Review: Full Spectrum Warrior (XB)

Full Spectrum Warrior
Developer: Pandemic Studios
Publisher: THQ
Multiplayer: 2 Player Co-op on X-Box Live

The US Military has seen the potential for using videogames as training tools ever since The Marines had somebody modify Doom way back when. Even before then, the Air Force had been using simulators to train its pilots. These simulators were just very expensive videogames, allowing pilots to be engulfed in the situation, giving them a taste of the real thing. Recently the Army has decided to branch out into videogame production as a means of both recruiting new soldiers and training them. Their first effort, America’s Army, was a free PC download that was a full online playable game. You had to pass basic training and become proficient in the use of various weapons that you would have access to in the game. The game was a success both with critics and gamers, and is now in the process of being ported to a few of the consoles.

The Army’s second game wasn’t actually intended for public consumption. Full Spectrum Warrior was designed purely as a training tool for its soldiers, to give them an idea of what it feels like to command troops under fire, without actually exposing them to it. The developers, Pandemic Studios, figured out that there might just be a cool game waiting to be unleashed on the rest of the world and asked if they might be allowed to do it. And here we are.

Story:

While this is an Army training game at heart, Pandemic realized that just giving you missions to complete wouldn’t be very interesting. So they went about crafting a fairly topical story about the United States being involved in the “regime change” shall we say of a Third World Middle Eastern dictator. Now I know what you’re all thinking, but no, it’s not about the Army invading Israel. Or even Jordan. Rather, it is that rogue nation, that terrorist state, Zekistan. Actually Zekistan is fictional, but all the maps in game seem to focus on the far eastern boarder of Iran, so who knows. All I’m saying is don’t be around Iran in September. Anyway, you are given 8 soldiers to command, and it is their story you unfold as the game progresses. There is no real character development, no deep story involving love and betrayal, just 8 soldiers moving from engagement to engagement, with occasional assistance. The story is probably the weakest thing about the game, all things considered. The fact that they seemed to need to justify the invasion of a fictional country by including mass graves and genocide in the story seems a bit much to me anyway.

Graphics:

If bombed out cars and Middle Eastern architecture is your thing, this game will be right up your alley graphically. The main characters are modeled pretty well, and there is little or no draw in due to the nature of the environments. What I mean there is you won’t be on an open battlefield, just confined ones, so you can always see where it is you are headed. Enemy units are fairly generic looking, with little or no variety. Vehicles in game don’t look quite right. The Bradley, for example, or the Humvee, both look as though they have sunk a few inches into the ground. Maybe it’s all that sand, I don’t know. Since this is a game about an Army unit helping to liberate a city, the scenery doesn’t change all that much from mission to mission. Pandemic realized though, that even in one city the environment can change from minute to minute and place to place, especially out in a desert. So some of the missions take place during a pretty wicked sand storm. You even hear your guys coughing the whole time during these missions.

Sound:

The majority of sounds that you will hear in Full Spectrum Warrior will be your two sergeants ordering the troops hither and yon, or ordering your troops to fire on specific targets etc. The other sounds you will be likely to hear are the sounds of the battlefield. M-16’s and AK-47’s being fired, RPG’s being launched and blowing up, these types of things. As well, your soldiers will from time to time speak their minds. If they feel exposed under fire, you will hear about it. Many other times you will hear them cursing at the enemy for firing at them, or at you for leaving them exposed to enemy fire. It all adds up to create a vivid feeling of actually being there, under fire.

Controls:

Moving around and giving orders in the world of the Full Spectrum Warrior is both easy and at the same time frustrating. You move a cursor representing your 4 soldiers with the left thumbstick wherever it is you wish your guys to move. Move closer to the edge and your team leader will be placed in a position to look around the corner. While it sounds like a good idea, at times it just gets too cumbersome. In addition, the camera is stuck at eye level, so if you are hiding behind a car or something you could be forced to leave your troops exposed to fire until you can clearly see where it is you want to move next. While this is more realistic in some ways, it is also a serious pain in the butt. There is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to move the camera up a bit to give you a better view of the battlefield.

