At a glance...

Reviewer Platform Publisher Developer Players Screenshots
Matt Bailey Xbox THQ Pandemic Studios 1-2 (Xbox Live) Here
Requirements Also on... Buy from Amazon.co.uk
None (Xbox Live account and Xbox Communicator optional) PS2, PC Click here to buy Full Spectrum Warrior.

Full Spectrum Warrior review

You may or may not be aware, but Full Spectrum Warrior began life as US Army training software. Developers Pandemanic Studios created the program as a tool to reinforce Army doctrine and squad tactics amongst while the troops were in downtime (which is when they relax and, quite often, play computer games. Then, at E3 2003, THQ signed up the studio to develop a game based on their US Army software to be released the public, and hence Full Spectrum Warrior was born.

Maintaining most of the gritty realism of the original edition (which is actually included on the disc, and accessible via a cheat code available on CheatingZone), Full Spectrum Warrior is a tactical squad-based shooter, and is an Xbox console exclusive. As you might expect for a title built for the military, the game begins with basic training. This includes all the essentials from getting used to the controls, using the fog of war, or learning basic US Army strategies. It can seem long and tedious at times, but it can prove essential learning, especially if you don't want to die on your first attempt at the main game.

After completing the training, you can now begin the main campaign. You can go into the game straight away, taking control of both teams, and get stuck in on the missions. However, if you're Live-enabled you can start a co-op campaign, invite someone from your Friends List, or wait for someone you don't know to join in. Then each player gets control of one of the teams, and you and your partner are away, keeping each other informed via the Xbox Communicator, as you battle through the campaign. Completing the missions on co-op unlocks them for offline play or for when you're hosting a co-op game - in fact, you even unlock missions you haven't reached yet in the course of the campaign. If you join a co-op match where the host is starting on a later mission, you can play that later mission, and unlock it - but you'll only be able to use it when you have reached it in the course of the campaign (so no skipping levels by unlocking the next one). The Xbox Live mode on the menu allows you to actually join co-op games, while the Campaign mode allows you to go solo or host a co-op. While there are no additional options - like alternative gametypes - on the Xbox Live menu, it does provide you with the usual Live options of Quick Match (which will jump you into the game with the lowest latency, whatever the mission), Optimatch (which will present you with a list of games based on your mission choice), and the obligatory Friends List. On top of this, Xbox Live subscribers will be pleased to notice the Downloadable Content option. Although none is available at present and there are no details on when it will be made available and whether or not it will be a premium purchase, it does mean that there are plans to provide you with even more action in the near future, which should keep the game alive a few months down the road.

The game itself is a highly enjoyable, and sometimes tense, affair. The core gameplay of the title is a unique mix of action, strategy, and third person shooter. It feels like a real-time strategy title because you are in command of two (or one if you're playing co-op) teams of four soldiers, leading them through the field, providing the strategies for victory. But you don't play from a top-down perspective, and although there is a GPS screen you can stop and look at to give you an overall view of the playing field, the game is firmly played in the third-person perspective. At the same time it isn't a pure action title, or a third person shooter; you don't directly control the movement of the troops, and you don't aim a crosshair at your enemy. Instead Full Spectrum Warrior gets you right down on the action amongst the troops without become a troop yourself.

