It's an intense fire fight - enemy snipers are taking cover at the other end of the runway and both your squads are pinned down. Then, a daring move - you dash across to the left of the field in an attempt to out-manoeuvre the gunners, laying down suppressing fire with your bravo squad. Suddenly, one of them is clipped in the leg by a stray bullet and hits the ground like a heavy sack of potatoes - the rest of the squad makes it to cover, but are pinned down. There's only one chance - with bravo squad you lay down some covering smoke, leaving alpha free to return to their stricken ally, pick him up and retreat back to cover without being seen. However, you're not out of the fire just yet - in order to return to the medical station you have to cross back across an open expanse of ground - ground that is the domain of a vicious machine gun you only just managed to make your way past on the way in. You edge forward, watching carefully for an opening... closer... solider bleeding to death in tow... closer... time ticking down... closer... then, as you approach the fire zone... nothing. The operator isn't there any more, the machine gun fallen silent - you didn't eliminate him and the gun is still perfectly functional, yet there's no one there. Then it dawns on you - you're playing a game; he's no longer there because you triggered an event that made him disappear and new enemies to appear ahead. You carry on to the medical station - the medic patches your man up and he's 100% fighting fit again, ready to rejoin the battle in full stride.
For all its efforts at realism and immersion, Full Spectrum Warrior is manifestly a game. At its heart is a cross between a strategy game and a point 'n click, all wrapped in a third person action game shell. The setting is, unsurprisingly, a Middle Eastern one and follows the exploits of a group of soldiers like any other, following orders and carrying out objectives in a generic, faceless conflict that has a distinctly sterile atmosphere - no doubt a deliberate decision made by the developers given the potentially sensitive nature of the game setting. The same can be said for the soldiers in-game - each are introduced as you begin, but they are each so bland in their characterisations that what they say or do will rarely be of consequence - the game feels very flat and un-engaging as a result, with none of the colourful banter you might be expecting or hoping for.
'Successfully closing in on an entrenched gunner can be quite rewarding'
Not that there's a great deal to engage with in the first place (the straightforward narrative serves only to link one engagement to the next), but then an engaging story is perhaps not what you'd be expecting from a game like this. What it does provide is plenty of action, albeit in a unique form. The real quirk of FSW is its control interface - instead of directly controlling a soldier you issue orders to your squad using an intuitive, context-sensitive cursor that allows your squad to interact with the environment (sidle up against walls, effectively use corners) and fire a variety of weaponry (fire zones can be set up easily and grenades thrown with accuracy). You can switch between squads at the press of a button and squad management is kept simple, with each having to be directed manually - while this removes any scope for more advanced inter-squad tactics, it does make the game far more accessible.
Indeed, the entire interface is geared towards accessibility - your men will intelligently attack and move without the need for micro-management and any harm they are exposed to will be due to your own mistakes. This makes for some satisfying manoeuvres - especially when combined with your GPS system that affords you an easy overview of the surrounding areas and your best avenue of out-flanking an enemy position. Successfully closing in on an entrenched gunner can be quite rewarding and some of the larger set pieces make for a welcome change of pace.
Unfortunately though, the pace can otherwise be quite repetitive, with missions largely revolving around a similar theme - move to position, out-flank group of enemies, attack. By and large, regardless of location, objective or available equipment, this is what you're going to be doing and, while it can be satisfying, it can leave you feeling a little cold after a while. The encounters soon begin to feel a little too prescribed as you gain more confidence in your orders and the options available a little too restrictive, due to the nature of the controls which take away many of the finer points of interaction - what begins as fun and intuitive soon becomes something of a one-trick pony.
And this brings us back to Full Spectrum Warrior's main problem - back to the machine gun with no gunner, back to the miracle-working medical station. FSW suffers from some dodgy design - in a lot of other games they'd be more excusable, but not here. FSW prides itself on its po-faced realism and it's to its detriment - especially when it drops the ball with 'gamey' quick-fix solutions and enemies that can be turned on and off, but never really 'exist'. While it's not a hugely challenging game it does suffer at times from trial-and-error play - another irk of bad design which could have been alleviated by less confused environments.
A full spectrum warrior is a soldier trained in all varieties of weapon. Which is why each of your men only carry the one
Any other faults? The camera can be awfully restrictive to the point of annoyance and, graphically, it hasn't made the best of transitions from the Xbox, looking smudgy and faded with an often terminal frame rate. The control interface could have used a little more tightening too - moving the cursor around can be cumbersome in a pinch and the grenade arcs can be temperamental too. At least the game's coop online play was included in this port, though, and it does provide some enjoyment, providing you can find a likeminded playing partner.
Ultimately, Full Spectrum Warrior is a polished but soulless game - it began life as an army training simulator and while the transferral to commercial videogame has been impressive, it nonetheless leaves you feeling unsatisfied. Despite its unique approach the action is by the numbers and, although accessible, it's not involving - wannabe army cadets should get a blast out of it, but everyone else should approach with care. Let's hope the forthcoming sequel will address the areas where FSW went wrong.