You control two units most of the time in FSW, Alpha Team and Bravo Team. You switch between the two by pressing the Y button. At times in the game you will be assigned a third unit, named Charlie Team. Most of the time Charlie will be mission sensitive unit(s) that have to be protected until it’s time for them to do their thing. Switching to Charlie team is accomplished by holding down the Y button. While this works, it isn’t as intuitive as it could be. If you were able to tap Y and then select the team from an in-game menu on the HUD that might have been easier. Or perhaps pressing Y then X, A and B for the various units might have worked even better.

Another problem I had with the controls that may have more to do with the realism factor in the game is the lag time between you’re issuing an order and the troops moving to carry it out. A number of times I ordered the men to turn and fire after having engaged one enemy. After he was killed, they should have turned when ordered to shoot at the other guy. Only they didn’t. And so that enemy lived to fight some more, usually killing one or more of my men in the process.

Balance:

I’ve got nowhere else to put these particular complaints so they will go here. Why isn’t there an anti-tank weapon in the game? I’m pretty sure they do exist. Why is it so awkward to call in anti-armor support? If it’s so easy to call in a recon flight why can’t I do the same for an Apache? Why is it the men can fling a smoke grenade all the way across the board but can only throw a frag grenade maybe 30 feet? And for that matter why is it when I order my grenade launcher to fire on a target in an apartment balcony the target still lives when its’ less than four feet away from the explosion? And for a game that seems to pride itself on realism, the magic medics in this game really detract from the feeling of being there. If a guy is so badly wounded that he has to be carried to a medevac station, there should be no way that he can be looked at and sent on his way. I mean hell, even the Oakland Raiders don’t do that. These are some of the things I would like to see addressed in any possible sequel.

Replayability:

There isn’t really any reason to go back and play through this game again once you’ve finished it. The enemies all stay in the same location, attack from the same spots, and in general all die the same way. You may feel you approached the situation wrong, but that is just for the pro’s out there who think they know their stuff. Or maybe you are enlisting shortly and want to get the terminology down. Then I could see playing through the game a few times. The game is Live enabled, so you can sign on and play the campaign co-operatively with somebody. There is no vs. mode though, so don’t expect to play this for very long unless you just love it. The original Army version is included as an extra you can unlock via cheat code, and it is interesting to see just how much they dumbed it down for us civilian types.

Originality:

Well this game is a Real Time Strategy game, and on the X-Box the pickings are rather slim. In fact this and Goblin Commander are the only games I can think of that would fit that genre. In any event, it’s not the gameplay that is original here, it’s the implementation of it all, the reality of it. This is essentially what it would feel like to go to war, were you not afraid of death and could replay it over and over again. This is a glimpse of what it’s like to be in the military.

Appeal:

Are you into all things military? Did you watch CNN during Desert Storm and go damn that blowed up real good!? Are you considering a career defending the United States? Or do you enjoy Real Time Strategy games that rely more on strategy than they do on reinforcements? If so, Full Spectrum Warrior should be given a good look.

On the flip side, are you a pacifist? Do you despise everything to do with the military? Do you find it hard to separate real life from videogames? Is your name Michael Moore? Do you live in the Middle East? If so you should probably avoid this game, as it will do nothing but confirm your suspicions that the United States really does plan to take over the world. Or something like that.

Addictiveness:

The game is solid, no doubting that. But will it chain you to your X-Box until you’ve completed it? No, sadly not. In fact it’s probably best in your first run through the game if you take it in small doses, as you may be tempted from time to time to put the controller through the TV screen, and your TV doesn’t deserve that.

Misc:

Not much else to add, really. This game is a really solid first step, deserving of a sequel. Oh, one other thing I suppose. Rangers rock! In fact, make the next game about the Rangers.

