Full Spectrum Warrior Hands-On
We battle with a work-in-progress PlayStation 2 version of Pandemic's military tactical action game.
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Originally developed for the US Army as a training simulation and then released in a more consumer-friendly form for both the Xbox and PC last year, Full Spectrum Warrior is a military action game in which you'll find yourself behind enemy lines in a conflict zone that bears more than a passing resemblance to Iraq. Rather than having you take direct control of a single character, Full Spectrum Warrior simply has you issuing orders to your Alpha and Bravo squads, each comprising four very capable soldiers with different weapon specializations. Your orders will primarily be concerned with movement, taking cover, lobbing grenades, and, of course, putting your weapons to good use. If you're not familiar with the Xbox and PC versions of the game, it might surprise you to learn that you won't actually be doing any of the shooting yourself. Instead, the soldiers under your command will often take out enemies before you've even seen them.
Most of your time will actually be spent moving your two squads between different types of cover en route to your various objectives, whether they be entrenched enemies, colleagues under fire, or casevac (casualty evacuation) sites where you can replenish your ammunition supply and have any injured comrades (who must be carried by one of your men) healed. Although we've occasionally had our two squads working independently of each other in different areas of the game's decent-sized maps, many situations require you to have your two teams working closely so that one can lay down suppressing fire while the other moves. The other tactic that you'll often find yourself employing is having one squad pin down an enemy that has taken cover while the other squad flanks him to gain a clear shot at him. In fact, since it's impossible for any character behind cover to be shot, you're often required to flank your enemy to kill them unless you're close enough to lob a frag grenade, of course.
Full Spectrum Warrior's control scheme is undoubtedly one of its strongest features, and it makes moving around the maps from cover to cover a lot easier than you might expect. You'll simply move an icon that incorporates four glowing circles (one for each member of the squad) to the location that you want your guys to move to with your left analog stick. Then you'll fine-tune the positioning of the icon so that the squad will adopt a suitable formation against an object or a wall or at a corner. After that, you'll hit a button to execute your order. Once your squad has taken up its new position, the team leader will do a quick recon of the area and alert you to any nearby enemies that are within his field of vision. If your squad members can't see a nearby enemy, neither can you. As a result, you might want to take advantage of Full Spectrum Warrior's "fog of war" option, which, when you press one of the trigger buttons, indicates those areas that are outside your soldiers' fields of vision through the use of blurring effects and by draining those areas of color. The effect, like the rest of the game's visuals, isn't nearly as easy on the eyes here as it is on the Xbox and PC games, but it gets the job done all the same.
Like their Xbox and PC counterparts, the enemies you'll be facing in the PlayStation 2 version of Full Spectrum Warrior aren't terribly intelligent. If you manage to pin down an enemy behind cover, he'll just keep taking futile shots at your squad (which is also behind cover, of course) and will be completely oblivious to your second squad that's flanking or creeping up behind him. We've witnessed enemies attempting to move from cover to cover on one or two occasions, but our soldiers were always so quick to pick them off with their rifles that this actually made our progression through the levels easier rather than more challenging. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the enemies in Full Spectrum Warrior is that they never really outnumber your two squads of four, despite the fact that you're taking the fight to them on their turf. The real problem is that the enemies just don't appear to be terribly active. Consequently, they'll lie in wait for your squad to come into view and then get trapped behind their cover. This makes them easy to pick off with your second squad. Full Spectrum Warrior would feel much more realistic if the enemies in question were actively hunting you down, thus forcing you to switch strategies on the fly and repopulating areas that you've previously cleared. As it stands, though, even if one of your soldiers sustains an injury, it's rarely a problem, because you can simply pick him up, backtrack safely to the last casevac point, and have him back in action within a couple of minutes.
The fact that Full Spectrum Warrior's PS2 visuals don't compare favorably to the other two versions of the game isn't surprising, of course, but it shouldn't hamper your enjoyment of the game in any way. We did experience some pretty dramatic drops in frame rate while we were playing our work-in-progress build, which didn't actually make the game any harder, especially since it's not really twitch-based. However, it definitely made it harder for us to really immerse ourselves in the experience. Hopefully the frame rate issues will have been sorted out before Full Spectrum Warrior ships in March.