IGN Review of Full Spectrum Warrior: Ten Hammers
In May 2004, Pandemic's Full Spectrum Warrior gave strategy-loving military gamers something totally different. Pandemic's strategy game was derived from a simulator created in conjunction with the US Army, and its disciplined use of two-team tactics was both strangely fun and compelling -- despite the fact that you never actually fired on anything.
Full Spectrum Warrior was enough of a critical and financial success to create a second game, now available for Xbox, PS2, and PC simultaneously. Pandemic, which also created Mercenaries, Star Wars Battlefront 1 and 2, and Destroy all Humans, has put the finishing touches on its huge sequel, a title that is harder, deeper, and filled with more options that the original.
Full Spectrum Warrior: Ten Hammers takes the premise of the first game's two-team dynamic, deepens the controls, and offers a "full spectrum" of additional moves, abilities and modes. You can now command another team without having to switch back and forth and you can split teams into pairs. You can scout, ascend into two-story buildings, call in air strikes, control tanks, and experience three military groups as their stories revolve, Pulp Fiction-style, around a central narrative. For Xbox, Pandemic added in System Link support, and for all three systems there are online co-op modes, adversarial head-to-head games and objective-based online missions for up to eight on Xbox, six on PC, and four on PS2.
So, you ask, why is it we're not feeling so overwhelmed by this deeper sequel? Somewhere down the line, FSW: Ten Hammers lost us. The game's nature is still rock-solid and hardcore. But it's just not as fun as it once was. It's partially due to the complexity of the controls, even though we're thankful there are more options. They never evolved into faster, more streamlined, or friendlier controls. It's partially due to the notion that you still never directly shoot anything. This is inherent in the game's design, but in a game with so much shooting, the disconnected action takes its toll. It's also due to the game's repetitive mission design, the language and dialog, and the story, which proves useless and ineffective. That's not to say FSW: Ten Hammers doesn't have its high points, because it does. The smarter AI, multiplayer options, deeper controls and the ton-o'-fun tanks are all worthwhile additions. You'll just have to plod through an enormous amount of repetitive, less-than-fun gaming to get to all those.
The story of Ten Hammers, which refers to the bottleneck bridge you have to control to win the game, follows UN Coalition forces Alpha and Bravo teams, with returning soldiers from the first title. The game consists of 12 hefty levels, three missions in four chapters. Gamers start their trek into the mountainous region of Khardiman, a hilly area north of the fictitious Zekistan. In each chapter, the game tells the same story from a different angle using military squads from different countries. So, you'll know the outcome of the story in the beginning, but you won't know how it all played out unless you beat it. On all three systems, the graphics are slightly advanced over the past games, but not by much. FSW: Ten Hammers still looks best on Xbox and PC, each system providing more power for crisper textures and more vibrant lighting. You also may notice a change in the game's palette. The color scheme is no longer filled with the sandy, orange, and yellow from the first game. There are more greens, browns, and blues. Unfortunately, Ten Hammers looks less polished than its predecessor. You'll regularly see seam lines, collision detection issues amongst soldiers, and aliasing among other things.
Using the same puppet-like mechanic from the first title, Pandemic has added a substantial amount of variation to the sequel's feature list. First, you've got precision fire. Now you can lift up a gun, aim from right behind a soldier's head and pull off head shots using both the team leader's rifle and the grenadier's M203 grenade launcher (the other two team members also offer this feature, but they're not as fun as the TL and Grenadier). The risk's reward is that you also become more vulnerable to enemy fire. You can shoot through any hole in cover material (the metal works of a turreted gun, or through the window of a car, for instance) and grenade launchers deliver punishing precision targeting too. Additional storage for grenades means you'll throw more of them, farther, and with more flexibility around awkward objects.
Pandemic has switched its rigid two-move set to incorporate a handful of more useful commands. In FSW, you could either tell the squad to run to a new area or bound (to shoot while running). Now you can move "Tight" or "Hot" and command a single soldier to scout. When you command the team to move Tight, they'll move in a pseudo-stealth manner. In the previous game, the enemy might see you while moving but might not have shot. By moving Tight, the enemy won't see you, so you can surprise them. Hot moves are in double time, but you're more vulnerable. Scouting commands a single soldier to check enemy positioning. He'll quickly run back if enemies are around the corner, and if they're not your team moves up to meet him. All three moves prove useful and good additions.
Another interesting addition, though rather clunky and usually risky, is the ability to control the movements of Alpha from the Bravo team and vice versa. Instead of commanding Alpha team, then switching to Bravo team to move them, you can use field-level strategy to move each team at any place on the map. When you're controlling Charlie and Delta, you can move all four within seconds of one another. While these moves are excellent additions in concept, their slow pace, coupled with the lack of direct control, doesn't make them that efficient or useful in the heat of a fierce battle. More often than not, you'll either beat the enemy without these additions, or wince at how slow they react when under fire. Then you'll repeat the mission a few times through trial and error, until you beat it. The new split-team moves are useful some of the time, but not enough to warrant regular use.
This brings up the newly enhanced AI. In the first game, the enemy was scripted. Once you encountered it, enemies basically stayed passive, hiding in place and hoping for something other than death. In FSW: Ten Hammers, the enemy is not scripted. Each time you play a level it starts in different areas. Enemies will try to flank you. They'll constantly seek cover. They'll try to suppress and squeeze you. And to a certain extent, they'll come after you, tracking your position for a moderate distance. They usually stay in a zone or sector, so you can technically run away. The heightened AI thus creates a game based on movement, advanced tactical strategy, and more fast-acting decisions.
