Full Spectrum Warrior

Review

posted 12/7/2004 by Dave Gamble
other articles by Dave Gamble
"We're taking some heavy fire here, Sarge! We gotta get under some cover!"

I order my Alpha squad to back down the alley we had just come from. There was no way we were going to be able to take out the guy with the RPG that had us pinned down. He was well covered by a stack of sand bags. We were out of M203's, and despite the seriousness of our situation, I still had to chuckle about the last one we had used. We came across a guy hiding behind an old station wagon. In a scene that reminded me of the part in the first Indiana Jones movie where he pulls out his revolver and shoots the Arab fella swinging around those swords, I had Philly, my M203 gunner, put one right down the guys throat. Blew him to smithereens.

Anyway, we were out of the big bangers, so I had to think of something quick. I brought up my GPS to get a high level view of the local topology. It looked like there might be an alley that popped out right behind the guy that had us pinned down. I quickly formulated a plan: "Bravo! Head around the block and see if you can get through that alley. We'll keep him occupied with covering fire." As Bravo squad took off around the corner, I moved Alpha back into position at the end of the alley, and laid down a blanket of small arms fire. The target hunkered down behind his cover, while I kept an eye on our rapidly depleting ammo. Just as I thought we were going to have to pop a smoke grenade and see if we could risk a run across his line of fire, I saw Bravo arrive at the end of the alley. The guy was paying complete attention to making like a turtle behind his cover, so he had no idea what hit him as Bravo unloaded a clip into him.

Problem solved. A quick update to the CP over the radio, and time to move on.

In a nutshell, that is the kind of activity you will find in Full Spectrum Warrior. The first thing you'll note is that nowhere in that story did I shoot at the enemy. FSW has created a new genre that I like to call "real time tactical" or RTT. You are responsible for the tactics and movements of your two, four man squads, but your squad members are completely responsible for maintaining formation and handling weapons. As leader, you get to call in indirect fire (Apache strikes, artillery), though, so you do get to make things go boom now and then. Still, at times I found myself shouting at my troops urging them to blast a guy before he could get behind cover, or slink away down an alley, and getting pretty upset when they didn't get it done.

Graphically speaking, you're completely disembodied. It's not exactly a third person view, since you don't actually have a person. It's more like you're an embedded camera man that can float ten feet over the action, and jump from one squad to another very quickly. The good news: you can't get shot. The bad news: your troops can, and you are responsible for them. Let a troop die and it's game over.


With such a low tolerance for casualties, the name of the game is caution. You simply can't go running around shooting everything that moves. Instead, you move from cover to cover, hiding behind anything you can find. You coordinate the movements of your two squads so one is always available to come to the aid of the other if you get pinned down. You move using the mouse - you click the right mouse button to bring up the movement arrow, place it where you want your squad to do, and click the left mouse button. The squad will move towards the directed spot. As you're placing the cursor in various possible places, icons will come up on the screen showing you what kind of cover your squad will have when they get there. That's no guarantee of their safety, though. Cover is seldom useful if you manage to get on the wrong side of it. I've lost a few squads when I placed them up against one of the many dumpsters or cars laying around, only to find that I had left my squad open to an attack from the rear.

The movement scheme works pretty well, but at times it can be frustrating trying to get the cursor exactly where you want it. It tends to hop around the screen at times, and it can also be difficult to see past obstructions. There were times when I had to move a squad out of cover, leaving them completely exposed, just so I could a clear view of where I wanted to put the cursor.

There are save points throughout each mission, synonymous I suppose with rest breaks for real life squads. And as I suspect is somewhat realistic if you buy into that comparison, they either come before you really need one, or long after you started wishing for one. There are parts of certain missions that I was really tired of before I completed them successfully and got to a save point. Other times it felt like I hadn't really done anything significant enough to warrant a rest. Oh well, that's the life of a soldier.

The ambiance of the urban battlefield is nicely done. The architecture of the theatre, Zekistan, is very reminiscent of areas in which we currently see footage of urban fighting on the nightly news. The background music is unobtrusive, but mid-eastern enough to give you an idea of where the fictional country of Zekistan falls in the current political spectrum. The movements and conversation of your squad are very realistic, with the conversation being realistic enough that you will want to keep young, impressionable members of your family out of the room while you're playing.

There is co-op multiplayer available as well. In this mode, you control one of the squads while the other is controlled by the online player. Given the need for communication and coordination between you and the other squad, a voice link-up would make for a realistic and satisfying experience. The pace of play is pretty controllable, though, so keyboard chat is still a viable alternative.

Full Spectrum Warrior presents a realistic and somewhat addictive new type of game play. While I would liked to have had a bit more variety (the ability to carry a fight inside a building, for example), it is a very impressive first effort for this new genre. I look forward to the sequel!





A-
Based on a training aid developed for the U.S. Army, Full Spectrum Warrior is a realistic and vivid simulation of modern urban warfare. It’s not a First Person Shooter, nor is it a Real Time Strategy game. FSW fits into a new genre best described as “Real Time Tactical.” This one is definitely worth a look!