Full Spectrum Warrior review

PC Gamer discovers that rainbow camouflage won't win a war

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Oh yes: it's a sordid business. In my experience, those with first-hand experience of what supersonic-speed chunks of metal do to people don't speak of honour, or duty, or the privilege of fighting for freedom. Most don't want to talk about it at all. Full Spectrum Warrior doesn't shy away from the unpleasant parts of war, featuring a mass grave in an early level, but this is very much gaming from a Hollywood angle. The heroes are ordinary men, doing extraordinary things, and saving the day. Or at least re-loading until they do.

But don't be tempted to dismiss this as a Conflict Desert Storm wannabe. You're an ethereal commander/TV camera controlling two squads of four grunts in the fictional state of Zekistan, but, crucially, you don't directly control their gunfire. Directing them to take cover in specific spots and fire on any visible targets in a certain direction works far better than you'd think: move the mouse to position yellow dots which alter formation according to terrain, click, and the lads will take cover according to what's available at that spot. Make a mistake in their positioning, and they won't last for more than seconds.

FSW's bold paradigm shift - control the movements and positions of your men but not their firing accuracy - is refreshing. The challenge here is not of your reflexes (though swift decisions are vital) or accuracy, but of your tactical nous. Cover isn't just important, it's vital for your fleshy friends, quite literally coming between them and a trip home in a body-bag. Use it wisely, leapfrogging your two units to cover each other and gain the best view of Zekistan's streets, alleys, airport, mosques and ruins, and all will be well.

Well, that's the theory. In fact, Pandemic have automated things rather too efficiently. The most obvious successes - taking out enemies - are achieved almost automatically. The most obvious failures - losing men to enemy fire - are exclusively your fault. There isn't quite enough reward for your laboured positioning and tactical cunning. In fact, you begin to wonder whether the game has anything more to show you after the second level; and sadly the answer is 'not much'.

Which is a damn shame, because FSW boasts a couple of very smart features. The first, which I'd like to see replacing the quicksave in all sorts of games, offers a replay feature in addition to a 'revert to savepoint' when you've lost too many men. Take the replay, fast-forward to just before your ignominious defeat, and assume control again, this time avoiding the devious Zeke and his rocket grenades. It's a feature only spoilt by the sped-up dialogue of your unit, making their cynical, macho expressions sound like something from Alvin and the Chipmunks.

The second feature is a co-op mode which lets you and a chum take a squad each into Tango territory. Coming from the single-player game, it's bizarre having to second-guess someone else, but just about the most compelling argument on PC to get yourself sorted out with some kind of voice-over-net setup.

That apart, Full Spectrum Warrior feels like nothing of the sort - it's as narrow and unbranching as Zekistan's roads. From the first mission to the last, there's barely a progression of squad size or weapons - just the scale of the challenge. And even towards the end, you're only ever facing a few Tangos at a time to be painstakingly winkled from their firing positions, never the dozens of AK-wielding nutters you end up longing for.

Full Spectrum Warrior's heritage as a US Army training tool is all too evident. Pandemic nearly forgot they needed to make a game too, and as a result FSW is too realistic, too automated - and not enough fun.

Full Spectrum Warrior is out now for PC

More info

DescriptionHopefully the flaws and questions aren't so glaring that you can't take the game as merely an evolution of action and strategy. This is an intriguing new template, and future games in the same style could be incredible.
US censor rating"Mature","Mature","Mature"
UK censor rating"","",""
Release date1 January 1970 (US), 1 January 1970 (UK)