Story: 5/10
Graphics: 8/10
Sound: 9/10
Controls: 7/10
Balance: 6/10
Replayability: 6/10
Originality: 9/10
Appeal: 7/10
Addictiveness: 6/10
Misc: 6/10
Full Spectrum Warrior
Developer: Pandemic Studios
Publisher: THQ
Multiplayer: 2 Player Co-op on X-Box Live

The US Military has seen the potential for using videogames as training tools ever since The Marines had somebody modify Doom way back when. Even before then, the Air Force had been using simulators to train its pilots. These simulators were just very expensive videogames, allowing pilots to be engulfed in the situation, giving them a taste of the real thing. Recently the Army has decided to branch out into videogame production as a means of both recruiting new soldiers and training them. Their first effort, America’s Army, was a free PC download that was a full online playable game. You had to pass basic training and become proficient in the use of various weapons that you would have access to in the game. The game was a success both with critics and gamers, and is now in the process of being ported to a few of the consoles.

The Army’s second game wasn’t actually intended for public consumption. Full Spectrum Warrior was designed purely as a training tool for its soldiers, to give them an idea of what it feels like to command troops under fire, without actually exposing them to it. The developers, Pandemic Studios, figured out that there might just be a cool game waiting to be unleashed on the rest of the world and asked if they might be allowed to do it. And here we are.

Story:

While this is an Army training game at heart, Pandemic realized that just giving you missions to complete wouldn’t be very interesting. So they went about crafting a fairly topical story about the United States being involved in the “regime change” shall we say of a Third World Middle Eastern dictator. Now I know what you’re all thinking, but no, it’s not about the Army invading Israel. Or even Jordan. Rather, it is that rogue nation, that terrorist state, Zekistan. Actually Zekistan is fictional, but all the maps in game seem to focus on the far eastern boarder of Iran, so who knows. All I’m saying is don’t be around Iran in September. Anyway, you are given 8 soldiers to command, and it is their story you unfold as the game progresses. There is no real character development, no deep story involving love and betrayal, just 8 soldiers moving from engagement to engagement, with occasional assistance. The story is probably the weakest thing about the game, all things considered. The fact that they seemed to need to justify the invasion of a fictional country by including mass graves and genocide in the story seems a bit much to me anyway.

Graphics:

If bombed out cars and Middle Eastern architecture is your thing, this game will be right up your alley graphically. The main characters are modeled pretty well, and there is little or no draw in due to the nature of the environments. What I mean there is you won’t be on an open battlefield, just confined ones, so you can always see where it is you are headed. Enemy units are fairly generic looking, with little or no variety. Vehicles in game don’t look quite right. The Bradley, for example, or the Humvee, both look as though they have sunk a few inches into the ground. Maybe it’s all that sand, I don’t know. Since this is a game about an Army unit helping to liberate a city, the scenery doesn’t change all that much from mission to mission. Pandemic realized though, that even in one city the environment can change from minute to minute and place to place, especially out in a desert. So some of the missions take place during a pretty wicked sand storm. You even hear your guys coughing the whole time during these missions.

Sound:

The majority of sounds that you will hear in Full Spectrum Warrior will be your two sergeants ordering the troops hither and yon, or ordering your troops to fire on specific targets etc. The other sounds you will be likely to hear are the sounds of the battlefield. M-16’s and AK-47’s being fired, RPG’s being launched and blowing up, these types of things. As well, your soldiers will from time to time speak their minds. If they feel exposed under fire, you will hear about it. Many other times you will hear them cursing at the enemy for firing at them, or at you for leaving them exposed to enemy fire. It all adds up to create a vivid feeling of actually being there, under fire.

Controls:

Moving around and giving orders in the world of the Full Spectrum Warrior is both easy and at the same time frustrating. You move a cursor representing your 4 soldiers with the left thumbstick wherever it is you wish your guys to move. Move closer to the edge and your team leader will be placed in a position to look around the corner. While it sounds like a good idea, at times it just gets too cumbersome. In addition, the camera is stuck at eye level, so if you are hiding behind a car or something you could be forced to leave your troops exposed to fire until you can clearly see where it is you want to move next. While this is more realistic in some ways, it is also a serious pain in the butt. There is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to move the camera up a bit to give you a better view of the battlefield.

