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Full Spectrum Warrior Review

publisher: THQ
developer: Pandemic Studios
genre: Strategy

PIII 1000, 256MB RAM, 64MB video card
ESRB rating: M

release date: Sep 14, 04
» All About Full Spectrum Warrior on ActionTrip

There has been a myriad of great games released in September, but the last thing I expected was that I was going to get hooked on a military sim. When it came out for the Xbox, Full Spectrum Warrior wasn't exactly met with much praise. Even though the game was hailed as groundbreaking before its release, the Xbox press treated it to a lukewarm response once it finally came out.

Now, I haven't played the Xbox version, and after seeing a few 70-something scores I opted out of adding this one to my Xbox games collection. That just goes to show you how misleading review scores can be sometimes. Ahem...

Full Spectrum Warrior is one unique fucking military tactical sim. The game play is so unique I'd like to call it groundbreaking if I may. Seriously, I had no idea what to expect from it, as I haven't even played the demo, but once I got accustomed to the excellent control system, it dawned on me how special Full Spectrum Warrior really is.

After playing Star Wars Battlefront for like an hour and a half a week or so ago, I began to think that Pandemic Studios has lost their touch. The Aussie game studio was actually known for their pioneering Battlezone series, which has single-handedly defined the action strategy genre, and was really unlike any other PC game before it. So how could a team with such great vision screw up with Star Wars Battlefront so badly, and then get such mediocre response from the Xbox press for Full Spectrum Warrior? I must say I was a little worried.

Little did I know that Full Spectrum Warrior is actually a mix of pure adrenaline-pumping action and turn-based strategy game play that is really unlike any other military sim I've ever played. This is a true and true tactical shooter in every sense of the word. In order to stay alive you'll have to cover all the angles, provide cover fire for the other team at all times, and just learn how to assess the situation even before the shit hits the fan. This is pretty much how it is in real life as no sane soldier will ever rush out Rambo-style without identifying all the areas where hostile fire could come from.

In FSW, you do not directly control the squads. Instead, you issue orders as the team leader by telling them where to go, when to take cover and who to shoot. Coordinated action is the key to successful problem solving on the field and each encounter with the enemy will present a riddle so to speak, which you'll have to solve in order to finish your objective and get to the next save point. These 'riddles' however are far from abstract. You might run into two heavily armed, well-entrenched hostiles with RPGs, so in order to neutralize them you'll have to either flank them with one of the teams (while the other team provides cover fire) or find some other devious tactic to get through. That is what I meant by a riddle.

Without going too much into how the whole thing works (you should find that out for yourself), it's important to mention that the controls are very smooth and intuitive on the PC and issuing orders to your squad members will be a breeze. The soldiers are capable of defending themselves of course, so if you leave them out in the open they'll at least try to shoot the bad guy before he shoots them. Still, with a simple press of the 'space' key you can order them to find the nearest cover and they'll be very proficient in doing so. This unique mix of turn-based elements that actually play out in real-time and intense combat will require you to think about what you're doing at all times, even more so than in games like Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon. There is actually MUCH to be learned about military tactics from watching how your troops move in FSW. Your troops will use the system of movement in specific formations and a set of urban warfare tactics known as Ready-Team-Fire-Assist. I already explained the term in one of the earlier previews I wrote for another game: RTFA is essentially related to the position of each of the members of your four-man squad, and the formation they assume while moving in urban areas populated with hostiles. The ready man is the rifleman who's covering the team leader, across from them at the fire position stands a marine armed with a Squad Automatic Weapon, while the assist man stays at the back of this formation covering their rear end. A marine squad will move in this way while trying to ensure that all possible angles of fire are covered, ideally in a 360 degree radius.

Even though this is a sound system, as you know no system is perfect, which is really the biggest charm of this game. In the field soldiers will be often asked to improvise and sometimes you can do this in game. Needless to say, doing this can be very fun and rewarding. FSW presents a well-executed innovative style of play that is both highly intense and very tactical and intelligent in its nature. Congrats to the team at Pandemic for making this one so smooth and playable on the PC.

As far as the background story is concerned, however, FSW doesn't have one really. Well it does, but you could easily mistake it for a US Army promo video. The game takes place in the Middle East - fearless US soldiers are battling faceless, AK-47-wielding Arab militants. Essentially, they are after the 'ace of spades,' a Saddam-like dictator of a country that looks VERY MUCH like Iraq, and in the course of their pursuit, they'll uncover mass graves and other such evidence of heinous crimes that the fleeing dictator has committed during his reign of terror. The only thing that's potentially wrong with this is that there'll be people out there who will think that waging a nasty, urban guerilla war like the one in Iraq is as simple as shooting bad guys in FSW, but that's the ugly side of any propaganda, and there's plenty of it in FSW. Granted, the game is rated 'M', so let's hope that only responsible and reasonable people will get to play it. (Yeah right...) ( would like to apologize to the American people, we employ a bunch of commies. - Ed.)

But to get back to the game itself, FSW uses the Havok physics engine. While the Havok engine works great for destructible terrain and deterioration of cover, the rag doll physics seem so blatantly exaggerated, they are ridiculous. When hit by a bullet, a body will fly up something like eighteen feet in the air and land like it's a puppet on a string but with the strings detached. That just doesn't look realistic, so a bit more tuning of the physics engine was in order. (You've obviously never seen real combat, hippie. -Ed.)

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8.8   Very Good

Very unique game, excellent tactical game play, smooth controls, great replay value;

Rag doll physics, AI glitches, hackneyed story.


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