Full Spectrum Warrior is an excellent wargame for Microsoft Xbox and for the PC. This review covers the Xbox version. You control two squads of four U.S. Army soldiers each - by giving them orders. After completing a fairly lengthy tutorial you are shipped off to fight terrorism in the fictional nation of "Zekistan". The game is based on a training aid used by the U.S. Army for leadership training. It was developed by Pandemic Studios LLC and distributed by THQ.
Full Spectrum Warrior (hence, FSW) was first demoed at E3 2003 and immediately generated a huge amount of "buzz". The Xbox is not known for its wide variety of excellent games, but FSW is certainly one of the best. Every aspect of the game is excellently refined. War gamers will never feel robbed by this game, save perhaps when they reach the end after a fairly short total gameplay time.
FSW got an M rating (for "mature") from the ESRB. It has an impressive amount of swearing in it, mass graves, violent deaths, et cetera. This is not a game for children, unless you intend to train children for war.
As stated before, FSW is based around the idea of controlling two two-man squads. Each squad contains a team leader, a grenadier, a rifleman and an automatic rifleman. The first three of these soldiers carry the M4 assault rifle, the descendant of and successor to the eternally famous M16. The fourth, the automatic rifleman, carries the M249 SAW assault rifle. The grenadier has the M203 grenade launcher, and also carries some fragmentation and smoke grenades. Between your two squads you have a fairly righteous amount of firepower. Generally speaking, however, one squad will be moving while the other is firing at something, in order to get into position to flank them or get close enough to throw a grenade at them. M203 grenades fire in a straight line, but you usually have very limited supplies of them.
If you lose soldiers, as in they are actually killed and not just disabled, then you lose the level. You are not permitted casualties. The idea of this tool is to train leaders who can bring their troops home, and this is true of both the military and civilian versions.
Squads are moved around by moving the cursor with the left thumbstick. This shows you where your four squad members will be when you end your move. There are four formations they will normally use. The first formation is a ragged line that is adopted when you move into the open - a very bad place to be most of the time. If you move next to some cover (or a wall) however you will be placed into one of three other formations. The first is a line against a wall. All soldiers put their back to the wall, and the end units look out to the sides as well. It's still likely to get you killed, but it's better than standing in the middle of the road. The second is a line along a wall at a corner, with the foremost soldier looking around the corner. This provides absolute cover from enemies around the corner. Finally, you can line up behind a piece of cover (like a car) and peek over it, which provides full cover until the car or other item is destroyed (unless a car is hit with a grenade, in which case it usually blows up) or you can bunch up behind an obstacle. Line of sight is everything, so whichever position lets you see the enemy without getting shot is usually good.
As noted before, there is a tutorial you should play before you go out and get into "the shit", as it were. This is MOUT (Military Operations in Urban Terrain) training and it tells you how to order your squad to move, how to handle cover and suppressing fire, what cover is good and what cover isn't, throwing and firing grenades, and so on. It doesn't talk much about tactics, except to tell you that you should be covering one squad with the other. Probably the most important information that it neglects to share is that suppressing fire is a friendly fire risk, and point fire (your normal firing mode) is not.
As mentioned above, there are two fire modes; point fire, and suppressing fire. Both are activated by pressing the X button, aiming the reticle, and pressing A. Point fire means you will take aimed shots at anyone entering the firing area. If you hold the A button, you will instead lay down suppressive fire, where you just sort of unload on the enemy. This makes them keep their heads down, but burns ammo at a pretty disturbing rate. You can also select individual squad members and give each one a different line of fire, but that means that it can take a lot more firing to take out an enemy since maybe only one soldier will be shooting at him.
Suppressive fire is wilder, and uses up a lot of ammo, but since it uses more ammo, it tends to punch through destroyable cover (like cars, crates, or couches) a lot faster than point fire.
Besides shooting things, you can also blow them up. Fragmentation grenades aren't much good at this, but they are good at taking out multiple grouped enemies. Grenades bounce, so you can hit the wall above someone if that's convenient. Most of the time, however, you will be working just to get close enough to hit them. The M203 grenade launcher's projectiles are a line-of-sight deal; A little bitty reticle appears, you aim it, and the grenade goes there. If you hit a car, it blows up, taking out whoever is behind it. Any grenade will kill or at least wound someone behind any cover less substantial than permanent rubble or sand bags. When you throw a normal grenade, an arc appears, and you can see just where the thing will go, provided it doesn't bounce someplace inconvenient. There are also smoke grenades, which you can throw between you and an enemy, which help you avoid getting shot.
