Full Spectrum Warrior Impressions

THQ and Pandemic make a surprise presentation at E3 with this squad-based tactical action game originally created for the US Army.

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The US Army conducted a recent study in which they found that one of the top leisure-time activities for troops is playing video games. Not one to waste an opportunity to train its soldiers, the US Army quietly contracted Pandemic Studios three years ago to create a squad-based action game to teach and reinforce standard military tactics like suppressive fire and flanking maneuvers. The game had to be realistic yet easy to play, work on a console, and have AI intelligent enough that soldiers would act realistically, and independently, according to Army doctrine. The result is a game called Full Spectrum Warrior that is being released on Xbox for the Army in July and late this year or early next year for the general public. THQ recently bought the retail rights to the game, and it will be adding in cutscenes and other polish to make it more suitable for public consumption.

The game lets you assume the role of an Army sergeant controlling a squad of nine troops (including yourself). The squad is split into two fire teams: one with five soldiers and one with four. Each squad has a team leader, a grenadier who carries a rifle with an underslung grenade launcher, a standard rifleman, and a machine gunner who carries the SAW (squad automatic weapon) for suppressive fire. Full Spectrum Warrior lets you quickly and easily switch between squads and order each of them to move around the map from a third-person perspective.

The game's context-sensitive control and AI are its most impressive aspects. Use the analog stick to move a squad next to a wall and they will automatically stack against it. Move them to a corner, and the context-sensitive command interface will show you that the order has changed from wall to corner stacking. Move the team around a corner, and your team leader will automatically take the point and peek around with a low profile. You can order your squad to cover a sector as a team simply by selecting them and pointing them in a direction. Do so and the individual troops will intelligently shift positions to get a clear shot and scan the sector for targets--if it's a house, for example, they're smart enough to know that they should be looking in the windows and not just at the wall.

For maximum protection, you can select individual team members and have them cover a specific sector. Let's say, for example, that you've moved a four-man team to a car in the middle of the street. Simply hit the D pad in one of the four directions, and you can quickly tell your grenadier to concentrate attention on one side of the street, tell the SAW gunner to cover your rear flank, and have the remaining two riflemen to scan in front of the team.

Combat in Full Spectrum Warrior is all about leapfrogging from one position of cover to another, using the two fire teams to support one another. To advance down a street, you might have one team cover the sector down the street and remain stationary, and use the other team to move behind a car 40 meters up the street. Then you'd set the covering responsibilities for the team at the car and order the other team forward, leapfrogging the car and on up to the corner of an alleyway ahead of the team behind the car.

Enemy AI in the game in intelligent enough to be afraid of high volumes of fire and remain in position when they're taking fire. We witnessed this in the demonstration, as one of our teams started taking fire from an alleyway. Both the terrorist and our team traded shots from around their respective corners, resulting in somewhat of a stalemate. From here you could move the grenadier up to get the terrorist with indirect fire, but in our demonstration, the Pandemic producer decided to lay down some suppressive fire on the terrorist's position and then use the second team to run around the back of building. With the terrorist pinned down, the second team was easily able to flank around for a clear shot, and they dropped the enemy immediately without him even knowing he was in danger. The incident exemplified the type of tactics you'll need to use to succeed in the game.

The retail version of Full Spectrum Warrior will differ from the Army version slightly, with some aspects altered in order to make for gameplay that's more fun and accessible. For example, in the Army version, which is completely realistic, tossing a smoke grenade requires you to wait 45 seconds to a minute for the smoke to fully set up, as in real life. This would obviously slow down the gameplay, so the process might be sped up in the retail version. You might also be allowed to carry more ammunition than is realistic. As mentioned above, THQ also plans on adding other bits of polish, like a storyline and some cutscenes, to make the product more suitable for public consumption. THQ is considering adding the Army version of the game to the retail disc, for those who want to try their hand at the same hard-core experience being given to professional soldiers.

Full Spectrum Warrior will be multiplayer-capable and Xbox Live-enabled, but further details on those aspects are sketchy at this point. We'll have more information on the game as it becomes available.

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