You control two units most of the time in FSW, Alpha Team and Bravo Team. You switch between the two by pressing the Y button. At times in the game you will be assigned a third unit, named Charlie Team. Most of the time Charlie will be mission sensitive unit(s) that have to be protected until it’s time for them to do their thing. Switching to Charlie team is accomplished by holding down the Y button. While this works, it isn’t as intuitive as it could be. If you were able to tap Y and then select the team from an in-game menu on the HUD that might have been easier. Or perhaps pressing Y then X, A and B for the various units might have worked even better.

Another problem I had with the controls that may have more to do with the realism factor in the game is the lag time between you’re issuing an order and the troops moving to carry it out. A number of times I ordered the men to turn and fire after having engaged one enemy. After he was killed, they should have turned when ordered to shoot at the other guy. Only they didn’t. And so that enemy lived to fight some more, usually killing one or more of my men in the process.

Balance:

I’ve got nowhere else to put these particular complaints so they will go here. Why isn’t there an anti-tank weapon in the game? I’m pretty sure they do exist. Why is it so awkward to call in anti-armor support? If it’s so easy to call in a recon flight why can’t I do the same for an Apache? Why is it the men can fling a smoke grenade all the way across the board but can only throw a frag grenade maybe 30 feet? And for that matter why is it when I order my grenade launcher to fire on a target in an apartment balcony the target still lives when its’ less than four feet away from the explosion? And for a game that seems to pride itself on realism, the magic medics in this game really detract from the feeling of being there. If a guy is so badly wounded that he has to be carried to a medevac station, there should be no way that he can be looked at and sent on his way. I mean hell, even the Oakland Raiders don’t do that. These are some of the things I would like to see addressed in any possible sequel.

Replayability:

There isn’t really any reason to go back and play through this game again once you’ve finished it. The enemies all stay in the same location, attack from the same spots, and in general all die the same way. You may feel you approached the situation wrong, but that is just for the pro’s out there who think they know their stuff. Or maybe you are enlisting shortly and want to get the terminology down. Then I could see playing through the game a few times. The game is Live enabled, so you can sign on and play the campaign co-operatively with somebody. There is no vs. mode though, so don’t expect to play this for very long unless you just love it. The original Army version is included as an extra you can unlock via cheat code, and it is interesting to see just how much they dumbed it down for us civilian types.

Originality:

Well this game is a Real Time Strategy game, and on the X-Box the pickings are rather slim. In fact this and Goblin Commander are the only games I can think of that would fit that genre. In any event, it’s not the gameplay that is original here, it’s the implementation of it all, the reality of it. This is essentially what it would feel like to go to war, were you not afraid of death and could replay it over and over again. This is a glimpse of what it’s like to be in the military.

Appeal:

Are you into all things military? Did you watch CNN during Desert Storm and go damn that blowed up real good!? Are you considering a career defending the United States? Or do you enjoy Real Time Strategy games that rely more on strategy than they do on reinforcements? If so, Full Spectrum Warrior should be given a good look.

On the flip side, are you a pacifist? Do you despise everything to do with the military? Do you find it hard to separate real life from videogames? Is your name Michael Moore? Do you live in the Middle East? If so you should probably avoid this game, as it will do nothing but confirm your suspicions that the United States really does plan to take over the world. Or something like that.

Addictiveness:

The game is solid, no doubting that. But will it chain you to your X-Box until you’ve completed it? No, sadly not. In fact it’s probably best in your first run through the game if you take it in small doses, as you may be tempted from time to time to put the controller through the TV screen, and your TV doesn’t deserve that.

Misc:

Not much else to add, really. This game is a really solid first step, deserving of a sequel. Oh, one other thing I suppose. Rangers rock! In fact, make the next game about the Rangers.

Story: 5/10
Graphics: 8/10
Sound: 9/10
Controls: 7/10
Balance: 6/10
Replayability: 6/10
Originality: 9/10
Appeal: 7/10
Addictiveness: 6/10
Misc: 6/10

Short Attention Span Summary
This game is at the very least deserving of a rental if you are even remotely into RTS games or into the Military. It’s not the best Xbox game released this year, and with Riddick and probably Spiderman being released this month it’s not even the best this month. But it IS a quality diversion of your time. You can’t really ask for anything other than that.