. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the audio is that, besides being humorous to listen to, your squad mates will occasionally curse. Although profanity in videogames is becoming more and more commonplace, it’s to Pandemic’s credit that the included foul language is neither blatant nor exists for mere shock value, but purely to reinforce the atmosphere of the game.
Explosive Educational Extras
Much has been made of the actual military training aspect of this title, although how much of that remains in the single player campaign is unclear initially, but the game will allow the players to discern that for themselves. Surprisingly, the military version is included on the disc – as an unlockable extra. Strangely, though, the controls for this mode operate differently to the regular campaign, although the basic operations are the same, and it’s easy enough to pick up after a few minutes of play. There are some obvious omissions to the content of the army’s software, most notably the audio – it exhibits none of the humorous banter included in the main game (perhaps to be expected considering it’s an army training tool). The frame rate and animation also appear to be a little rougher around the edges, and the difficulty level is certainly higher than that of its consumer interpretation. Despite these small issues, the army version is certainly an interesting and valuable addition to the package. However, the feature a lot of people will enjoy the most is the ability to play cooperatively (unfortunately there are no adversarial modes) over Xbox Live, although strangely there is no system link feature.
Fulfilling Spectrum Warrior
Even though the game can sometimes feel like a ?flank, shoot, and repeat’ experience, in part due to the non-random generation of enemies, it would be a disservice to dismiss the game purely on that detail, as it’s something you will not often experience unless you have to replay a section over and over. Full Spectrum Warrior delivers an intriguing new experience in the ever-expanding genre of military themed videogames. The strategy element is enjoyable and, thanks to its slightly detached camera perspective, it allows the player to visually capture more of the excitement a title like this has to offer. The implementation of the gameplay mechanics is well thought through and feels natural, no matter what mode you choose to play in; it will not take long to be able to control both squads quickly and effectively. Overall, Full Spectrum Warrior is an extremely fun title, and certainly a breath of fresh air in terms of gameplay. People expecting a first-person shooter may well be disappointed, but anyone looking for an exciting, visually enticing, military game that’s a little different from its peers would do well to give it a try.