Planning an attack route in these games is just as important as lining up the terrorist’s head in the sniper scope. Full Spectrum Warrior, while sharing similar themes, is a different beast altogether.
There are a lot of tactical shooters on the Xbox, most of which bear the Tom Clancy name. Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon and to a lesser extent, Splinter Cell, are all genre-bending games that not only require the player to be a decent shot, but also demand patience and strategy. Planning an attack route in these games is just as important as lining up the terrorist’s head in the sniper scope. Full Spectrum Warrior, while sharing similar themes, is a different beast altogether.
Originally designed as an army training device, Full Spectrum Warrior is certainly a unique take on the strategy-action genre. It’s more real-time-strategy than anything else, even though it doesn’t quite fit that mold, either. Players take control of two teams of four men each, but the catch is that they can’t be controlled directly; the player can only give them commands, as in an RTS title. There is no skill-based shooting in the entire game, aside from occasionally aiming the grenade launcher.
After an extensive, but very useful, training course, the player is off to Zekistan for reasons that don’t really matter. The plot is explained in greater detail in the instruction manual, but very little of it is covered in the actual game, and I expect most players won’t care enough to research it. Each level presents the player with an initial objective, such as rescuing trapped comrades, eliminating a machine gun nest, or disarming missiles, and most add additional objectives during the course of the mission. Just when you think it’s time for some R&R, some Charlie company has gotten into trouble or a tank rolls on in.
Dealing with these tasks is a challenge, but controlling your squads isn’t, thanks to an intuitive control system that allows the player plenty of options for everything from moving to firing. Movement is handled with a cursor, much like real-time-strategy games. You can order your teams to simply rush on over to the selected spot, or have them move cautiously with their guns drawn. This is an important technique, as blindly rushing around corners can lead to casualties, and in this war, a single death means Game Over.
The best way to avoid death is to stay in cover, where the troops are virtually invulnerable. When in cover, shots have no chance of hitting you, with the exception of explosives. Cover can degrade, though, which increases the chance of shots hitting you. Crouching behind a table, for example, will only provide a few seconds of cover, whereas the corner of a building is indestructible. Catching an enemy out of cover usually means a very quick combat. As a result, most real combats begin with one team of your troops behind cover firing at an enemy (or group) that is also behind cover, producing a stalemate.
Unless someone’s cover is destructible, the two opposing teams can fire every last bullet without a chance of hitting, which is where your second team comes in. While Alpha team fires on the enemy, that enemy becomes distracted, allowing Brave team to take up better position, eventually flanking the enemy and shooting him from the side. Those are the basics of combat, although there are a few little rules that make it more complicated.
It is a tad repetitive, and there were quite a few times I felt restricted in the way I could handle certain combats. It often seemed like there was only way the defeat the enemy, without resorting to the use of scarce grenade-launcher rounds. Sometimes I wanted to go around a small building in order to flank my enemy, but the other side of the building was “off mission,” and therefore my troops wouldn't go there. There is generally just one way to go through each mission.
Saving is handled via checkpoints during each mission, which come up a little too frequently. Generally, after each major combat, a save point will pop up. To use them, you need to move both of your teams over to it, and then wait about twenty or twenty-five seconds for your team to report in and save. It just takes too long, especially when you factor in the 30 or 40 seconds spent running over to the save point. A full minute of saving can really pull the player out of an otherwise immersive gaming experience.
Full Spectrum Warrior looks great, aside from the silly slow-motion deaths of your own soldiers. Otherwise, though, the environments and characters all look pretty realistic - even if much of it looks similar. Cars and other objects can be damaged and destroyed, and the frame rate is solid, even with a large group of enemies on screen. Your soldiers are nicely animated for every task from peeking around corners to tossing grenades.
The audio shines here. The sounds of gunfire are convincing, and the voice acting is great. I do wish there were more lines recording for frequent tasks, such as moving. There are only two or three different lines for movement, and there’s a whole lot of moving that needs to be done. Music seems to come and go, but does a nice job of complementing the action (or lack thereof) on screen.
Xbox Live support is a nice touch, but it’s only a two-player cooperative mode. It can be fun, but mostly only with friends. It’s too bad there’s no split-screen co-op mode, as that would have been great fun. The campaign is decently long, though, and there are multiple skill settings to provide at least a little bit of replay.
Bottom Line - Full Spectrum Warrior is a unique entry in the tactical action genre. Fans of the Tom Clancy games should give this one a try, as it offers a similar kind of strategy in a different way. It’s basically a real-time-strategy game, but it handles the genre unlike any other game before it. Slightly repetitive combat and linear level design keeps the game from earning must-have status, but gamers with even a slight interest in strategy titles and a yearning for something new should give it a rent.