Full Spectrum Warrior: Ten Hammers is a modern-day war simulation that incorporates authentic squad-based combat with real-time tactical maneuvers. As in its 2004 predecessor, Ten Hammers lets players assume the role of squad leader, issuing commands to multiple infantry squads through 12 levels of strategic action set within the fictitious Middle Eastern country of Zekistan. Although the Al-Afad regime was successfully ousted in the first game, players are charged with the task of restoring stability to a fragmented country that has several militias vying for power. Players are joined by a coalition of forces as they engage in urban warfare from inside the oil-rich city of Khardiman.
Each squad is outfitted with the latest in military weaponry, from grenade launchers to sniper rifles, but players can also call air strikes as well as command mechanized units like Bradley Tanks and Armored Humvees. The four-man squad can be splintered off into two-man "buddy teams" for added protection, and players now have the ability to enter interior locales to position snipers. Ten Hammers also lets players take control of an individual unit for precision shooting at specific targets. The PC version supports up to eight players in a choice of team-based scenarios, from destroying munitions and rescuing stranded soldiers to gaining strategic control of a monastery and disabling a radio communications tower.
The original Full Spectrum Warrior came completely out of left field. Combining the rigid control conventions of an RTS with the point of view of a traditional third-person shooter, the very act of manipulating your four-man squads through hostile territories felt almost counterintuitive. That is, until you allowed yourself to approach it on its own terms. Just like modern domestic policy, the game asked you to surrender certain freedoms, only instead of promising you peace and security in return, all it did was usher you deeper into the grips of war with a big old smile on its face. Every movement command you issued may as well have had the life and death of your troops hinging on it. During your oh-so-long and ponderous moments of planning, the game didn't baby you one bit -- it expected you to know what you were doing and slapped you silly when you made a mistake At the time of its release, in short, we had never played a game like it.
Why, then, aren't we nearly as excited about the sequel? The short answer: It feels more like a lengthy (not to mention full-priced) expansion pack than a standalone game. Even considering all the refinements that were added to the game, the minute-to-minute gameplay feels largely the same as what you experienced the first time around. Yes, many of the features we wished were included in the first one were indeed implemented, and they do offer a deeper, more precise level of control. But in the end, the song remains the same, and what was once novel and engrossing quickly becomes a bit tedious. Full Spectrum Warrior: Ten Hammers needed to cover some fundamentally new ground, and it failed to do so.
The foundation laid out by the original game is still very much intact. During most of the missions, you're in control of two distinct fireteams, each comprised of four members, which can move and act independently of each other. You don't directly move them around; you issue them orders by means of a context-sensitive cursor. An element on your HUD will reveal what formations that your fireteams will take when they reach the spot that your cursor has highlighted, which is invaluable when determining whether any given piece of cover is viable. Much of the gameplay revolves around this sort of movement -- "bounding," it's called, and it involves alternately moving your fireteams to and from spots that will provide them sufficient coverage from enemy fire. In Ten Hammers, just like in its predecessor, you get the feeling that every move counts, and as such, even covering the smallest bit of ground demands your full attention.
As mentioned before, a number of refinements have been added to the control mechanics, and at times, these do make it easier to execute more complex tactical maneuvers. Primarily, it is now possible to give cross-team commands; e.g., Alpha team can give Bravo a move order, or vice-versa. Similarly, you are also able to temporarily divide one of your fireteams into two distinct subteams, in order so that, say, Alpha can execute a flanking maneuver without having to tie up Bravo. You sacrifice raw firepower by doing this (not to mention 360-degree coverage), but you gain a good deal of flexibility. Another welcome change is "hot movement." Unlike a typical move order, this allows your team to maintain a full degree of coverage (or alternately, to focus on a certain fire sector, if you so choose) when traveling to an assigned location. As the name implies, this helps a good deal when you have to move through "hot" locations, and even more so when you've set a fallback location for your team, if things happen to get ugly.
Of course, you can count on things getting ugly. Your enemies haven't changed a great deal in terms of make and model. They're most often insurgents from Zekistan, the fictional Middle Eastern country where the game takes place, and if you're harboring memories of the comparatively dense enemies you encountered in the first game, it's in your interest to banish those thoughts. In Ten Hammers, Pandemic has stepped up the enemy AI to a satisfyingly maddening degree. Rare is the enemy that stays put behind destructible cover, unless it's a viable tactical option. More often than not, your foes will perform strategic retreats, lay down suppressive fire, and flank you when you least expect them to. The game is a lot harder as a result.
To even the odds, you have a few extra toys at your disposal. Many of the missions will grant you access to some very heavy artillery in the form of Bradley fighting vehicles. When in control of these, hordes of insurgents that would have otherwise grounded your fireteams go down like mallards to buckshot. Unless said insurgents have technicals of their own on the field, in which case it's business as usual: Take it slow, or you're dead. You also can also ply some tricks on the fireteam level; remember the grenade launcher mechanics from the first game, which allowed you to manually aim shots? Well, those are back, along with a similar feature that lets riflemen and team leaders snipe enemies that are behind heavy cover. Finally, there's also a minimap in place that, on top of showing you the location of all your tactical assets, also reveals the locations of any enemies you've made contact with. Very useful indeed when your fireteams are in a pinch but not in the same spot.
If you were hoping for a compelling multiplayer experience in Ten Hammers, you might be a bit disappointed. There is a competitive multiplayer element here, and one that has actually been pretty well developed. It pits U.S. and Coalition forces against two fictional Zekistani factions in a variety of different scenarios, each with slightly varying objectives. When in control of the U.S. or Coalition forces, it feels very much like the single-player game -- you're in control of cohesive fireteams. When in control of the insurgents, things are slightly different in that you control individual combatants and are able to recruit any idle NPCs you encounter on the map. In the end, competitive Full Spectrum Warrior matches sounded better on paper than they actually are in practice. Oftentimes, you'll find yourself deliberately wandering around the maps for long stretches of time without encountering any opposition, only to have a match abruptly end because you fell victim to an inopportune surprise attack. War is hell indeed, but shouldn't it be fun, at the very least? In any case, the general playerbase seems to reflect this sentiment; rare is it to find more than one or two games active at any given moment.
Another big disappointment is the game's story. In this area, the original game provided a very unexpected surprise. The story was actually quite compelling, and the characters, far from being the sort of generic, faceless grunts you encounter in many military-themed games, were actually quite likeable and had very pronounced personalities. Not the case here. In this second tour of Zekistan, you alternate between a U.S. and a British unit (as well as an embedded journalist who's more often than not something of a non-presence), but you never become particularly attached to any one personality. Sure, you learn their names as a result of bludgeoning repetition, but you never really care about them, much less find yourself able to distinguish between a few of them. Clearly, the story and setting wasn't as much as a focus this time around, and the game has suffered a bit because of it.
It's hard to argue that Pandemic didn't do its due diligence with Ten Hammers. The game feels like a slightly more refined, challenging, and lengthy version of its predecessor. But we're ultimately left with the feeling that this was not enough. The game's foundation is extremely solid, and with a bit more creative effort, the sequel could have turned out a truly evolutionary iteration on the original's experience. What we actually have, though, is something more in line with what the original should have been that ends up being less compelling for its lateness.
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