But the unscripted AI has troubles. Enemy AI will often run, eyes wide open, into a sector crowded with your soldiers. This wouldn't be so bad if you could quickly react. But you can't. Close-up encounters like this just show the control scheme's biggest flaws: close-range battles. No matter how fast you are, the controls are not only slow to react, the odds aren't balanced. So, an enemy can come racing into your ranks, take a knee 10 feet away, and draw on you faster than you can on him, even if you see him coming from 20 yards away. Shooting enemies on the run is also a big drag. Precision aim doesn't help here at all. The fact is this: The non-scripted AI is better than in the first game, but it's got its own set of issues. It's more challenging, forces you to use more efficient strategy, and brings in some new variety. It's too bad you're unable to react faster or track enemies while they're running.
You'll also encounter verticality in Ten Hammers. You'll experience enemies sniping from two- and three-story buildings, and you can ascend to similar heights to plug them. Snipers are vicious. They can take you out in one shot if you're not looking. They can shoot over cover, giving them higher percentage headshots. Of course, you too can ascend, sniping enemies from high spots. The mechanics for entering buildings are smart and useful. To enter a building, you press toward the stairs and you can then enter Hot or Breach, which brings your team up slowly and automatically spots and kills anyone in sight. The new advantage to second stories enables players to split teams so one has the higher vantage point, while the other flanks. Strangely, shooting from windows isn't as powerful a position as it seems. Only one guy can shoot from a window, and they often seemed totally pinned down. Basically, you'll just use a whole lot more smoke grenades than before from higher locations and force enemies into more compromising positions.
Another new addition, which is nice in one way but adds to the game's increased plodding nature, is spawn points. Spawning points appear in the form of a doorway in an apartment building, marketplace, and home subtlety marked with dull yellow swords above them. It's best to get a good angle and throw a single grenade into them to stop the faucet of enemy activity. While they do make for more interesting skirmishes on the whole, adding in a flow of new enemies, the unfortunate result of these nasty birthplaces is the task of destroying them all. Normally, I like collecting aspects or performing such mundane tasks. But in FSW: Ten Hammers, the already plodding nature makes finding spawn points far less enjoyable. Given that you can die by a single enemy shot, it seems like a huge waste of precious ammo, time, and energy.
Pandemic's move to offer controllable vehicles is an excellent one. Most of the time you'll use tanks. You can command them to move forward left, right, and back, and the turrets swing in 360 degrees independent of the tank's body. Tanks are mounted with two weapons, a heavy machine gun that butchers any enemy soldiers, and a multiple-shot cannon. The cannon wipes out anything in its path, whether there is cover or not. The sound of the cannon is like a deep-sounding thunder clap. It rumbles deep and low. Another cool addition is the tank's ability to spew forth its own cover. The tank spits out four smoke grenades for perfect cover against other tanks or RPG-wielding foes. You can also run over enemies, blast their cover, or surprise them from behind. Regardless of how you do it, the tanks are remarkably satisfying. Also, just like in the first FSW, you can call in air strikes, which are more like super weapons this time around. After each mission, you'll actually receive a score. Pandemic tracks civilian casualties, the mistaken destruction of cultural landmarks, and the like. This way, you'll collect ribbons, awards, or minus points.
Initially, the characters in FSW: Ten Hammers were meant to be more central to the game's story. Since you can control up to four teams, you'll have more than 32 characters to manage, not just eight. Soldiers die and are replaced, and the dynamic of collecting the wounded is entirely different than before. Instead of sending out a whole team to collect a wounded soldier, which was very dangerous, you can now send a single soldier to collect a wounded one and, while you send in suppressive fire, command him back to your squad. If you don't collect them in time, they won't just appear in the next mission. They'll die. At the game's end, you'll be able to read bios on every one of the characters to see what happened to them, adding yet another touch of elegant realism.
To be honest, since the story falls flat you're less likely to care about their fate. It's not so much a story as it is a narrative of missions that end up in their place. The characters don't feel like they have much more personality than before, and the constant chatter among team members wasn't heightened with smarter, funnier or more poignant dialog. If anything, you'll realize you'll hear these words hundreds of thousands of times: Corner! Move! Alpha! Bravo! Get Moving! ad nauseum. There is one very cool team leader, an African-American dude with a M203 grenade launcher, who says the coolest things. Oh yeah, you'll also hear an enormous amount of foul language while playing. But about mid-way through the game, you'll want them to stop talking all together.
The bigger, wider multiplayer modes are good fun, as long as the single-player issues don't wear you down first -- because they do bleed into the multiplayer modes. Players will get to fight in totally new adversarial maps as they follow objective-type missions. One team takes on the US, the other, the OpFors. And unlike the first Xbox game, you will be able to play on SysLink. The adversarial addition is huge for this game. It adds another full layer of human-to-human competition and increased replay value. The two-player cooperative play is also excellent, though there is no split-screen option. It's strange that the Xbox enables eight players while the PC limits you to six. You'd think the PC would allow for more. The PS2 opts for even fewer than the PC, maxing out at four players, which stinks.
The new OpFors are fun to experiment with. They're a little faster, leaner, and stealthier than the US soldiers, who have heavier weapons and travel in teams. Their play style is different: you'll have to move fast and a lot. They add a good deal of variety to the game pretty much assuring you of great skirmishes and smack-talking battles. In multiplayer fights, however, you'll have to find people who know what they're doing, since the game isn't kind to noobs online. It's best to play with friends.
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