The campaign you take part in places you in situations which are appropriate - if controversial - for the times, as you battle to liberate the fictitious middle-eastern state of Zekistan from its evil dictator. Iraq certainly comes to mind more than once, and the game seems to be taking a similar approach to the West Wing with Qumar in that it creates a fantasy state which encompasses all the things the United States dislikes about the middle-east. The campaign itself provides plenty of action, and is very enjoyable, but doesn't present many surprises in the later stages. However, this could be accounted for the fact that this is a realistic game; in real-life combat there are not magical powers to develop, there are not supervillans with mega-weapons (they were never there in the first place, of course), and there is no sudden plot twist. So, the game is in fact keeping the feeling of authenticity intact by providing a continuous, enjoyable, and fulfilling experience, even if it contains no real surprises. It does offer replay value however; the freedoms it presents within a linear story structure allow you to approach a mission however you like, and thus you can go back to a mission at any time and try it again with a different approach, or the same approach executed better. You can spend the time perfecting your mission, and this is aided further by the excellent inclusion of the replay function. This not only allows you to play, pause and fast-forward your way through the recordings of either a mission you're part of the way through completing or a previously completed (and saved) mission, but as you go along, and at any point, you can jump straight into the action and take over. See a mistake mid-way through a mission you did a week ago and want to correct it, but don't want to have to trudge through the perfect first part again? You can just skip right through to the part you want and resume the game from there. It's an excellent inclusion, although could be perfected with the ability to rewind, and the ability to take a good look around (panning around your teams) when paused.

The authenticity of the title is carried through into the graphics which provide a realistic representation of a run-down middle-eastern country. From areas littered with empty market stalls to abandoned cars, the game puts you right into the centre of a domestic area. There is a large airport, reminiscent of Baghdad International, as well as some excellent ancient architecture. There are plenty of destructible boxes too, which break bit-by-bit, and have an impact on gameplay; their cover is limited, and when they're completely gone, your men can suddenly become completely exposed. The cars are also equally destructive and limited in their cover - they don't disappear from machine gun fire - instead becoming increasingly riddled with bullet holes - but they are exposed to grenades and the odd RPG. And to ensure that everything goes as you'd expect it, there's an excellent particle system in place, ensuring some impressive destruction and explosions, and are both visually pleasing, and nerve-tremblingly tense. Both enemies and US Army soldiers are very well animated, and engage fully and correctly in combat. It’s a testament to the excellent artificial intelligence that they act like real soldiers, grouping and covering each other, never pointing their weapons at each other, and quickly ducking when attacked, but the way this is brilliantly carried through with animations that consist of bodies that move at the correct pace, have fully functional limbs, and fluid movement that really bring it all home.

Sound also plays an important part in the game. There is dramatic music at the beginning and end of missions to get you into the spirit of the army, while in-game music comes in the form of local Asian music played in people's homes that you can hear you as you walk by. The Xbox's Dolby Digital capabilities are used to the full here to provide a compelling and, again, authentic experience. You can hear the bullets whiz past, explosions in the distance, and the deadly approach of an RPG which gets louder as it gets closer to your men. As well as the amazing sound effects there are also an excellent set of voices. You men will often chatter away and make the odd interesting quip. Sometimes these can be rather funny, and all are well recorded and used.

Ratings

Graphics Not as jaw-dropping as the Xbox's upcoming first person shooters, but still very impressive with highly detailed levels, excellent architecture on the palaces, and a completely authentical middle-eastern look. Animation and special effects too are nothing short of eye-pleasing. 9/10
Gameplay A highly enjoyable and compelling experience that is like no other in the current games market. It's blend of third person action/shooting and real-time strategy gives the game a unique, but familiar appeal. 9/10
Value With a good set of levels, and Xbox Live co-op there's plenty to do. The original US Army mode is a welcome addition, but more modes of play on Xbox Live, and even a System Link mode wouldn't have gone amiss to complete the package. 8/10
Lifespan The main campaign should last 10-12 hours - but if you've playing on Live, this could vary, depending on where you start, if you repeat missions with friends, how good they are, and how good you work in a team. More could have been added in the way of extra modes to keep you occupied, however. 8/10
Audio An appropriate soundtrack at the beginning and end of missions, as well as some truely amazing sound effects in-game, which take full advantage of the Xbox's Dolby Digital capabilites to provide a complete experience. 9/10
Overall A truely amazing and well accomplished game that has made a successful transition from Army simulator to a thoroughly enjoyable gaming experience. By providing a realistic setting and game dynamics you are able to fully engage and associate with the game, making Full Spectrum Warrior a title that should definitely be in the collection of most Xbox owners. 9/10

Click here to buy Full Spectrum Warrior from Amazon.co.uk.

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