Full Spectrum Warrior is a squad-based shooter designed to emulate the experience of real-life urban combat from the eyes of a light infantry soldier. Initially created as a training instrument for the United States Army, Full Spectrum Warrior will teach players the skill of coordinating attacks with fellow soldiers and the tactics involved in modern day warfare. Developer Pandemic Studios (Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Army Men RTS) called upon the expertise of the University of Southern California's Institute for Creative Technologies to create some of the tools needed to make the game as authentic a military simulator as possible.
"Is it an RTS that plays like a squad-based shooter, or vice versa?" Those are the kinds of questions that onlookers would spit out when watching Full Spectrum Warrior for the first time. It's hard to tell from looking at it, but once you get your hands on it, the truth is easy to see: it's an RTS unlike any you've ever played, but when you boil it down to its base, it isn't that different. I'm aware that that makes little sense, but it's the whole, unclassified truth. It effectively makes use of its roots' conventions, but by doing so, provides an experience much more intense than most military-themed games. It's got it's flaws, but when it's as its best, it's hard to deny the level of excitement it provides.
Full Spectrum Warrior hasn't changed much in its transition from Xbox to PC, though this isn't altogether a bad thing. It's one of the more inventive and demanding strategy games in recent history, and even if it's a little flawed, it's definitely worth experiencing.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Xbox version, here's a brief rundown: Full Spectrum Warrior puts you in control of two four-man fireteams deployed in the heart of a fictional, war-torn Middle Eastern country. Though it doesn't say as much, your role is essentially that of an invisible, intangible lieutenant who issues commands to each fireteam individually. Your perspective is far from the nigh-omniscient view seen in most RTS-style games, however. Full Spectrum Warrior actually takes a cue from squad-based shooters, in this area, limiting your view to what each individual team's leader can realistically see. As a result, the game is easily as tense as the least-forgiving squad-based shooters, with its foundations in RTS conventions lending it a deliberate, methodical pacing.
As you can infer, Full Spectrum Warrior's minute-to-minute gameplay is intense and demanding. The game's most effective scenarios will have to second-guessing your every potential move and devising intricate, precise strategies involving both fireteams. This is very much a game in which reckless action will net you nothing but a big fat failure, so you should expect to take things deliberately, especially when it comes to the more challenging missions.
Luckily, you have some pretty effective tools -- in the literal and figurative sense -- at your disposal which, if properly used, can get you out of any kind of snag. In terms of hardware, both fireteams are identically outfitted: each has a heavy gunner, a grenadier, and a rifleman, on top of a team leader. The strategic tools at your disposal are now evident: the heavy gunner can lay suppressive fire, while your other fireteam inches into a more advantageous spot; or the grenadier can launch a rocket-propelled grenade at an entrenched enemy, or else use a smoke grenade to give your teams some cover where none exists.
These kinds of resources are limited, naturally, so what it all eventually comes down to is pure strategic acuity. In the most essential sense, this boils down to keeping your men behind cover at all times. Conveniently, the razed cityscape of Zekistan is littered with all kinds of objects that can be used in this manner, ranging from derelict cars and dumpsters, to rickety shacks and empty wooden crates. The latter gradually degrade over time, so it ain't too smart to rely on them for extended periods of heavy fire. In any case, you'll quickly train yourself to keep your teams behind cover at all times, in many cases plotting out several moves in advance. Since you always have a clear waypoint marking the direction of your next objective, discerning a sequence of cover spots leading to it is never a problem.
Of course, you'll seldom meet enemies that don't take advantage of cover themselves. It's usually the other way around: they'll pop out of corners when you're not moving carefully, and take potshots liberally until you rectify this. In the rare cases that one of your teams happens upon an uncovered enemy, one of the squad members will typically neutralize before you have a chance to realize.
More typical are battles in which both sides are behind suitable cover, and as you can imagine, these usually turn into drawn-out stalemates until either side takes some kind of forceful action -- lob a grenade, flank with another unit, or what have you. It's in situations like these were the quality of the enemy A.I. makes itself evident. It's hit or miss, basically; sometimes, a rooftop sniper will take potshots until your squad's movement renders what cover he may have moot, upon which he'll flee to another location. Situations like this make the A.I. seem really impressive. Conversely, there will be situations in which an enemy unit's cover will have completely degraded, but for some reason, it continues to stand there and shoot.
Now, there's no question that there is a robust A.I. system buried somewhere in Full Spectrum Warrior; the efficiency and responsiveness of your own squads' behaviors, as well as the US Army mode found in the Xbox version leaves little doubt as to this. It's just the ways in which it manifests in its commercial iteration that feels a little questionable, sometimes. And for the record, the US Army mode appears to be absent from the PC version.
What the PC version does offer over the Xbox version are two extra missions, which are sort of epilogue to the story told in the campaign mode. They're available from the get-go, presumably as a convenience to those of you who've already played the Xbox version, though those who haven't may want to be wary: their briefings offer a bit of insight into what happens during the game's later missions, and if you manage to retain some of the names that are casually dropped throughout them, you might spoil a bit of the story for yourself.
More significant, though, are how well the controls transferred over to the PC. Not to take anything away from how the game performs on Xbox, but it's clear that Full Spectrum Warrior was primarily designed as a PC-style game. The movement cursor just seems much more response when mapped to a mouse, and left-clicking to assign your fire sectors feels just as intuitive. Ditto with all the grenadier's special weapons, and whatever support artillery you may have: all of these are mapped to the number keys, making them that much easier to deploy. Graphically, too, the PC version has the upper hand. With all the graphic settings set to their highest values, and played in the max resolution, it looks pretty hot.
The biggest letdown, really, is how the game didn't improve upon the Xbox version's minor shortcomings. Foremost -- and, given the nature of the PC interface, perhaps not too difficult to implement -- would have been some beefed-up RTS-style controls. Things like unit grouping and command queuing would have been very welcome additions, but no dice. Ditto with competitive online play; just like its Xbox counterpart, the only multiplayer option is for co-op games. Given that much of the game's appeal comes from the challenge inherent in coordinating the actions of two independent fireteams, it isn't all that appealing.
If you didn't get to play it on Xbox, then it's easy to recommend this on the PC. The interface works a whole lot better on the PC, and if your machine is up to running it all maxed out, then it will look that much cleaner. All this aside, however, the game itself is intense and utterly engrossing. Unlike many games of this theme, it also has a very distinct sense of personality, which carries it forward when the deliberate nature of its pacing makes it start to feel a little onerous.
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