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Last Updated: Friday, 2 July, 2004, 11:48 GMT 12:48 UK
Full Spectrum Warrior hits its target
By James Bregman
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Full Spectrum Warrior
The game puts you in charge of two teams of four soldiers
Full Spectrum Warrior is an excellent military action game that marks an intriguing departure from the norm.

Now available on Xbox, it was initially commissioned by the US military as a training aid.

"The army realised that a lot of their recruits would play video games in their downtime," explains Greg Donovan, one of the game's producers.

"The game was originally never supposed to be seen as a consumer version. It was always supposed to be a training tool for light infantry."

The army hoped the game could help drive home the tactics that troops learn in field training.

When it was decided that there was also potential for an marketable game, the developers added storylines and characters - "stuff the army didn't care about", as Donovan puts it.

Reflecting its training origins, the comprehensive tutorial level takes a while to wade through, but once you get to grips with the controls and principles, they're very intuitive.

Atmospheric action

Full Spectrum Warrior throws you into an urban warfare scenario in a fictional Middle Eastern battle zone.

You control two 'fire teams' of four soldiers. Viewing them from a reliable third person viewpoint, you switch between the two to give them orders to move, fire and take cover.

Full Spectrum Warrior
The murky urban environments are genuinely sinister
The feel is eerily reminiscent of news footage of the world's hotspots, an effect the makers were keen to accomplish.

"We've implemented a steadicam to convey the sense of an embedded reporter," says Donovan. "you're down with the soldiers at ground level, in the thick of the action."

That steadicam works a treat, adding urgency to the beautifully rendered action.

It contributes to the overall atmosphere that makes FSW genuinely unnerving to play. The faded colours and menacing dusty streets are straight out of Black Hawk Down, whilst moody music helps keep the scene firmly set.

Most of the time you have to leap-frog, with one team rushing to a corner and laying down covering fire while the other group rushes to the next strategic position and returns the favour.

You can assign particular members of a team to do specific tasks according to their particular training, but for the most part you order the entire team to take action.

Shooting is not a precise business - rather you select a 'fire sector' area and have the team attack targets within it as best they can. If the enemy can't be hit, you have to come up with another way to strike them.

Because you are constantly keeping track of two teams in different places and subject to different attacks, there is a major sense of urgency and tension that few other games can match.

It's easy to get disorientated as you flick between teams in the middle of a firefight, but that all adds authenticity; a sense of chaos can easily set in if you mess up, and panicking will just compound the situation.

The fog of war

Full Spectrum Warrior
The game's graphics are outstanding

The combination of elements makes for an exhiliarating experience and one that's superbly executed. It is a testament to the design that such a potentially complex game feels so natural, so quickly.

The neat and realistic 'fog of war' feature helps you see which areas of play could contain threats. Flick a switch and segments of the environment not being watched by any of your men appear blurred, giving an instant recap as to who's covering which direction.

Although there is the odd concession to practicability, FSW offers a convincing recreation of urban battle tactics, behaviour and problems, and for the layperson the military insight is rather intriguing.

Soldiers chat to each other constantly, combining barked orders with convincing banter - all liberally peppered with industrial language.

Largely written by a former US Army sniper, the dialogue is entertaining and feels realistic.

The game's presentation is solid, pointedly avoiding any of the over-the-top armed-forces melodrama that you might fear, and the polished cut-scenes tell the story well.

If there's a downside to FSW it's that there's not a great deal of detail to unfold as things progress. Once you've got a feeling for things, there are few revelations to unlock.

Instead there are just successive levels of solidly good gameplay, which are so enjoyable that you probably won't complain.

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