Full Spectrum Warrior started out as a military training simulation commissioned by the US Army, and only later did publisher THQ and developer Pandemic Studios decide to turn it into a video game about modern squad tactics--but you'd never know that from playing the game. Full Spectrum Warrior features an innovative design and an effective control scheme, and it convincingly delivers the sights and sounds of modern squad combat in the war-torn Middle East. It may look like a shooter, but it isn't one, since you never actively aim or fire weapons in the game (except for grenades). The thing is, Full Spectrum Warrior isn't a fully featured strategy game, either, and it relies on a fairly simple, surprisingly abstract gameplay model that has trouble sustaining a rather short campaign (which can be played alone or cooperatively on Xbox Live). Indeed, the game often ends up feeling like a string of puzzles whose solutions are pretty obvious. Nevertheless, Full Spectrum Warrior is very good overall, and deserves credit for being something other than just another military-themed shooter or strategy game. It's just too bad that it isn't more involving.
Throughout Full Spectrum Warrior, you'll guide teams, alpha and bravo, through a series of obstacle-course-style missions.
The game begins with a MOUT (military operations on urban terrain) training course that effectively familiarizes you with Full Spectrum Warrior's unique fireteam command system, how to use cover, how to lob grenades, how to lay down suppressive fire, how to flush out foes firing from behind cover, and more. These step-by-step training scenarios, like the rest of Full Spectrum Warrior's presentation, are thick with authentic military atmosphere and they establish that each of the men in your eight-man squad is a unique individual with his own personality. You, the player, do not represent a specific character in the game, but your disembodied perspective is always near to whichever of your squad's two fireteams is currently selected, as if you're in the thick of the action right with them. Your line of sight is limited to theirs, and when they run from cover to cover you'll seem to be running right with them, as if you're an embedded video journalist capturing the action on camera. Full Spectrum Warrior gives an outstanding first impression.
Perhaps it's a testament to the Army's MOUT training, but ironically, the training scenarios in Full Spectrum Warrior are so comprehensive that they teach you practically everything there is to know about the gameplay, leaving little else for you to learn during the actual campaign. The campaign takes place in the near future in a fictitious setting that's a dead ringer for Iraq. Here's how the gameplay unfolds in a nutshell: Every campaign mission is basically a completely flat, linear obstacle course of sorts in which enemies will routinely pop up and start firing on you using small arms and, occasionally, frag grenades or rocket-propelled grenades. These enemies will typically fire from behind cover, and your men should also always be standing behind cover when not in transit or else they're much more likely to get shot. Taking out entrenched enemies is what Full Spectrum Warrior boils down to, but the process very quickly becomes routine and it ceases to feel risky or dangerous despite the authentic-looking presentation. Also, since the levels are scripted to play out basically the same way each time, with predetermined enemy placements and mostly clear-cut paths to objective points, thwarting enemy ambushes becomes more of a matter of trial and error than skill and planning.
The most significant contrivance in Full Spectrum Warrior is that men hiding behind cover are completely invulnerable. For instance, if your team is firing around a corner at a man 10 yards away, who himself is firing with an assault rifle from behind some sandbags, no one is going to get shot, no matter how long you allow the stalemate to drag on and no matter how many bullets seem to nearly hit their mark. The game professes that, when you're behind cover, you're in a safe zone (though, certain types of cover, such as sofas or wooden crates, can't absorb much fire and will realistically fall apart before long). This aspect of the game may initially come as a surprise, but it's a fair element for Full Spectrum Warrior to impose in the interest of making the player focus on tactics rather than on twitch gameplay. However, the tactical options themselves are fairly limited.
The game gives a great first impression, but the gameplay starts to become repetitive quickly.
So what do you do in a stalemate situation? You may: Toss a frag grenade if you're close enough to the enemy (your men have weak throwing arms, apparently, as you can't send grenades very far); fire an M203 grenade (which, for gameplay reasons, flies straight ahead like a rocket whereas the real-world weapon is more like a mortar); toss a smoke grenade in front of your foe so that your fireteam may safely advance to a different location; or lay down suppressive fire on your foe, causing him to duck and cover, creating an opportunity for your other fireteam. You have limited use of all these options, though you'll find places to replenish your bullet ammo (but not your grenades) during the course of a mission. You always have two fireteams at your disposal, so in practice, you'll frequently have one engage the enemy in a stalemate while the other creeps up from the side and whacks the enemy where he's exposed. Little shield icons floating over the heads of friends and foes make it perfectly clear whether or not someone is in danger of being shot.
Full Spectrum Warrior may sound like it has a good number of different types of tactical options, but you'll usually be limited to just one or two. For instance, say there's a heavy machine gunner that has one of your fireteams pinned down in a corner, and your GPS map reveals that there's a conveniently placed alleyway that will allow your other fireteam to flank the gunner. Or maybe the only cover between you and the foe is a wrecked car, which gets you just close enough to use a grenade. Simplistic situations like this mean that the tactics in Full Spectrum Warrior are practically taken out of your hands on many occasions. Once you get past the thrilling presentation, you'll likely realize that the gameplay and the level design both tend to be very straightforward, and the result is a forgettable campaign whose few set pieces--ordering artillery strikes against enemy armor or teaming up with a pair of snipers--don't overcompensate for the frequent monotony of the action.
Entrenched foes are common throughout the game, and flushing them out with grenades is one of the most common ways of dealing with them.
As you play, you'll notice that some options seem to be noticeably absent in the context of a game about urban warfare. For instance, you'll see your men riding in various vehicles during cutscenes, but you'll never get to use or control vehicles during actual gameplay. You also can't enter buildings in the game (except in a few specific cases where your mission path takes you through one), even though you'll always be surrounded by them and you will come across enemies firing at you from windows and balconies. It's not that there are clear-cut ways in which features like this could have been integrated into the game; it's just that the game shows you things that it seems like the game should let you do on your own. Since a lack of variety is one of the most notable shortcomings of Full Spectrum Warrior, these types of things stick out as omissions.
For what it's worth, the game controls very well, and it features an elegant and unique interface that's easy to get the hang of. Just as you don't actively fire most weapons in the game, you don't have direct control over your fireteams' movement--instead you order them to new locations kind of like you would order units in a real-time strategy game. An iconic cursor on the ground represents where your troops will fall in if you order them to move, and when you position the cursor near cover (at a corner, next to a car, and so on), the cursor will stick and will take the shape of the cover object, intuitively informing you that your men will take a fortified position there. One of the interesting things about Full Spectrum Warrior is that it simulates how battlefield commands aren't executed in real time. Once you order your troops to move or to fire, there's a noticeable lag between the time the team leader issues the order and when the order is actually carried out. This works fine with the tactical pacing of the game. However, it leads to some tense situations, like when you're blindsided and need to act quickly if your men are going to survive.