In order to shoot things, you must avoid getting shot. This is because it is hard to shoot anything when you are dead. The best way you can not get shot is to use good cover, and move up in stages with cover. Squads in FSW can actually cover themselves to a certain degree. You can give them a movement order with an order to cover. This causes your squad to move much more slowly, but they will face a given heading and move from one point to another in twos, firing (point fire style) at any hostiles they see. This can give you an excellent chance to catch a lone hostile before you lose a squad.
There is also the previously mentioned smoke grenade. You have to wait a little while for the smoke to spread out, though. Otherwise, there is no cover, and you will be perforated.
Mostly, though, you don't get shot because you aren't exposed to begin with, and when you are, you have cover in the form of suppressive fire. This keeps the enemy's heads down, and lets you sneak around to a new piece of cover. You can then change which squad is providing the suppressive fire, balancing out the heavy cost in ammunition, and move up the other squad.
If you do get caught in the open, you can hold the B button (which normally cancels an order) and your current squad will scatter for cover. Unless the enemy is also in the open, this probably will not help you much. There's not usually a whole lot of cover sprinkled around the city.
If you get shot and don't get killed right away, it is possible to save the situation and not lose your soldiers. You can position the movement cursor over the fallen soldier (you will be warned when someone is wounded) and press A. Assuming a four-man squad does this, two men will administer aid to the fallen man while the other two stand guard. However, without cover, there is pretty much no such thing as a guard. Using one squad to provide suppressive fire while the other cares for the fallen man is a more useful tactic. You can then carry him back to a CASEVAC (or casualty evacuation point) where you can get medical care and reload your ammo. CASEVACs are marked as a white cross on a yellow circle on your GPS.
Missions take place, in general, wherever you happen to be. This means that you're not going to be dealing with a whole bunch of familiar terrain. Luckily for you, there is a GPS system (brought up with the black button) that will show you a nice little map of the area, potentially with some enemies on it. Sometimes you get an overflight which uses "infrared sensors" to mark some more enemies, but there's no guarantee that it will find them all or that they will stay put.
The GPS also gets waypoints (blue), the aforementioned CASEVACs, your two squads, and basically anything else interesting on it (like friendly Bradley tanks) marked on it as well.
As in reality, soldiers on the ground and intelligence often know different things, and you can find at least some of it out by using the radio. Your CO (commanding officer) will tell you what you are supposed to be doing when you radio him.
This is also how you save the game. At certain points in the levels, SITREPs (situation report points) will appear. Moving one squad into the middle and the other within a certain range, then using the radio with the middle squad, will allow you to make a SITREP. If you fail the mission after this point, you can return to it, or any earlier SITREP point.
Like many other Xbox games, FSW supports Xbox Live for multiplayer. The game allows you to play two-player cooperative mode with another person, complete with voice communications. Because of the potential for friendly fire and such, communication is critical to this game, as is cooperation. This is not like playing co-op Quake where you just run around and blow things up. Many manouvers require two squads working in concert to succeed.
Besides co-op play, you can also download a couple of bonus levels, and trade replays with other people. Replays let you replay a mission from any SITREP point.
FSW is an excellent-looking game, even on the Xbox. Polygon counts could be higher in general, but that's the only failing. Textures are not exactly beautiful but still very attractive, and effects like fire and explosions are excellent. Vehicle models and textures, unfortunately, leave a lot to be desired. On the other hand, all types of cover come apart very nicely when their ability to soak damage is exceeded, spraying glass and/or fragments, and with the doors of cars popping open and so forth. The effects for mortar fire are especially nice to look at.
FSW sounds great. The voice actors are (at least to me) entirely believable and all of the weapons fire sounds great as well. Vehicle noises are entirely realistic. This game takes advantage of 5.1 channel digital sound if you have one of the advanced A/V packs or a similar cable.
I give FSW an 8/10 score. It would be a 9, but I don't see much replayability in it. The game is unique in its approach to presentation and one of the things I like best about it is that it plays out like a war movie complete with drama and cussing. This might just be a sign of my refusal to grow up, but I think it says more about Pandemic's ability to peg their target market. I hope.