Full Spectrum Warrior Review
Many people are bound to enjoy this unique take on the tactical genre, and certainly the game does an excellent job of presenting the look and feel of a drawn out urban skirmish. The only downsides, and they're big ones at that, are that the levels are too short and too straightforward. Most locations are long strips consisting of paved streets and overturned vehicles. So long as you constantly tell one fire team to lay down suppressive fire while the other one moves up, you won't have any problem dealing with enemy fighters. In the rare instance when you come across an obstacle or gun emplacement that you need to maneuver around, the solution is always obvious and clear cut--you either chuck a grenade toward the enemy or find a way around using an alley or side street.
I know what you're thinking. I don't actually get to shoot anything and the levels are sofa king easy. There's no way I'm going to like this game. Not so fast. Full Spectrum Warrior has its upsides.
For starters, while you may not be able to dive in with your own guns blazing, the process of commanding two fire teams is actually very active. Your men will engage the enemy automatically, but they'll only move up and take cover if you tell them to. When you position the cursor at some point up ahead and press the action button, your men will slowly move up to that point. If you place the cursor on top of a bit of cover however, such as an upturned car or a chunk of concrete, your men will take cover behind the object and try to engage the enemy from there. This contextual cursor is well thought out, to the point that your men will fire around corners if you target the corner of a building or vehicle. The buttons on the front of the controller let you swap between the two teams and issue orders that tell your men to take cover, throw grenades, lay down a suppressing fire, or drag injured friendlies out of the hot zone. Your men are constantly encountering new pockets of resistance or running into tricky hot spots involving dead ends or gun emplacements, which means you constantly have to be on your toes issuing orders and getting them out of harm's way. There's even a GPS to consult and a radio interface that lets you call in air strikes from time to time.
Another thing that the game handles really well is the concept of cover. In real urban warfare, enemy fighters aren't running around out in the open. They're holed up in bombed out storefronts or hunkered down behind debris. Full Spectrum Warrior duplicates this very real concept. Perhaps not in the most realistic fashion, but the implementation is definitely good enough for a video game. When enemies take cover behind a car or some rubble, a shield icon will appear above them. This means that they're invulnerable to bullets. The only way to take them out is to toss a grenade at them or to take up a position that gives you a clear line of fire. Luckily, you can make use of cover in the same way. Using the contextual cursor, you can point one of your fire teams to an object and have them take up a firing position behind it. Then they'll have the shields above their heads and the enemy will have to eventually break position and resort to grenades or RPGs (which they will).
What makes the game so easy, besides the fact that the levels are short and the puzzles within them are blatantly obvious, is that your men can absorb bullets like raindrops on a warm spring day. Each member of a fire team can take two or three direct hits before falling to the ground. Should one of your guys be taken out of commission, don't worry, you can have another member of the team drag them back to the CASEVAC station (the starting point). In fact, you don't have any choice in the matter. The Army doesn't leave men behind. You'll instantly "lose" a mission if you end up with a second man on the injured list. That does pose some challenge in later missions, but it's not that hard to fall back and wait for your wounded soldier to return to action.
All of these nuances make it apparent that THQ and Pandemic's goal in making Full Spectrum Warrior wasn't to produce an unforgiving simulation of real warfare, but to let players experience the atmosphere of what it's like to be in the middle of it all taking care of a squad of men. That said, while some aspects of combat aren't very authentic, the authenticity of the presentation is undeniable. Everything has a dirty, gritty look and things are constantly catching fire and blowing up. Almost anything you shoot at will show damage in the form of dents and bullet holes. In particular, the way car windshields crack and explode after prolonged fire is pretty satisfying. For the most part, while the levels aren't very large, they do have a large sense of scope. The sight distance is pretty much unlimited. You can see the rest of the city far off in the distance (although cleverly placed fences and buildings prevent you from going outside the confines of the level). Down at street level, there are chunks of concrete, abandoned cars, and large trucks literally scattered everywhere. The various enemy and friendly soldiers look fairly realistic, but the best aspect in that regard is all of the different animations they have. Men will crouch-walk and gesture while on the move, they'll take cover and go prone in response to fire, and they'll fall down or fly backwards when hit by enemy bullets or grenades. Throughout the whole thing, an orchestral soundtrack provides the emotional undercurrent, although the soundtrack is usually drowned out by the constant fury of bullets, explosions, and shouting. That's more realistic anyway. Fans of swearing in video games will also be pleased, as the friendlies have a tendency to shout "F**k" and "Sh*t" at the drop of a hat. Now that's authenticity!
Keep in mind though, that Full Spectrum Warrior was originally published for the PC and Xbox platforms well over a year ago. The game was designed with those platforms in mind. In making the transition to the PS2, some graphical effects (lighting mostly) were lost. Nothing was cut down in terms of detail however. All of the various buildings, vehicles, and soldiers are where they were in the older versions, and they look just the same. The one significant complaint specific to the PS2 game is that its framerate is all over the place, particularly in skirmishes that involve a full enemy fire team or frequent grenades and explosives. If jumpy, jittery graphics are a pet peeve of yours, you may want to get the Xbox or PC versions instead.
Let's say Full Spectrum Warrior is right up your alley. It won't take you a long time to get through the 12 levels in the campaign mode, but if you're the sort of person that just enjoys re-living hectic battle situations, that may not matter much. There are two tougher difficulty settings to pick from, which add more enemies to the mix and decrease the amount of damage your men can take. They don't actually make the game all that much more difficult, but they do increase the amount of time it takes to get through each level. The PS2 game includes two levels that were formerly only available by downloading them, along with an extra bonus level that's exclusive to this version of the game. You can also go online using the PS2's Internet adapter (broadband required) and play through the campaign mode co-operatively with another person. Each of you controls an individual fire team. It's too bad there isn't a competitive mode, or that you can't play co-operatively offline, but those same gripes were true of the Xbox version also.
When all is said and done, Full Spectrum Warrior gets more right than wrong. Some people won't like the unique, hands-off command style. Other people will. Some people will feel that the game is too easy or too brief. Other people won't, since they'll be too busy constantly replaying old missions. For those reasons, you should probably rent before you buy. Just don't count the game out entirely because it has a few flaws or tries to be innovative. It's one helluva war game regardless.
4/29/2005 Frank Provo