Games based on war are nothing new. Each year many games are released based on famous battles such as World War II. Pandemic Studios developed a simulator for the US Army to help them train soldiers in various tactics to be used on the battlefield. Pandemic has been given permission to release a public version of this game, obviously with edits, and recently we got the chance to take a recent build of the Xbox game for a spin and came away quite impressed.
In Full Spectrum Warrior you will take command of US soldiers sent in by the United Nations to help overthrow a dictatorship causing some problems in a part of the globe. It is a fictional conflict. The major difference between Full Spectrum Warrior and most third person squad based shooters on the market today is that you don't actually fire the weapons. Instead you give soldiers commands and they do as they are told.
It is easy to liken Full Spectrum Warrior to a real time strategy game. You move your soldiers to strategic positions and then issue them commands. Standing out in the open is a good way to get the soldiers killed quickly and the enemy appear to be quite tough and are at times very hard to spot.
Tristan an employee from Pandemic Studios gave us a presentation of one of the missions. The mission displayed is the one featured through all the trailers for the game which have been released so far. This mission tasked the player to find some friendly soldiers who were stuck in a heavily entrenched opposition area. Two teams were available to control and each soldier knew his task. For instance when a gun issue was ordered around a corner, the designated soldier would poke around the corner and try and take the enemy down.
The commands are issued via the DPAD and this is an incredibly intuitive system. One fear that many gamers may have with Full Spectrum Warrior is the control system. Having played a recent build, we can allay those fears. The controls for the game are very intuitive and will take a maximum of five minutes to learn. The DPAD is used to give commands with the face buttons used to inform the soldiers of where they should be directing their fire. Left analogue stick moves a marker, and this marker determines where the soldiers will move once the go command is given.
After the presentation we were able to ask Tristan a few questions about the game. The game will not feature night vision or missions at night but will feature missions during different times of the day. He also wasn't sure how much has been removed since the official US Army version but having played it we can assure you that most of it seems to be intact and the game is very playable even in its current state. The game will support Xbox Live online play but Tristan could not elaborate as to what game modes or missions players will be able to undertake on the service.
You won't be able to choose the load out for your soldiers but the weapons given to them seem quite sufficient to defeat the enemy. The key to defeating the enemy will definitely be the tactics rather then the firepower the soldiers carry. Also you will have limited ammunition and once you run out that's it, you better start hiding. The enemy AI even at this early stage is quite impressive. They will duck behind cars and other objects, hide when reloading and generally cause the soldiers major problems. Some of them are in quite hard to spot places and they use the layout and architecture of the level to their advantage. Hiding behind a car can be a deadly choice for enemies when a grenade is thrown as was demonstrated to us by Tristan.
After the presentation it was time to go hands on, and whilst our time was only brief it did leave the impression that this game is one to keep an eye on towards the middle of 2004. As mentioned before the controls were great and the AI will offer a stiff challenge. Even though the description of the game may leave people thinking that this will be a niche title for hardcore war gamers only, that is quite deceiving. The game does feature somewhat pick up and play gameplay, and if an instant action mode is included could definitely be a game people will load up for a quick bash from time to time once the single player campaign is conquered.
Visually the game is looking quite impressive with a high level of detail for the character models and accurate uniforms etc. The environment which the level we were shown was set in featured many large buildings (where some enemies were hiding as well), but also lots of good areas for our soldiers to take cover but also be able to fire up on the enemy. Sound wise the game is also shaping up to be great. Currently there is no music during actual gameplay and whether this will change before it ships is unknown. The US soldiers aren't to shy of using coarse language which only adds to the atmosphere of the game and the fact that these guys are in the midst of battle fighting for their lives.
Full Spectrum Warrior could create a new genre. A hybrid of the real time strategy genre and third person action games. The controls are already superb and the gameplay is interesting and an original take on the almost over flowing war game genre. This game is definitely one to look out for and is currently scheduled to ship in April 2004.