When Full Spectrum Warrior was first announced there would no doubt have been a few skeptics. The idea to take a US Army training tool and turn it into an accessible tactical action game may have seemed nigh on impossible to some gamers. The fact it is based around the US Army training tool makes it one of the most comprehensive and accurate tactical action games on the market to date and Pandemic really have pulled off what many may have deemed impossible, a highly accessible game based on a highly accurate and real world training tool.
Full Spectrum Warrior is set in a fictional country; Zekistan. Ethnic cleansing has been happening and the people of the country are under the rule of a leader known as Al Afad. Your squad from the US Army is sent in to clean up the mess and try to assassinate the dictator and capture his deputy. The one thing that can be said about the storyline of the game is that you can be never sure what is going to happen next. Your squad will be dropped into a combat zone with a task, only to have events occur which render that impossible or make their job ten times harder.
Before you begin the tour of duty an in depth tutorial must be completed. This can't be skipped first time through the game and goes through smaller details such as how to move your team, right through to combat tactics to use in certain situations. Interestingly, the tutorial is so in depth it lulls you into a false sense of security and gives the impression the game will be a walk in the park. Once you hit the ground in the tour of duty, you will find the complete opposite. The tutorial will take around an hour to complete and this is one reason the game is so accessible for even those who have never played a squad tactical action game before.
In the game you take command of two teams who form charlie 90. Each team can be independently controlled and in some ways the game represents an RTS style of gameplay. So the missions really boil down to moving your guys into tactical, safe positions and taking down the enemy while completing tasks. This gives the impression the game can seem repetitive, but due to the changing conditions of the war and the way tasks change mid-mission this doesn't ever seem to become a factor.
Although the game lets you take one team only and leave one behind at the insertion point, this really is undesirable to do so for a few reasons. At some points in the game, it will be impossible to progress without the help of the other team, and also you can not use a save point unless both teams are sitting near it which is where one of the games small problems occurs. Should one team move through the next checkpoint before reaching the save point, it disappears and you have to move on without having saved considering one bullet is enough to end a mission it can be very frustrating.
There is hardly ever a time that a mission revolves around getting from one area to another without being shot. Most tasks are quite complex and include securing the area, destroying a tank or helping a doctor reach civilians. As the missions progress, the army's base will move. This base is used to heal characters or gain more ammo, of which you have a limited supply. When a character is shot, they fall to the ground motion less. There is a set period of time before the character will die if not attended to, if that happens mission over because losing any man on the field renders a failed mission. To heal a wounded soldier you have to return them to a Casevac, usually at your insertion point which means moving across a battlefield minus two solders; one laying unconscious, another carrying the victim. Due to this unforgiving nature, it makes you question moves before making them and it is in the best interest to keep your soldiers healthy for a speedy mission success.
In an interesting twist, the game seems to become easier as you progress further into the game. Not because pandemic tone down the AI towards the end, in fact the complete opposite but as you become accustomed to controlling your men and the tactics they use the tasks seem easier to complete. In one mission you may lose a man and start a mission again, while in another, tougher mission breeze through first time. This isn't a fault on the developers part, more a feather in the cap that the controls become so easy to use, the game becomes even easier to play. Throughout the whole game you will encounter mainly the same enemy, but they will start to use cover, heavy weapons and work in groups. The only tough enemies you will encounter really are tanks and artillery trucks, and these come across as the 'boss characters' of the game.
Something else which helps with the unforgiving style of play is the replay system. At each save point the game begins a new replay which is saved to the hard disk. If you fail a mission you can watch this replay but not only that, at any point jump into the action and continue on. This means that the guess and check system isn't as frustrating because you don't have to complete tasks you have already done again and can jump into the action just before you made the last mistake.
Due to the US Army version, Pandemic had to keep this game in line with real world weaponry and tactics and therefore you won't find anything that seems like its from fantasy land. Each soldier has a different weapon, and are useful in different situations. You can control each soldier individually to a degree but most of the time the whole squad becomes involves with your tactics. You have numerous other items to help complete tasks as well such as a GPS map which can show different routes to enemies and the ability to call in recon in some missions to find the enemy locations. The recon isn't foolproof and sometimes you can be surprised by an enemy, it is also not always available.
The campaign itself is comprised of eleven missions. Each having different tasks then the last in most cases and throw a curveball or two at the player. There are a few story holes which appear during the campaign such as how the soldiers get from the southern part of the country to one of the enemies main bases but overall the campaign is enthralling and will keep you playing until it is completed. The campaign is set during one day of the war and all the missions link together without much time passing between them.
The visuals of the game are quite impressive and each of the soldiers has a unique personality. Due to the fact your always controlling the same eight guys in most situations, they have really been able to build a personality around each one much like Ubisoft did with Rainbow Six. They all have background stories which are explained at the beginning of the campaign and each has a nickname. The environments are highly detailed and thanks to the Havok physics engine are somewhat destructible. Objects such as cars can be destroyed and the ragdoll physics allow for an almost infinite amount of animations. You will see your soldiers give commands with their hands as well as talking. They also react emotionally to the situation around them with coarse language and yelling at each other during combat. The sound effects add to the atmosphere given off by the game and the voice acting is decent and in a very authoritarian tone, like a drill Sergeant.
In terms of replayability the campaign can be played again once it is completed. Any mission can be played in any order, and you can deploy at any of the save points you have saved at while completing the game. As well as this pandemic have included an Xbox Live component which allows you to complete the campaign missions in a co-operative scenario. In this scenario one player takes control of each team and work together to achieve the mission objectives. Although this is a great addition, some may have been looking for more game modes from the online side of things especially when you compare it to a game such as rainbow six.
Full Spectrum Warrior is one of the best tactical action games ever released and also one of the most accessible. Pandemic have proven the skeptics wrong in an emphatic fashion and have created not only one of the most realistic titles, but one that will have a wide market appeal due to the ease of play. The online component adds even more value to the title and there is no doubt that this game could become the best tactical action game of 2004.