A perennial favorite, FSW has always been dogged by being a game that is difficult to pigeonhole. Is it a third-person cover-based shooter? Is it a strategy game? Is it a puzzle game? It is a unique combination of all three that combined forms a whole greater than its parts. Unfortunately, gamers expecting a single genre tended to be discouraged by this unusual mix and the game never got the recognition it deserved.
Despite its age - and all the technical difficulties that entails running it on a modern PC - the game's visuals remain surprisingly attractive, and it is not difficult to lose oneself in the fantasy of a fighting through the streets of the war-torn Middle East. There numerous incidental animations - be it a civilian scurrying for shelter, birds scattering as you approach or the laundry flapping in the wind - make the game's world seem alive and keep you on your toes at the same time.
But it's the gameplay that is the real star; leading my two squads through the dangerous, twisting streets of fictional Zekistan felt more realistic and true-to-life than all the Calls of Duty - or even Arma - games combined. Your crew's limited toolset - a handful of movement and attack options - are more than sufficient to engage and defeat the enemy if combined with a bit of cunning. It is almost puzzle like; "If I move fireteam Alpha /here/ and then toss smoke like this, the enemy will react like /that/, allowing me to maneuver fireteam Bravo into position /there/!" Figuring out the optimal method to not only kill the enemies but also do so in a way that minimizes casualties and ammunition use is amazingly satisfying (fortunately, for those less talented, you can often "brute-force" your way through most challenges). The game's difficulty curve is gradual and never overwhelming.
The AI is not particularly skilled but can at times be gratingly tenacious, and failing to keep your team in cover will often result in the quick loss of several soldiers. Fortunately, the tangos' skill set is even less complex than that of your troops - mostly they just hunker down behind some cover and take potshots at you, although a few do use grenades - but they make up for this deficit with numbers and being well placed. Attempt to maneuver around them and they often - but not always - will seek new shelter, requiring you to trap them between your two teams coming at them from different directions. The occasional heavy weapon (rocket launcher or machine gun), tank or technical adds to the challenge and variety. Unfortunately - and this is the greatest fault of the game - the initial locations of the enemies is hard-coded into each level, which greatly reduces the replayability of the game. Best of all, once the mission is over, you can watch a replay to relive your successes (or failures), and even - should you chose - jump into the action at any point. Would that other games offered this feature!
Released in 2004, Full Spectrum Warrior can be difficult to get working on modern computers; in my case, I had to edit my HOSTS file, tinker with the soundcard settings and muck around in a configuration file before I got acceptable performance from the game. Even then, the dialogue was filled with pops and crackles. Nonetheless, the quality of the game was well worth the effort.
Full Spectrum Warrior remains one of the forgotten classics of gaming and those willing to go into the experience with an open mind will be well rewarded with a challenging and exciting game.